PDF Conversion:

Every dissertation or thesis must be submitted to us as a PDF file. There is a PDF Conversion tool available for every student to use in their ETD account. They do not have to use it. We do not care how they create their PDF. All we care about is whether or not we can publish it. Every time a PDF is uploaded into a submission we check it to make sure it is a PDF we can publish. In general, I know we can publish PDF/A versions of PDFs. The “A” stands for archival. It is effectively the standard type of PDF that Adobe created when they developed the format standard back in the early ‘90s.

There are many different types of PDFs though. Some we might be able to publish and many that we cannot. The best way to test a PDF is to have the student try uploading it into their ETD submission and see if it uploads successfully. If it does, we can publish it.

Embedding the fonts:

Prior to converting a Word document into a PDF the student will want to “embed the fonts” in their Word document. This process just saves the fonts that are being used in the Word document in the actual document file itself so that no matter where that file goes it will have every font needed to make it appear as the author intended it to. If the fonts are not embedded and a document is opened on a computer that does not have the same fonts installed on it that are being used in the document, that computer will use a default font instead. This is often not a problem. It is possible that there could be no noticeable difference in the document when this happens. Unfortunately, because of spacing differences due to the different relative sizes of the fonts being used, the formatting of the document is often affected. In other cases, sections of a document that are supposed to be in Mandarin will instead appear in English, for example.

Due to a history of shared animosity between Microsoft and Apple embedding fonts on Mac versions of Word is handled in the following manner. On Word for Mac 2008 or later the fonts will automatically be embedded in the PDF when you save the Word document as a PDF. The fonts are not actually embedded in the Word document, just the PDF that is created. In Word for Mac 2004 or earlier the fonts are never embedded in anything. No matter what version of Word for Mac is being used there are no settings anywhere for embedding the fonts. It either happens or it doesn’t, automatically.

The reasons a PDF cannot be uploaded: There primarily two types of error messages that a student can get when uploading a PDF into the PDF submission step or a Word document into the PDF Conversion tool:

The error message can mean exactly what they say (i.e. the student didn’t embed their fonts) but unfortunately they can also just be a symptom of a larger issue. (i.e. The type of PDF being uploaded is not one we can publish. The testing process failed when trying to access the fonts so the error message received is the “Font were not embedded” even if they were.

Because the error messages can identify the exact problem or just be an indicator of a problem they tend not to be overly useful. Nonetheless, the student’s file is having a problem.

Often times a student will contact us not because they received an error message but because the resulting PDF doesn’t look right. These situations are caused by the formatting in the Word document not being translated correctly by the conversion process and can potentially be the hardest problems to resolve.

If the student is getting an error message when uploading their file:

(Font Error) Make sure they have embedded their fonts. (go figure)
(Font Error) If fonts are embedded, find out how they created their PDF. It is likely that they created it straight out of Word (on PC) without enabling the ISO 19005-1 compliance.
(Security Error) If they are getting this error when uploading their PDF make sure that they are not mistakenly trying to upload a Word document into their ETD submission.
(Font Error) If they created their PDF in Word for Mac 2004 (or earlier) you will need to discuss with them what their options are for possibly embedding the fonts in that Word document with some other application.
(Either Error) If they created that PDF using a LaTeX application (An application often used by engineering students to extract data from a database and create a PDF from it) the student will need to adjust the settings in the LaTeX application that will change the type of PDF that application is creating. We tend not to get calls regarding LaTeX applications. For the most part they seem to create PDFs that we can publish by default.

In general, it is always worth trying to convert a document with a different conversion process. You may not get different results but it is possible to get vastly different results. Show the student how to create the PDF directly out of their version of Word if possible. We have also had very good results from a PDF Conversion application called CutePDF. (http://www.cutepdf.com/) If a student is going to try finding a PDF conversion tool online they should probably look for freeware (CutePDF has a freeware version) as opposed to demo versions. Demos of PDF conversion applications have a tendency to leave a watermark on the PDF it creates in order to advertise itself. That won’t always be the case but it is good to make the students aware that it can happen.

If the student isn’t getting an error when they upload the file (or haven’t tried uploading it yet) but the formatting is horrible in some way:

The first thing to do is determine how the student created their PDF and whether or not they started with a “.doc” file or a “.docx” file. If they are using a recent version of Word (2007 or 2010) and their document file is a “.doc” file they should save it as a “.docx” file and try converting it again. The “.docx” file format, amongst other things, is much more conversion-friendly than the “.doc” file format.


If there is something distinctly wrong with the formatting, like the page numbers are not converting correctly or the Table of Contents has error codes in it there may be specific things we can try in order to fix how it is converting. In many cases the problems exist because after the initial formatting was entered it was manually adjusted. Word could figure out how to make the formatting information look good but once the file was converted into the PDF format all bets were off. Usually the student would have to remove the formatting completing and reenter it from scratch. In the case of the Table of Contents there is an Update Table button that should be tried initially. If the problem persists after pressing the Update Table button the student will likely need to remove the Table of Contents completely and reinsert it from scratch.

Update table button for TOC in WORD

If the problem is isolated to a specific chart, graph, table, or image you can try using a work-around for the problem. Some image files just don’t convert well into other formats. PowerPoint slides (.PPS files) are a good example of this. 50-75% of the time they will convert without a problem. Inevitably there will be an image file that will convert as a large black box instead of what the image should look like. If the original image file is available, all the student should have to do is save it as a different file type (JPG or BMP work well) and replace the original image in the Word document with this new one. When it is converted into a PDF that image file should convert well and look good. If it is a chart, graph or table that does not look good in the PDF they can try the following. Take screenshots of the tables, graph or chart in the Word document, save the screenshot as a file type that converts well into other file formats (Like .JPG or .BMP) and insert them into your Word document in place of the original. You can use applications like Photoshop or Microsoft Paint to save the screenshots as another file type and they would have tools available to allow you to crop the screenshot down to size so the image file would just be of the table you are looking to insert into your document. There are also applications such as Greenshot (http://getgreenshot.org/ that are free and make taking screenshots very easy to do. You would also just be taking the screenshot of only what you want to be in the image and saving it as a .JPG file is very simple to do.