How to Convert a PDF File Into an Editable Text Document

Adobe’s PDF standard is handy whenever you need to distribute some information and be sure that it’s seen the same way by all recipients. But PDF files are also infamously tough to edit.

Unless you’ve paid for Adobe Acrobat (the full version, not just the Reader), you’ll have to look for a specific tool to edit the text of PDFs. Many of these are available on various platforms, but for an easy and free method that works across all kinds of desktops and mobile devices, you can use Google Docs.

If you have your PDF file ready, open drive.google.com in any browser and log in with your Google account. It’s possible to go through this process on mobile with a phone browser, so long as you do it in “desktop view,” but it’s going to be somewhat difficult—get to a full laptop or desktop PC if you can.

Upload your PDF file from your local files by clicking the blue “NEW” button on the left, then “File upload.” Select your PDF and wait for it to upload to Google’s server.

Once the file is in your drive, right-click or long-tap the item in Drive’s main view. Select “Open Open with,” then click “Google Docs.” The PDF document will open in a new browser tab in the Google Docs interface.

From here you can edit any of the text in the PDF document as if it were a standard word processor file. some of the formatting may be a bit off thanks to Docs’ interpretation of the images and spacing in the PDF file, but all of the formatted text should be visible and editable—if it’s a larger file, Docs will even create an automatic outline separated into pages.

You can edit any of the text in this window and save your work online in Google Docs for later. If you’d rather have a standard document file for an offline word processor, click “File,” then “Download as.” Here you can choose from Docx, ODT, TXT, RTF, and other formats, so you can open them in Microsoft Office (or your word processor of choice).

Click on the one you want, and it will immediately be downloaded to your default desktop or phone folder. That’s it! You now have a saved, editable copy of your original PDF, compatible with any word processor.

Michael Crider has been covering technology on the web since 2011. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order. He wrote a novel called Good Intentions: A Supervillain Story, and it's available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter if you want.