How to Edit PDFs in Microsoft Word

PDFs are ubiquitous these days. This popular document standard, pioneered by Adobe, is now everywhere, and working with them is now as common as working with Word docs.

The Portable Document Format (PDF) was developed in the 1990s to present documents that included text formatting and images independent of the platform they were viewed on. PDF looks pretty much the same when opened on different types of hardware, operating systems, and programs.

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However, editing them is an entirely different ball game than simply viewing them.

We’ll take a look at what you need to edit PDF files, and how you can open and make changes to them using a tool that you already use: Microsoft Word 2016.

Why edit PDF files in Word?

Nowadays, PDF files contain a variety of content besides flat text and graphics. Modern PDFs include logical structuring elements as well as interactive elements like annotations, layers, rich media, even file attachments and digital signatures.

Editing some of the more featured PDF files properly takes careful planning.

Full editing capabilities are provided by Adobe Acrobat, which is actually a family of application software and web services that allow you to create, manipulate, print and manage your files in the PDF format. It is a complete toolset, pretty much the gold standard.

The Pro 2017 version Adobe Acrobat costs $449 outright. Or you will have to part ways with almost $180 per year for a Pro DC subscription.

adobe acrobat dc

But while this program is worth every penny for professionals and people who deal with PDF files on a daily basis, there are plenty of alternative PDF editors that can get you up and running with your edits. These are available both as free and paid software.

However, the simplest solution might be a program that you already have installed.

Microsoft Word.

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While previous versions of Word let you save a document as a PDF file, Word 2016 goes a step further. It allows you to open a PDF formatted file, modify it as you see fit, and then save it back to the PDF format without using Acrobat.

This new feature is called PDF Reflow, and Microsoft first debuted this back in 2012 with Word 2013. It has been improved in newer versions of the word processor, and is perfectly at home when it comes to editing files that contain text and images, as well as other, more complex elements.

The process is entirely simplified, and you can be up and running instantly, right in the Word window, without jumping through any additional hoops.  Though as you will learn below, a capable as the feature is, it is not without its limitations.

Import PDFs in Word

To get started, we’ll first need to import the PDF file into Word 2016. Many of the layout attributes are compatible, and they transfer from the PDF into Word without any problem. Still, there are some considerations that you will need to keep in mind, and make adjustments for.

open pdf in word

Open Word 2016, go to Select File > Open and then browser to the folder that contains your PDF.

Click the Open button, and you will receive a message warning you that Word may take a while to convert your chosen PDF into an editable Word document. The document itself will be optimized to allow for text editing. It might not look exactly like the original PDF file, particularly if it contains a lot of graphics.

dialog box message

Hit OK to close the dialog box and wait for Word to convert your original PDF into an editable Word document. The process takes a while, but you can press the Esc key on your keyboard to abort it.

Once the file is imported, a familiar new window will open with your document ready to be edited.

The document itself probably does not look exactly like the original PDF file. That is because elements like margins, columns, tables, page breaks, footnotes, endnotes, track changes, along with special formatting options like font effects may differ between the original software that was used to create and layout the PDF file. For example, Adobe InDesign, Microsoft Publisher, even an older version of the good old Microsoft Word.

Microsoft suggests that the text documents reflow better than files that are laden with heavy graphics, tags, bookmarks, footnotes and other elements. Be aware of these limitations, so you can plan for the outcome.

pdf opened in word

A lot of the layout attributes, however, do transfer fine, without any issues, as you can see from the image above. And you can easily edit and modify them right from within Word.

Modify PDFs in Word

Now, you may be wondering just what kind of changes can you make in Word now that you have finally managed to import your PDF into it. The good news is that PDF compatibility in Word 2016 is so good that you can easily use the program as a desktop publisher.

The new and improved features in Word 2016 means that the finished product can be compiled and condensed as a PDF, then shipped directly to the printer for mass production. This is a real plus for home businesses and small offices that can’t afford to — or don’t want to — purchase another program for desktop publishing.

As for how you can modify your PDFs in Word, all the basic functions are here.

pdf edit in ms word

It is possible to easily change text, add new paragraphs, edit and delete the content, and you can even remove, replace or reposition the graphics. The document will automatically reformat as you type and make these changes, and text will automatically wrap around the images at its new location.

Plus, you also get the ability to change the page size, margins, line spacing, as well as the font and font sizes. Essentially, all the basic font attributes.

In fact, you can right-click the images and can view an entire list of editable graphic options — from cropping, resizing, formatting, to positioning, adding captions, and even attaching hyperlinks. All this can be done without any problems, making the Reflow feature ideal for minor and major touchups to a wide variety of PDF files.

Obviously, the only exception is that if you have password protected PDF documents, set to Read Only in Acrobat. These types of files cannot be copied or converted.

Save or export a Word document to PDF

Once you have altered or edited the document to your satisfaction, it is now time to export it back to a PDF file. Again, Word 2016 provides a few robust options that help make the process as seamless and as error free as possible.

You go to File > Save As, navigate to the appropriate folder, and then choose PDF from the Save As Type dropdown list that comes up.

save as

The system immediately displays the above PDF file type screen. Choose the Standard (publishing online and printing) option, and check the box for Open file after publishing, and click Save. Word will now take a moment or two to save your file back in the PDF format.

But that’s not the only option for saving a document back as a PDF file.

You can also export it.

To do that, choose File > Export, select Create PDF/XPS Document in the left column, and then click the button with the same name. The system will again display the PDF file type screen. Check the same options as above, or modify them as you see fit, and hit the Publish button to create your new PDF, nice and easy, relatively error free.

Relatively, because as refined as the Reflow feature is in Word 2016, occasional errors do creep in.

Repair PDF errors in Word

If you find errors in your republished or re-saved PDF documents, then the only way to repair them is to go back and reformat the pages in Word.

Text should reflow with no problem, but graphics are the ones that usually create issues — particularly the ones that use text wrap, as they may disrupt the flow. If that happens, the way to go about it is to break up the paragraphs one by one so that the text boxes end before the image. Then make sure the next one begins after the image.

In other words, you will need to hardcode the position of the graphic box, to ensure that the final PDF document is free from errors when rendered.

pdf layout setting

Right-click your chosen image and choose Wrap Text > More Layout Options. The above screen will appear, whereby you might want to opt for a relative horizontal and vertical position. This allows your image to move with the text. Though you can always go for an absolute horizontal and vertical position if you want the image to remain absolutely at the bottom-left side of the page.

Luckily, there is no guessing involved here, or locating the position of your image.

You just move the image and the new position coordinates appear in the box. All you have to do is click on Absolute or Relative, and then click OK. Settle these decisions for all the elements and images you have in your document and then save or export your PDF to a new file.

More complex elements may require some more tweaks, but the layout tools available in Word are powerful enough to handle almost all of these tasks.

Export PDFs from Acrobat to Word

If you have the new Adobe Acrobat DC (Document Cloud) installed on your computer, you can also export PDF files from that program directly to Word. This comes in handy if you or someone else wants to do the editing in Microsoft Word, even previous versions of the program.

You can export it as a Word document, or a legacy Word 97-2003 document for older Office suites.

export pdf from acrobat to word

To do that, open Acrobat DC and sign in. Then open a PDF file, and go to File > Export To > Microsoft Word, and then choose whatever version applicable. On the Save As PDF screen, name your file and choose the extension, and click Save.

It takes a few minutes for the Conversion Engine to get started the first time. But after that, the documents generally convert fairly fast, and very accurately.

Conclusion

We all receive PDF files, and they often contain content that we want to reuse. While most existing PDF viewers limit you to a look but don’t touch experience. Getting rich content out of a PDF document is now easier than ever with these built-in capabilities in Microsoft Word.

These come extra handy when all you want to do is edit a word or line in the PDF. Just open it in Word, make your changes, and export it safely back into PDF for the world to see.

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