How to search a PDF (and the benefits of using a PDF)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 7 November 2022

Published 30 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A portable document format, or PDF, is one of the most common document formats that professionals use to find relevant information for their tasks. But, manually searching for a specific phrase or word in a PDF that has hundreds of pages can be challenging. If you frequently use PDFs, you could benefit from learning how to search a PDF to help you find certain words or phrases more efficiently. In this article, we explain how to search for words or phrases in a PDF in Windows, macOS and online and explore the benefits of using PDFs in business.

How to search for text in a PDF on Windows

You can search for a word or phrase in a PDF in Windows in three different ways:

1. Searching a phrase in a PDF by using the 'Search' icon

Here are the steps you can take to search a phrase in a PDF by using the 'Search' icon:

  1. The first step is to open the PDF file containing the phrase or words you're looking for. Click the ‘Open file' tab on the Home window to open the PDF file.

  2. The next step is to search for the text in the file and you can do this by clicking on the ‘Search' icon. This opens the search window, where you can type the word or phrase you're looking for and if the words you search for are in the PDF these are then highlighted.

  3. If the PDF has various files, select the ‘Advanced search' option from the ‘Search' icon to choose the files you want to search. You can look at the various filters to find the text you want and it's important to note that the search range includes bookmarks, comments and attachments.

  4. If you want to replace the specific terms you're looking for, click the drop-down menu to select the ‘Select and replace' option.

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2. Searching a PDF for text by pressing ‘Ctrl + F'

Here are the steps you can take to search a PDF for a phrase or word by pressing ‘Ctrl + F':

  1. Open your desired PDF file by clicking on the ‘Open file' button and then press ‘Ctrl + F'. This opens the ‘Find' bar and you can type any word or phrase in to see if it's in the document.

  2. If you want to replace the phrase or word with alternative text, click the ‘Replace with' option and enter your preferred text in the box, then, click the ‘Replace' button. If you want to replace all the specific words or phrases with your alternative text, click on the ‘Replace all' button.

3. How to search a scanned PDF

Below, you can find the steps to take to search for a scanned PDF:

  1. First, convert the scanned PDF into an editable format, such as a Word document, by using a PDF converter.

  2. Next, download the document. In this editable text format, you can then edit, customise the pages and change the language if you want.

  3. Finally, you can search for your specific text, by pressing the ‘Ctrl + F' keys and entering the word or phrase that you wish to search for into the search bar.

How to search for text in a PDF on macOS

Consider the following steps to search for text in a PDF on macOS:

  1. The first step is to launch your PDF viewer or editor. Then, import the PDF document by clicking the ‘Open' button or you can also use the drag and drop option.

  2. To search for your specific text, you can use the shortcut key of ‘cmd + F'. You may also locate the words by clicking on the ‘Search' icon and then type the word or phrase you're looking for in the document.

  3. If you want to replace any of the words with alternative text, use the ‘Replace with' option in the drop-down menu of the ‘Search' button.

How to search for a word or phrase in a PDF by using your web browser

If you don't have access to a PDF viewer or editor, you can open a PDF and search for text by using your web browser. In this scenario, consider the following steps to search for text in a PDF:

  1. Using your preferred browser, open the PDF file that you want to search. To open the file, move your cursor onto the file, right-click and choose the ‘Open with' option.

  2. Then press ‘cmd + F' or ‘Ctrl + F,' depending on your operating system.

  3. Type the text you're looking for and navigate the search results to locate the words you want to edit.

  4. After you've finished searching, click the ‘X' button on the search bar to close it.

What are the benefits of using PDFs for businesses?

Below, you can find out about the benefits of using a PDF and why businesses continue to work with them:

Fixed document format

If you're looking to maintain your document format, regardless of the device, browser or operating system you use, then a PDF might be the best option for you. With a PDF, you can ensure that the format is consistent, meaning there's no chance of confusion or complications.

For example, if your document has images, changing the format can corrupt the image, which can confuse whoever's viewing it. Using a PDF format can avoid this confusion. Another advantage is that when printing PDF files the formatting remains the same, no matter what software you use to print it.

Related: Top 9 basic computer skills and why they're useful

Small file size

PDF files have the advantage of compressing high-quality files into small file sizes, without damaging the file quality. This is ideal for organisations that are looking to save on hard drive space. Using the PDF format can therefore help an organisation to save money on archiving expenses, which can be costly if you're using other formats.

Related: 3 different ways to make PDFs smaller (with pros and cons)

Guaranteed security

Businesses can rely on a PDF to distribute and protect important and sensitive documentation. This is because you can easily encrypt PDF files and share them in a ‘Read-only' format to ensure that no one can change or tamper with the content except the author. PDF applications tend to have various security features, such as redaction and password encryption, which guarantees security to the users. When using this feature, it's important to use a solid and secure password that's not easily guessable. You can create a secure password by mixing special characters with numbers and letters in different cases.

Other security features for PDFs include:

  • Digital certificates: This tool acts as an electronic card containing personal information. You can use digital certificates to legally sign files and encrypt them to ensure that only authorised users can view or edit the files.

  • Dynamic stamps: This tool shows the viewer who approved a document and when.

Easy to edit

Usually, you can't edit PDF documents unless you use a PDF editor. But, there are many PDF editors available that you can use, depending on your preference. These PDF editors eliminate the requirement to create new PDFs from scratch if you want to make changes to an existing document.

Related: A guide to converting a PDF to Google Docs for editing

Easily accessible

The PDF format is easily accessible. You can access your PDF documents on any device with a web browser, including laptops, desktops and smartphones. You can also open a PDF when using any operating system. This includes both Windows and macOS.

Compatible with non-text elements

One of the significant benefits of the PDF format is that it supports non-text elements. You can add images, tables, graphs, embedded content, redactions, file attachments and watermarks to your document. This is why it's ideal for business use, as most businesses use these elements to convey information.

In addition, the file elements don't get corrupted, even if you open it on a different device. If there are any links in the PDF, you can also open them in the PDF file, which means you can avoid manually copying the link to open it in your web browser.

Universal format

The PDF is one of the oldest and most popular file formats. Due to its reliability, most businesses around the world work with these file formats. For example, you can share a PDF file with someone in another continent, who may be using different software to you, and you can be confident that the formatting of the file is the same when they open the document.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. This article is based on information available at the time of writing, which may change at any time. Indeed does not guarantee that this information is always up-to-date. Please seek out a local resource for the latest on this topic.

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