This is one of the 52 terms in The Language of Technical Communication published by XML Press in 2016 and the contributor for this term is Maxwell Hoffmann.

What is it?

A file format used to present and exchange documents reliably and without dependence on the operating system, computer hardware, or software.

Why is it important?

Since PDF files can be easily annotated with insertions, deletions, and comments via free PDF Reader software, they are an economical way to manage content reviews from remote staff.

Why does a technical communicator need to know this?

Invented by Adobe, PDF is now an open standard maintained by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Although PDF is almost 25 years old, it has emerged as a versatile container for carrying content. PDFs can be password protected to prevent copying or editing, and they may be set to permanently delete sensitive information. All source file information is preserved, even when text, graphics, audio, 3D maps, and more are combined in a single file from multiple sources.

PDF files are searchable, and they are designed to make content accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. PDF is the most common, standard file format for delivery of patents, court documents, and technical documentation that is under regulatory review.

PDF is not going away any time soon: persistent page and line breaks (possibly with line numbering in the left-hand margin) are some of the reasons lawyers demand PDF for documents that may lead to litigation.

PDFs can contain links, buttons, form fields, audio, video, and business logic. More significantly, PDF documents can be signed electronically and are easily viewed using free Adobe Acrobat Reader software. PDFs may be edited, signed, or approved on mobile devices as well as on conventional personal computers.

PDF output is an economical means for creating universal documents that are readable on virtually any device and which support commenting, review, and electronic signatures using free software.