PDFs are the most common file format you will encounter. Most journal articles, if not available as plain text on a journal publisher’s webpage, will be available as downloadable PDFs. Lecturers and tutors will often provide PDFs of documents, scanned book chapters and slides.
Whilst PDFs are able to be opened by all devices, on PCs and Macs the text in a PDF is not able to be resized or its font changed – with one exception, see below.
You will most likely be using Adobe Reader to view your PDFs (or Preview on the Mac). The following lists some features you may not have come across before. See also our guides on Full Screen View and Annotating PDFs.
Different page layouts and orientation
If you have a wide screen, you may wish to use two-page view which gives a more natural ‘book’ feel, and keeps the full interface. See also Full Screen View settings.
- In Adobe Reader (PC), from the menu bar select View > Page Display > Two Page View.
- In Preview (Mac), from the menu bar select View > PDF Display > Two Pages.
Some PDF pages may be the wrong way up, but they can be easily rotated:
- In Adobe Reader (PC), from the menu bar select View > Rotate View, or press [Shift] + [Ctrl] + [+] or [Shift] + [Ctrl] + [-].
- In Preview (Mac), from the menu bar select Tools > Rotate Left or Rotate Right, or press [⌘] + [L] or [⌘] + [R].
Note: this rotation affects all pages and is temporary (it doesn’t save the rotation for when you next open the PDF). You can use a programme such as PDF Converter to rotate individual pages and save changes.
Hiding comments and annotations
- In Adobe Reader (PC), from the menu bar select View > Read Mode, or press [Ctrl] + [H].
- In Preview (Mac), from the menu bar select View > Hide Notes.
Changing font size and type
As mentioned, unless you are using a mobile device with the Adobe Reader App to extract text and ‘reflow’ it, you cannot change the size or style of the text in a PDF. However, you can select all the text in the PDF and copy it into a text editing programme (e.g. Microsoft Word) and change the font from there.
Some PDFs will not let you select the text if they are scanned-in pages, i.e. the pages of the PDF are images of text. In this case you cannot extract the text by simply copying and pasting. Programmes like PDF Converter are capable of processing these images and attempting to work out the text from them. Depending on the quality of the PDF this can have mixed results.