Answer

Converting a Word document to PDF is easier than the other way around

I have a file that was originally a Word document, but it has been transformed into a PDF. Unfortunately, I have lost the original and want to convert the PDF back into a Word document. Is this possible?

Yes and no. While it's possible to covert a PDF to a Word document, it's a much dicier proposition that it might first seem.

Part of the problem is the nature of the files. Word documents are designed to be edited, while PDFs are intended to represent, as accurately as possible, the layout of elements on a page. These two goals aren't wholly incompatible, but Word and Adobe Acrobat (or other document and PDF editors) accomplish them in substantially different ways.

Take headers, for instance. In Word, the text in a page header and footer is stored apart from the text itself, so that the body of the document and the headers can be edited without interfering with each other. In a PDF, the header of a page is just another part of the page, and it rarely has any markup that would allow a conversion program to handle the header properly.

So while there are applications that can convert a PDF into a Word document, they can only go so far. The conversion program typically doesn't know how to reconstruct the contents of the document in a way that would seem like it was originally authored in Word. Some programs do a better job of this than others, but I've never seen one that reconstructs the original exactly as it was.

If you don't have any other choice but to reconstruct your Word document from a PDF, you can use such a conversion program to recover the original text. Restoring the exact formatting, however, will take a good deal more manual work -- you'll have to recreate it all by hand in Word, using the text recovered from the PDF as a base.

Do you have questions for our experts? Email editor@searchenterprisedesktop.com.

This was first published in May 2013

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