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Should you use PDF or Microsoft Office documents? The pros and cons

We all come across PDF documents every day - it's the ideal format for bank statements, instruction manuals, online reports and much more.

But is it always the best format? How do you know if you should use a PDF document or one of the Microsoft Office file types?

If you are in a dilemma about which format to use for which purpose, read on. In this article, I'll explain the advantages and disadvantages of using a PDF compared to DOC, XLS, and PPT files.

PDFs:The Benefits

Let's start by evaluating the advantages of PDF documents. Under what circumstances should you always use them?


If you are producing content to distribute to others, such as sales presentations, lecture notes, or newsletters, you should use the PDF format to submit the files.

The reason? PDF files are standalone. The file itself contains all the formatting, fonts, and layout designs. They will render the same way every time regardless of operating system, hardware, or software.

Anyone who has ever opened a Microsoft Word document in Google Drive knows how important this is. If you send a DOC file to another user who isn't using the same application or doesn't have the same fonts installed, it will often look messy.

High quality printing

Because PDF documents are self-contained, printers will gladly accept them. Word documents are often not accepted How to Print Microsoft Office Documents the Right Way How to Print Microsoft Office Documents the Right Way Does it sometimes seem impossible to print documents exactly the way you want? We can help! We show you all your printing options and help you choose the right settings for perfectly printed documents. Read More or other Microsoft Office formats.

PDF files are “What you see is what you get” - however the page looks on your screen, you can be sure it will look the same on a physical copy. High-resolution images will keep them looking professional, and page layouts won't be compromised.

So if you want to print a batch of posters, brochures, or even a PowerPoint slideshow, be sure to save your file as a PDF before you head out on the town.

Multiple formats

Yes, you can import paragraphs of text into a PowerPoint file or paste a PowerPoint slide into Excel, but the process requires a lot of tinkering if you want the finished document to look respectable. The various Office formats are not really designed for countless formats and many embeddings.

Even if your document looks fine on the screen, if the file is large, it could take a long time to open and/or save. PDF documents can easily support text, almost all types of images, vector graphics, slides, HTML code, and more.


Microsoft Office files can be interactive, but PDF files are a better choice for application forms, feedback forms, and other situations that require data entry. Here's why:

  • Fixed fields - There is no chance of an end user accidentally deleting a field, misinterpreting what data is required, or skipping a question.
  • Step-by-step guides - Creators can add margin notes to guide users through complicated forms.
  • Formulas - You can instantly make a PDF add sales tax or calculate exchange rates on an invoice. Of course, Excel also allows you to work with formulas and equations. Need help with Excel formulas? 7 resources to check out Need help with Excel formulas? 7 Resources to Reference Excel is the gold standard of spreadsheets. If you must use Excel and yet become familiar with it, these resources will quickly introduce you to the basics and beyond. Read More
  • Signature - Some services, such as Adobe Sign and DocuSign, allow you to add your signature. Can you electronically sign documents and should you? Can you and should you electronically sign documents? You may have heard your tech-savvy friends share the terms electronic signature and digital signature. Maybe you've even heard them interchangeably. However, you should know that they are not the same. In fact,… Read More


There are advantages to using both browsers and specialized PDF readers PDF Reader vs. Browser:Which PDF Viewer is Best for You? PDFReader vs. Browser:Which PDF Viewer is Best for You? A PDF reader is often one of the first tools people install on their new computer. It's not glamorous or sexy, but it's a vital tool in your productivity arsenal. Or is that it? Read more.

Ultimately, though, as long as the recipient has a browser installed on their system, they'll be able to open your file. This is not the case if you send a file in DOC, XLS or PPT. Not all office suites can handle all formats.

PDFs:drawbacks and alternatives

Despite these apparent benefits, there are still times when a PDF format is not suitable. I'm going to look at some of those situations and advise you what to use instead.

Compose text

PDF documents lack the powerful formatting tools of Microsoft Word and other processors. You can't edit page layouts, fonts, and other major stylistic issues.

Also, they don't have spell checkers, grammar checkers, or other writing aids. You must use a traditional word processor to compose your text. Only save the file as a PDF when you're sure you're done.

Editing content

PDF files are also not a good option when someone else needs to edit or add more details to your document. 5 free tools to edit PDF files. 5 free tools to edit PDF files. PDF files are universally useful. However, they fall short when it comes to editing. We are here to show you the best free tools to edit your PDF files. Read more . For example, if you are responsible for adding text to a document and someone else is responsible for adding images later in the process, it is not advisable to send the file in PDF format.

The format is not editable by nature. PDFs are simply an image of an existing document, rather than being an original document in its own right. At best, most PDF readers will only allow you to edit a few words at a time.


If you might need to reuse images in a document at a later date, stick to Office apps. You will find it more difficult, if not impossible, to extract embedded images from a PDF document.

If you absolutely need to extract an image from a PDF, you can take a print screen and edit it in Paint, but it's not an efficient workflow, and you'll probably lose some image quality.


PDF creation apps don't have collaboration tools. Some paid tools have features that the best free readers do. Top 6 PDF Readers for Windows Top 6 PDF Readers for Windows Adobe Reader isn't always the best choice for viewing PDF files. Here are the best PDF readers for Windows 10 to consider. Read More

Most productivity suites like Microsoft Office 365 and Google Drive apps now allow real-time collaboration on documents. 3 Microsoft Office online teamwork and collaboration tools that impress. Microsoft has released new tools for teams to collaborate remotely and in real time. We show you what you cannot miss. Read more . Again, you can do all your work using a traditional suite, then just save to PDF once the document is complete.

Share your opinions

I hope I've given you a comprehensive introduction to how PDF documents compare to typical Office suite file formats, as well as explaining when to use PDFs and when to avoid them.

I would love to know what else you would add to this list. Have I missed a professional? Have I overlooked any significant drawbacks? You can leave your thoughts and opinions in the comment box below.