At Open Law Lab, Margaret Hagan makes a really good point:

Please, legal authors & publishers of great content, unbury your content — let it free — make it usable for your target audiences. Take the text and images out of the pdf, and lay it out in a webpage with HTML.

PDFs are great for documents that need to look as close to exactly the same on every screen and printer. But they aren’t great for reading unless you print them out. Try reading a PDF on your smartphone, for example. Or searching a PDF that wasn’t OCR’d. Or closing a long PDF and trying to pick it up where you left off. Now do the same with a responsive website — or better yet, using Instapaper or Pocket.

So why, Margaret wants to know, is so much legal information — court opinions,1 know-your-rights explainers, legal information — hidden away in PDFs? It’s a good question.

Before you put a PDF on your website, ask yourself if it is the kind of document that is primarily meant to be printed, or whether people are likely to want to be able to read it on a screen. If it’s the latter (which is usually the case), follow Margaret’s advice and publish it as a web page, with the PDF available for download for those who want it.


  1. I wanted to read every Supreme Court opinion from the last term, for example, but they are all locked away in PDFs.