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Using Bookmarks To Make Your PDF Documents More Interactive

Oct 12, 2007
PDFs are documents whose original format and layout has been preserved, allowing users to view the document as it was originally formatted without the need to own the program in which it was created. All you need is the freely available Acrobat Reader and you can open the document and browse through it pretty much as its creator intended.

Almost everyone agrees that PDFs are a great thing but they can sometimes be rather difficult and tedious to navigate. That's where bookmarks come in handy: they are clickable headings which link to specific parts of the PDF document and enable you to get around a lot faster than scrolling or moving one page at a time.

When you distribute PDFs that contain important information about your products or services, you want to make sure that your audience can get to key facts as quickly as possible. Adding bookmarks to your PDF files can make them more useful and attractive to potential clients.

The bookmarks panel is one of the navigation panels normally displayed on the left of the Acrobat Reader screen. To show bookmarks, click on the bookmark icon or choose View - Navigation Panels - Bookmarks. Click on a bookmark to move to the page that it links to.

If the PDF that you are distributing to your audience is one that you want them to spend some time reading and digesting, adding bookmarks will improve the chances of this happening. However, bookmarks cannot be created with Acrobat Reader: you will need either Acrobat Professional or Acrobat Standard, the commercial versions of Acrobat. But then you will also need one of these two bits of software to create your PDF in the first place.

Once you have created the PDF, open it with Acrobat Standard or Professional and open the Bookmarks panel. Next, navigate to the first page that you want your audience to be able to find easily, choose New Bookmark from the Options menu in the top right of the Bookmarks panel and enter a name for the bookmark. Repeat this procedure to create as many bookmarks as you think useful.

If this all sounds a bit tedious then let's look at a few ways of speeding things up. Firstly, instead of typing a name for a bookmark, you can use the selection tool (located next to the hand tool on the toolbar) to highlight some text on the page then, when you choose New Bookmark, the highlighted text will be used as the name of the bookmark. Also, you can use the keyboard shortcut for New Bookmark: Control-B.

Better still, why not have your bookmarks automatically generated for you! The software utility AutoBookmark will generate bookmarks automatically based on the textual attributes of your PDF file such as font size and indentation.

Then there is Adobe's own PDFMaker, a utility for Microsoft Office 97, 2002 and 2003 which is automatically installed along with Acrobat Standard or Professional producing an extra menu in Office programs called "Adobe PDF" and an "Adobe PDFMaker" toolbar.

When you create a PDF using the PDFMaker utility, any text formatted with Word's heading styles ("Heading 1", "Heading 2", etc.) will automatically be converted to PDF bookmarks as will entries in indexes and tables of content. Similarly, if you PDF an Excel workbook using PDFMaker, bookmarks to each worksheet will automatically be created. In PowerPoint, bookmarks to each slide in your presentation will be generated for you.

Some DTP packages will also automatically generate PDF bookmarks in a similar way to Microsoft Word (based on styles, indexes and tables of content), namely InDesign, QuarkXPress and Serif PagePlus. These three software applications have the added benefit that you don't actually need to buy Acrobat Standard or Professional to create your PDF files, since this facility is built-in to each of these great programs.

It is also worth mentioning that bookmarks can do more than just link to a particular page within the PDF document. Firstly, by default, they actually link to a view rather than a page. Thus, for example, if a page in your document contains a map, you can zoom in on the map till it fills the screen and then create a bookmark. When your users click this bookmark, they will be taken to the exact zoom level that was current when the bookmark was created.

In addition, bookmarks can be made to perform other tasks, such as linking to a web URL or opening a document (in any format) on an intranet. To change what a bookmark will do, having created it, right-click the bookmark and choose Properties, then click on the Actions tab. Highlight the default action ("Go to a page in this document") and click Delete. Choose an alternative action from the drop-down menu labelled "Select Action" and click the Add button.

Finally, having spent some time preparing bookmarks to make life easier for your audience, wouldn't it be a shame if they don't actually see them because their bookmarks panel is not open! Luckily, Adobe have thought of this.

Before distributing your PDF file, choose Properties from the File menu and click on the "Initial View" tab. Next, from the "Navigation Panels" drop-down, choose "Bookmarks Panel and Page". This will ensure that, when the user opens your document, their bookmarks panel will also open.
About the Author
The author is a trainer and developer with Macresource Computer Solutions, an established, independent computer training company offering Adobe Acrobat training courses at their training centre in London and throughout the UK.
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