Ask Otto / teacher resources

Dear Otto: Why Can’t I type into a PDF?

tech questions

Do you have a tech question?

Dear Otto is an occasional column where I answer questions I get from readers about teaching tech. If you have a question, please complete the form below and I’ll answer it here. For your privacy, I use only first names.

Here’s a great question I got from Shelley:

Is there anyway to type into a PDF form?  I get forms and worksheets in PDF form and would like to change them sometimes and do not know how.

A: We’ve all received those wonderful PDFs that allow you to enter data (as long as you have a free PDF reader). Usually, you can’t save the PDF with the data, but you can print it. Other times, the PDF doesn’t allow entering information.

I agree with Shelley–that is confusing.

Here’s the difference: You can create PDFs in any MS Office 2007/10 product (and many others through free online software I won’t get into at the moment) through the menu command for ‘save-as’ and select ‘pdf’. These PDFs cannot be edited. They  enable the file to be read online as long as users have Adobe Reader (which is free and is what most of us have) or a variety of other free PDF readers. These documents can only be read–not edited.

To create a pdf that allows someone to enter data into fields requires it be created in a (usually non-free) PDF creator that permits that function, such as Adobe Reader’s upgrade called Adobe Acrobat Pro. There are other programs that accomplish this–I’m just used to Adobe. When you post a PDF created in this upgrade to be used as a form, users can enter information (but not edit your form). Unless users have Adobe Pro, they cannot save the form, just print.

If you are an educator, you can get this software from Adobe for about $120 using an education discount. Otherwise, it’s over $300.


Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-sixth grade, creator of two technology training books for middle school and three ebooks on technology in education. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything. Currently, she’s editing a thriller for her agent that should be out to publishers this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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