Creating Linked PDFs from a set of Word Files

Life Sciences organizations often have voluminous numbers of reports and corresponding reference material that need to be prepared for regulatory filings.

Many organizations generate Word and PDF documents which need to be converted in a cross-linked set of documents for submission or for internal use.

Using Microsoft Word, you can create a hyperlink to PDF document easily. Simply select some text in your Word document, right-click and choose hyperlink, then point to a PDF:

Picture of how to link to a PDF document in Word

While it is easy to link to a PDF, that doesnt’ always suit the needs of a busy reglatory professional.

When there are a number of documents which are rapidly changing during the authoring cycle, it can be extremely handy to link to sub-documents (Word files) to allow for quick editing and changes.

That was probably the reason I received the following enquiry via email regarding link capabilities of Acrobat:

If I have several word documents in a directory and the one document is the main Table of contents, I can create links from it to the others where clicking on the link will open the corresponding Word document. When I convert these documents to PDF, the links are broken. Is there a way around this?

Unfortunately, neither Word or the PDF Maker plug-in for Acrobat offer this functionality. When converted to PDF, links in the Word file are maintained to the original source DOC file. In other words, a link to a Word file (in Word) will be a link to a Word file when converted to PDF.

However, there are some workflow tips and workarounds you can use to work around this.
Read on!

Understanding the Process

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, in the next few paragraphs I’ll discuss how to take a group of cross-linked Word files and convert them to a series of cross-linked PDFs.

Diagram of converting a linked set of files from Word to PDF


There are a few different ways you might solve this problem. The best choice will depend on your particular needs.

Use a dummy document system
Convert your collection of Word files to PDF and then link to the PDFs. As you edit the Word docs, just re-pdf them to replace them. This presumes you don’t need to actively use the Word to Word links during the authoring process. If you do, then this approach won’t work for you.

Post-process links in Acrobat using a Plug-in
Use an Acrobat plug-in to post-process the links such as AutoBookmark or ISI Toolbox. These plug-ins allow you to do batch search and update of links in a PDF easily. One nice feature of this solution is that you can also change many other link properties at the same time.

Use Find and Replace in Word to change the link destinations before converting to PDF
You can use a "hidden" feature of Word to change link destinations in bulk. This approach works fine as long as the document name in Word and (when converted to) PDF is the same. Make sure you do this on a copy of the document.

Important Linking Tips

  • Always maintain links to documents in the same relative file structure. I suggest keeping your main Word doc and all linked files in the same folder at the same level.
  • Links can resolve properly to subfolders within the main folder, but may will not function if they are to files outside the main folder if the files are moved.

  • Whatever you choose to do, create sub-document PDF(s) in the same folder and the same level as the Word originals.


Here’s how . . .

    1. Convert all of your sub-documents to PDF.
    2. Make a copy of the main document you wish to change then open it in Word.

      Below, is a table with links to other documents.
      Picture of a Word page with some hyperlinks.

    3. Hit ALT-F9 in Word to show the field codes. All of the hyperlink destinations will appear:
      Picture of the Word doc with Field Codes showing.
    4. Type CTRL-F to open the Navigation window in Word.
    5. Click the fly-out menu of the Search window and choose Replace . . .
      Picture of Word's Replace Function and where to find it.
    6. The Search and Replace window appears.
      Find what: = .docx
      Replace with = .pdf
      Click Replace All
      Populating the Search and Replace window to change DOC files to PDF links
    7. Word displays a window detailing the number of replacements made. Click OK.
      Picture of the results from the search.
      The result is below.( I’ve highlighted the changes.)
      Picture of the changed field codes in Word.
    8. Type ALT-F9 to turn off the Field Codes.
    9. Convert the document to PDF using the Adobe PDF Maker integrated into Word.

As long as the sub-documents are located in the same file, all your links in the resulting PDFs will work.

A More Complicated Set-up

In the example above, the main document contained all the links to the sub-documents. What if you had a more complicated set of documents such as the one below?

Picture of a more complicated conversion scenario.

For a more complicated set of documents, skip Step 1 above, and use the Replace function in Word to change all the links from .DOC to .PDF in all of the documents. Convert each to PDF and all your links should resolve.

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