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Edit Your Expectations: Why Word and PDF Suck (Do This Instead)

If you're like most people, you've come across Word documents and PDF files more times than you can count. As a matter of fact, they're so widespread that it's difficult to find a person who doesn't have some version of Microsoft Word and a PDF viewer installed on their computer.

Working with Word files and PDFs can be described as full of suspense, hope, and anticipation - but not in a good way. Want to make some changes to a contract sent to you in PDF? Good luck converting it. Need your Word document to look presentable because you're writing a business proposal? Might as well throw in the towel now if you want impeccable formatting.

The fact of the matter is, you have a better chance of editing your expectations than Word or PDF files. Here's why and what to do instead.

The problem with Microsoft Word documents

All the issues we have with Word today stem from the fact that it first came out 40 years ago. Developed by former Xerox programmers, its format is designed for the creation of documents you intend to print.

Seeing that the world is going more and more digital as time goes on, it's no wonder offline software is falling behind. The way we send documents has changed from stamps and envelopes to links. And with that, so has the functionality we look for in document creation software.

We want speed, ease of use, and documents that bring a wow factor. And while it's possible to make a Word document look presentable, anyone who's ever tried will tell you it doesn't come easy.

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It's not you, it's Word

Try to remember what it was like when you first started out using Microsoft Word. Maybe you tried inserting an image and couldn't get it to stop moving around the page. You probably thought it was your lack of knowledge that was the reason. After all, everyone uses Word, so it must be okay, right?

Next time, you wanted to insert a table and a few text boxes, but ended up with an entire blank page you couldn't delete. Must be you again, you're new to this.

A few days later, you get an MS Word doc as an email attachment. You download it, but it doesn't look the same as it does on your colleague's computer. Again, it's on you - you didn't download the font that's in the original document.

Since you learn from your own mistakes, in time you manage to find ways to make Word work for you. You can still never get your document looking exactly the way you want it to, but at least it's presentable enough.

As you continue using Word, finding workarounds for virtually anything becomes so normal you don't even think about it twice. And that's the fundamental problem Word has - it does many things, but none of them particularly well.

Finishing a document in Word can sometimes feel like you've done it in spite of Word as opposed to with the help of it. At the end of the day, a mountain of options becomes frustrating as soon as you realize you'll be spending hours figuring out the formatting.

The problem with PDF files

Invented 30 years ago by Adobe, PDF (portable document format) was seen as a solution to a previously mentioned problem: documents not looking unified across computer systems. And while sharing documents became worry-free, another problem occurred.

Compared to a Word file, you can't edit documents you received as a PDF file as easily. Since the file format's primary goal is to preserve data, you have three options if you want to edit it:

  • Get your hands on the source document, edit it, and export it as a PDF document again. That said, if you did have access to the source document, why would you need a PDF version in the first place?
  • Try to convert PDF files to an editable format. There are lots of free PDF to Word document conversion websites out there, but it rarely works properly.
  • Buy a subscription for PDF editing software. While not free, it's your best bet for editing PDF file documents.
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Similarly to Word documents, the reason you still get the occasional PDF file is because it works. The format has been around for a long time and everyone knows what it is. That said, using it for business does come with its own set of problems that go beyond just editing.

PDFs need to be downloaded

Because PDFs are offline documents, viewing them involves extra steps you wouldn't have to take if you simply clicked on a link. Now, it's true a client reading a proposal or a contract won't see storing your PDF on their phone or computer as an issue. After all, they were expecting to get some sort of document from you. So what's the problem with PDF downloading then?

Imagine it's a Saturday afternoon. You've decided to go out for drinks with friends. You get to the bar, but you're in the mood for something new, so you check for the price list. On the table, you see a QR code. Naturally, you scan it and click on the link.

As soon as you do, you see a progress bar on your phone informing you how long it will take to download your file. Now you have the bar's price list downloaded to your phone, in PDF. Great, right?

Will you look at it again at home? No. Will you forget you already have it on your phone by the time you go to the same bar again? Yes. Does that mean you'll download the same PDF again the next time you go there? Also yes.

PDF files aren't mobile-friendly

Seeing that as much as 58% of business proposals are now opened on mobile devices, sending PDF files to your clients isn't the best way to close deals. Let's go back to the PDF price list example for a second here.

So, you've downloaded the PDF file and opened it on your phone. Chances are, if you want to actually read what it says, you now need to zoom in. Once you've found a drink you like, you want to check the price, so you need to scroll to the right. 

Only one problem now - you can't see both the drink and the price in the same line. If that sounds frustrating, just imagine what it's like for a client who needs to read proposals or contracts in PDF format. 

mobile-friendly documents are a must

PDF is a static file format

Standing out among competitors has always been important for bringing in new business. And since online document software has become the standard for modern companies, using a static, PDF format won't give you that competitive edge.

While PDF files can contain images, vector graphics, and hyperlinks, they're outdated. That's because online document formats available today: 

  • Look like a web page
  • Allow you to embed rich media
  • Let clients interact with documents
  • Automatically adjust to any screen size

Word document vs PDF: Which file format is better?

Both PDF and Word files are document formats fundamentally built for paper. If you're doing a lot of printing, they'll come in handy. Ultimately, the choice between PDF and Word comes down to your specific needs. For example, if you want other people to be able to edit your document, Word is the better document format. However, if you want to preserve content and formatting, you might prefer a PDF.

In any case, sending business documents in PDF format is something clients no longer expect. According to our research, even if you offer the option of a PDF file to clients, 88% of them won't want it. Here's why you shouldn't either.

88% of clients don't want a PDF

Email attachment issues

If you're sending a Microsoft Word document or a PDF, you're probably going to send it as an email attachment. Only one problem there - the file size. If what you're sending is a document larger than 25 MB, you'll first have to upload it to a file sharing service and then send the link.

No control after pressing send

Another issue with Word and PDF documents is the fact that, once they're out there, you no longer have control over them. Anyone you've sent the file to can forward it to someone else, which is especially dangerous if your documents contain confidential information.

No activity tracking

Even if you give your customers the option of downloading a PDF file from a landing page, the data you end up with is limited. Think about it - you might see how many times people downloaded your PDF, but what did they do with it after? Did they actually read it or did they just leave it in the downloads folder?

Without this information, you can't qualify leads effectively. What's more, since you don't know how they engaged with your content, you also miss out on improving or optimizing it.

Getting signatures is a hassle

If you're sending a contract to a client, chances are you want to get their signature on it. By sending Word and PDF files, you leave your client with two choices, both of them a logistical nightmare:

Seeing that inserting digital signatures into PDF and Word means the client needs to have a valid signing certificate, most will opt for printing and scanning. After all, not all clients have digital signature certificates lying around, and getting one to sign a single PDF or Word file is more trouble than it's worth.

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What to send instead of PDF and Word documents

While Word and PDF remain popular formats, it's more a force of habit than for their functionality. The fact is, they aren't the ideal solution for businesses that need content delivery, digital signatures, and document management in the same platform. 

Whether you're sending legal documents, business proposals or brochures, consider upgrading to online document software like Better Proposals. Here are just some of the reasons why it's a better idea than sending a PDF:

  • You can create faster thanks to templates, integrations, and automatic input fields
  • The formatting is taken care of automatically so you don't have to spend hours editing documents
  • Your documents will be responsive, which means they'll look great on any device
Better Proposals vs Word vs PDF
  • Instead of email attachments, your clients get unique encrypted links
  • Thanks to tracking, you'll know exactly what's happening with your document at all times
better proposals document tracking
  • You can reach out to your clients in real time by integrating live chat into your document
  • Generating sales reports lets you know what's working and what isn't so you can optimize
  • You can collect legally binding digital signatures and payments, all from the same platform

Final thoughts

The fact is, Word has been around for such a long time that we're all just kind of used to it. And while it's true that it used to be the best document software once upon a time, we now have other tools better designed for online document management.

If you're sharing documents with clients, you want to look professional and provide a great user experience. With MS Word and PDF, you might just end up frustrating them and losing business as a result.

Admitting you need help is the first step

The second one is signing up for Better Proposals. The first 14 days are on us.

Patricija Šobak's profile image
Patricija Šobak puts her talent in spotting questionable grammar and shady syntax to good use by writing about various business-related topics. Besides advocating the use of the Oxford comma, she also likes coffee, dogs, and video games. People find her ability to name classic rock songs only from the intro both shocking and impressive.