PDFs should be used occasionally in addition to webpages. 

The ideal use of a PDF is a form that is meant to be printed and submitted to a department. This is something that a static webpage is not intended to do. 

Webpages are more effective than PDFs at conveying information in a digital medium. Event flyers, overviews, testimonials, tips and even instructions should be presented via a webpage.


Pros & Cons of PDFs

Pro: PDFs don't require paid software to view

At WSU, we have access to Microsoft Office programs like Word and Excel, which are expensive to purchase as an individual. 

Meanwhile Adobe Reader is free and all browsers support PDF-viewing, so all users have a method to open a PDF file.

All documents published on the WSU website are publicly accessible, and we can't assume that only members of the WSU community are accessing these files. PDFs ensure equal access to information.

Pro: PDFs aren't easily editable

Word docs, spreadsheets and PowerPoints are easily editable, if you have those programs, and that creates a risk for falsified official documents. 

A PDF is less likely to be edited by a user, which increases the integrity of such documents.

Con: PDFs are not optimized for search engines

Content in PDFs (and other files) is typically not indexed very well by search engines and thus PDFs may not appear in search results. 

This is why it is standard practice to include critical information in the webpage itself and use PDFs only for supplemental information to help complete a task or provide extra details. 

Con: PDFs are very difficult to use on mobile devices

To open a PDF on a smart phone, typically the user has to download the file first. This takes time and space on that person's phone, which is frustrating for the user. 

Additionally, PDFs simply scale down to fit the screen size as a whole document-- the content inside the PDF doesn't flow to fill the screen like a webpage does. This means that a user has to zoom in and scroll a lot to read a PDF, which is again a frustrating experience. 

Expectations for PDFs & Other Files 

  • PDFs must be used appropriately for information that meets one of the following criteria: 
    • is designed to be printed or faxed
      • For example: a form, application or waiver
    • is lengthy and very detailed so that the information is intended as a reference rather than general consumption
      • For example: a manual, handbook, plan or policy
  • Documents in other file types must be converted to a PDF by the client
    • PDFs can contain fill-able fields at the discretion of the client providing the file
    • If the client does not provide a PDF, the Web Team will convert the Microsoft file to a basic PDF without any additional features
    • Exceptions will be determined on a case-by-case basis for clients with a significant need for alternative file types
  • Links to a PDF must be labeled with (PDF) so that users know they will be downloading or viewing a PDF 
  • All files must follow standard naming conventions, including but not limited to: 
    • Using hyphens to separate multiple words (not spaces or underscores)
    • No dates or version numbers, unless required for clarity between multiple files linked on a webpage
  • All files must be reduced in size and optimized for web
  • All files must be reviewed and updated at least every 3 years
  • PDFs must be formatted to meet accessibility standards for PDFs