Nonprofit Accounting Basics

Adobe Acrobat Best Practices

Note: Articles published before January 1, 2017 may be out of date. We are in the process of updating this content.


The Adobe Acrobat program is widely used in both the nonprofit and for-profit business communities to finalize documents and reports. It is also a valuable tool to secure content of reports and contracts. The tips in this article will enhance your Adobe Acrobat software skills. This article presents tips to help you:

  • Search PDF content
  • Use bookmarks
  • Run optical character recognition
  • Combine PDF files
  • Manipulate pages
  • Add comments and annotations
  • Protect the content of a PDF
  • Add a digital signature

PDF content

Making a PDF file from a Word document, Excel workbook, or PowerPoint presentation can be accomplished easily. There are several options, depending upon the version of Microsoft Office, but all Office 2007 and Office 2010 programs allow you to select File, Save As, and then select the file type as PDF.

What is the best way to search the content of a PDF? If the PDF document content exists in image only format, before you can search for individual words, you will have to use the OCR feature which recognizes characters in the PDF. If you cannot click the cursor in between characters in the PDF, then the PDF or part of the PDF is image only. To use the OCR features in the Adobe Acrobat 9 program, select Document from the menu, OCR Text Recognition, Recognize Text Using OCR. (In version X, select Tools in the upper right, select Recognize Text, and click In This File.) Select OK and each page will be processed. Now from the keyboard press CTRL f, type a phrase, and press ENTER and you will be searching the content.

Are bookmarks a good way to search a PDF? Bookmarks are visible in the left navigation panel. Click the bookmark symbol on the left below the toolbars to show any bookmarks. Click a bookmark and you will jump to that location in the PDF. The easiest way to add a bookmark is to select text in the PDF or scroll to a page, from the keyboard press CTRL b, type text in the bookmark name on the left, and press ENTER. You can right-click a bookmark to rename it. You can drag bookmarks in the bookmark panel on the left to rearrange them.

What is the easy way to manipulate pages? Click the pages symbol in the left navigation panel below the toolbars to open the pages panel. You can see the thumbnail view of the pages. When you right-click on a page, you have easy access to features to insert more pages from other files, extract pages to a new PDF, delete pages, rotate pages, number pages, print pages, and other features. The easiest way to copy a page from one PDF to another is to have both PDF files open side by side (or in multiple monitors) with the pages panels open in each. Drag a page from one pages panel in one PDF to the pages panel in the other PDF.

What is the easy way to add comments and annotations to a PDF? Placing comments on PDF files is an easy way to review the content and give feedback to the creator of the PDF. To add a comment to the PDF, place the cursor in the text or select text, then right-click, and select Add Sticky Note. You can drag the sticky note object over the exact location. Double-click the sticky note object to open or close the note. Type text in the note. Many other types of annotations are available. In Adobe Acrobat version 9, click Comments on the menu and show the Comments and Markup toolbar. In version X, click the Comments panel on the right.

PDF files

How do you combine multiple PDF files? In Adobe Acrobat version 9, select File, Combine, Merge Files into a single PDF. In Adobe Acrobat version X, select File, Create, Combine Files into a Single PDF. Click Add Files in the upper left, browse to the files, and select. Then click the Combine Files button in the lower right corner of the dialog box. The result is the PDFs are put together in the sequence that the files are listed in the dialog box.

How do I protect the content of a PDF? Most people do not realize that a PDF is unprotected and can be modified unless you add protecting features. A commonly used method to protect the content of a PDF is to right-click anywhere in the PDF and select Document Properties. Click the Security tab in the dialog box, click the Security Method drop-down list, and choose Password Security. You can enter a password to open the PDF file. The prompt for this password will be seen when opening the PDF. You can optionally enter a password to restrict editing and printing of the PDF. If you check to restrict editing and printing, remember to change Printing Allowed “None” to “High Resolution.” When you select the OK button, you will be prompted to enter the password a second time and you will see a prompt indicating the password security will not take place until the PDF is saved. I recommend before adding a password, save the PDF file under a different filename so you have an unprotected version in addition to the protected version. To remove the passwords, open the PDF, return to the same dialog box, and delete the marks in the password boxes.

Will a digital signature lock a PDF and add security? Using a digital signature, something you can create within Adobe Acrobat, is an easy way to not only secure a PDF, but also to indicate you have added your signature with a time stamp. To create a digital signature in Adobe Acrobat 9, select Advanced from the menu, Sign & Certify, Certify with Visible Signature. To create a digital signature in Adobe Acrobat X, select Tools in the upper right, click Sign & Certify, and click With Visible Signature. In the next step, click OK and click OK again. You will see the mouse pointer change to a target shape. Click and drag a rectangle where you would like your signature placed. Click Create a New ID. Mark “A New Digital ID that I want to create now.” Click Next. Mark the Windows Certificate Store. Click Next. Enter your name and email address. Click Finish. You will see your digital signature in the dialog box. Click Sign. You will be prompted to save the file under a different name because you will not be able to change the PDF after saving with a digital signature. When you click Save, the digital signature is placed in the PDF and the PDF is locked. You cannot undo a digital signature, so it is a good idea to save the file under a different filename before adding the digital signature. If you need to remove a digital signature from the computer, in version 9 select Advanced from the menu, Security Settings, click Digital IDs on the left. Click your name listed as a digital ID and click the Remove ID button. To remove a digital signature in version X, click Tools in the upper right, click Sign & Certify in the panel, click More Sign & Certify, and click Security Settings. Click Digital IDs on the left. Click your name listed as a digital ID and click the Remove ID button. Instead of creating your own digital signatures within the Adobe Acrobat program, you can also purchase digital signatures from companies like Verisign.

To continue your learning of the Adobe Acrobat software program or to review these features online, follow this link to Adobe demos.