PDF to Word - how to convert

Using Word 2019, Word 2016, and Word 2013

If you have a PDF document you want to edit, you will normally go looking for an online PDF to Word converter. There are loads of them, and we prefer SmallPDF

Historically, this was the only way to edit a PDF file. Microsoft Word (since 2013) has shipped with the ability to open a PDF file so that it can be edited, however, that wasn’t always obvious.

What is a PDF file?

PDF is a proprietary file format developed by Adobe and is best viewed using their free download Acrobat Reader application.

PDF files are portable and contain all the file data needed to read the file. These elements are fonts, and details of the location of the text, graphics, and vector images in the file. PDFs do not normally contain the same information a Word file would regarding indexes, paragraphs, tables, forms, and columns. 

Other applications can open PDF files and understand the structure and contents.

Windows has shipped for years with a built-in PDF reader but didn’t have the facility to edit PDFs until 2013.

How to edit a PDF document using Word

Open Word on your PC and either open the PDF directly or drag it into Word. You will see a few messages explaining what to expect and how long it will take. Continue, and the PDF magically appears in Word. You might need to do some basic text and image re-alignment, but Word normally maintains most or all the original layout.

Word makes a copy of the original PDF file before the conversion starts; therefore, this is a risk-free operation. Chances are that you downloaded the PDF, or it was sent by email and you have a copy anyway, or can readily get another.

A standard one page PDF file with a mix of text and images takes around 20 seconds to convert on a regular PC.

Best results

Converting text-based PDFs give the best results and these are near 100% perfect. 

Known limitations

Word doesn’t always detect an element, and the Word version does not match the original PDF file. e.g., if Word doesn’t understand a footnote, it treats the footnote as regular text and won’t always put it at the bottom of the page.

If the source PDF file contains charts and other graphics, the whole page might be displayed as an image. If this happens, unfortunately, nothing can be done.

These sections within a PDF file don't always convert as well as the basic text does:

Audio and video elements
Cell spacing within tables
Tracked changes
Page colours and borders
PDF bookmarks, tags, and comments
Font effects when used in graphics (shadow and glow)
Footnotes across more than one page

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