By Marcos Chiquetto

Forty years ago, if you wanted to create a report for your boss or a research paper for school, or send someone an invoice to be paid, you would have to provide a printed paper document. And your report would be written with a pen or a typewriter on the actual paper that you would submit, meaning that the act of creating everyday documents was performed on the same medium that would be used to deliver it.

With the popularization of computers, as of the decade of the 1980s, we began to write on the computer and then print the result on paper. That meant the resource used to create the document was now different from the resource used to deliver the document to other people.

With the popularization of the Mac and, even more so, Windows, which took off in the 1990s, all computers began to be equipped with a high-resolution graphic interface, allowing computer users to read documents on their screens in the same format as they would appear on paper. And soon after, the Internet came along, making it easy and affordable to deliver documents electronically. At this point, printing documents on paper, which was already becoming unnecessary, began to present a problem.

To address this issue, Adobe created in 1993 the PDF (Portable Document Format), a format that reproduced the graphic resources of paper on a computer screen and could be read on any model of computer. Thus, by creating a PDF, you could be sure that any computer would be able to display the document on its screen. Nowadays, PDF is the standard format for presenting formatted documents, and the program that is most often used to read this type of file is Adobe Acrobat.

With this technology, a document today normally has two files associated with it:

· The source file: the file where the document was created. These files are generated by text processing or desktop publishing programs, such as Word, Indesign, FrameMaker etc., depending on the complexity of the format desired;

· The PDF file: generated as the output of the programs cited above. After finalizing the content and formatting the text, an output document is generated in the PDF format as if it was a printing operation. The PDF document can be in a high-resolution format when it is actually meant to be printed on paper with high quality, or low-resolution when it is meant to be posted on the Internet.

But the PDF, despite the fact that it has advanced a lot since 1990, still maintains its original function as a substitute for printed paper. It was not made to allow its content to be edited. Conceptually, editing a PDF should be the same thing editing a printed copy of a document created on a computer. The editing of a text should be done on the source file.

- But Acrobat exports the PDF to the DOCX format. Isn’t this a file that can be edited?

Yes, it is a file that can be edited, however, it doesn’t adequately make use of the resources of text processing and desktop publishing programs. Instead, it uses “brute force” to position the text in the same way as it is in the PDF document. For example, text boxes are often exported as figures, making it necessary to retype the text; page breaks are forced and don’t flow when the text is altered; special page formatting is simulated through tables within tables, which lose their format when text is altered, and so on. Even worse, if you export a PDF created from Indesign or Adobe Illustrator to DOCX, you will be formatting a document that was created with sophisticated resources with only the simple resources of Word, creating a file full of quick fixes that will only simulate what was done in the source file in a rustic manner. With this type of file, if you want to change something in the text later, you may have an unpleasant surprise when the page breaks or the changes in columns don’t work with the changes you’ve made.

When you have a PDF document and want to order some kind of service that requires editing of the text (a translation, for example) keep in mind that the correct procedure is to work with the source file. It is worth making the effort to get the source file from whoever produced the document, because this will facilitate the work and the cost will be optimized.

Marcos Chiquetto is an engineer, Physics teacher, translator, and writer. He is the director of LatinLanguages, a Brazilian translation agency specialized in providing multilingual companies with translation into Portuguese and Spanish.

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