When providing document files for people to read online, the main concern should be for the user experience and access.

When Shouldn't PDFs Be Used in Digital Media

Most often don't link to PDF files of content that are intended to be read and not required to be printed. If the information is important enough to post online and announce over e-mail, it should be a webpage.


  • are smaller in file size and less limiting to low quality connectivity;
  • are accessible by screen readers;
  • offer a centralized navigation;
  • can be easily shared among all the major social media platforms;

  • are properly branded;
  • provide user analytics;
  • are more search engine friendly;
  • are more easily linked to in e-mail than a document is to upload and attach;
  • can be cached on both the server and by web browsers.

Consult as well why to avoid PDFs for on-screen reading.

How to Manage Common Document Formats

If these types of documents below are designed and developed for print without being made accessible for electronic media, don't embed them, upload and e-mail them, or link to them from e-mail, webpages, and social media. In many cases print documents, as well as images of text in single graphics, can be difficult to remediate for accessibility after they've been saved and distributed as PDFs, JPG, PNG, or other file types.

In other cases, it may be best to optimize the design process if one can with document designers so that a single document will work for print and for electronic display. While it's not necessary to make print documents electronically accessible if they're only intended to be printed, it is necessary if they're also intended to be read electronically, downloaded, and printed by the user.

These formats are also time-sensitive and temporary (most are outdated within a year). If there is valuable information in the content and it isn't required to be in a certain format, it's best to create a webpage or e-mail and social media to present the content and to use the printed formats to complement the digital components of the material.

Use all electronic media interchangeably, but don't use print and electronic media interchangeably, i.e. print for locations, venues, bulletin boards, lobbies, etc. and electronic media for remote access.

  • Newsletters - depending on complexity, Drupal Web Express provides a newsletter webpage builder that also creates accessible e-mail.
  • Fliers - create webpages as well to supplement print or use only a webpage
  • Event programs (Cannot be linked to from Localist (university event management system)

  • Brochures - often only for print
  • Academic content - course lists, programs, etc.
  • Fact sheets
  • Posters
  • Powerpoints

While it's easier in many cases to just upload a PDF or word file in these formats and link to it or e-mail it, one shouldn't do that and here's why:

  1. Putting a PDF online isn't as simple as uploading it to the web server and linking to it. PDFs must meet accessibility standards, just like webpages, and it takes a good deal of work and skill to make them accessible.

If PDFs are directly created or acquired from third parties who have created them in these formats, place the content into a webpage. In most cases, convert word documents to PDF if any of these formats apply. It's helpful to require from third party providers of PDFs to also provide the original content and source files from which PDFs originate.