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PDF Archives - Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes

How to convert a PDF to Word or Google Docs

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If you write reports, publish research, help companies produce manuals or marketing material, or deal with legal documents, eventually you will want to learn how to convert a PDF to Word or Google Docs for editing or republishing. This post and video (updated in 2015) show you how to do it.

It’s a very common — and very frustrating — scenario. Adobe PDF documents are meant for publishing and displaying information according to fixed layouts. However, PDFs cannot be edited, except with special software.

What typically happens is people find they need to extract text from or convert a PDF to Microsoft Word’s .docx file format or Google Docs, so the text can be updated or edited. The hard, frustrating way to do this involves copying and pasting text from the PDF into Word or a text editor, and then dealing with lots of formatting problems — copying text from a PDF ignores column structures and tables, which leads to weird braks, and sometimes unneeded text is captured, including page numbers, headers and footers.

But there’s a workaround that involves Google Drive and the free online word processor included with Drive, called Google Docs. The steps include:

  • Uploading the PDF to Drive
  • Using Google Drive to convert the PDF to Google Docs
  • Editing the document in Docs, or re-exporting it to Microsoft Word as an editable .docx file.

The video below shows exactly what steps to take. Note that converting PDFs to .docx files is a two-step process, and you will need to delete the image files that are created during the conversion process (assuming you no longer want them, and just want the text).

In addition, the conversion process does not work with PDFs that are based on images. The underlying data in the PDF needs to be text, not an image that was created with a camera.

After watching, if you’re interested in learning more about creating, sharing, and collaborating on documents using Google Drive & Docs, check out my guide. It’s called Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes and is available for the Kindle, iPad, Nook, Android tablets, and as a PDF and paperback.

Without further ado, here’s the video. Please “like” or share it after you’re done:

Three easy ways to upload files to Google Drive

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This post describes how to upload files to Google Drive. A typical scenario is storage of non-Google formats (such as image files, PDFs, or Microsoft Word files) but in certain cases people may want to upload files to convert them to Google Drive formats such as Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides. There are three easy ways that people use to upload files to Drive:

  1. Go to drive.google.com, logon, and click the red upload button to find the file you want to add (see inset image, below).
  2. Drag the file into the Google Drive folder on your hard drive
  3. Save the file directly into the Google Drive folder on your hard drive, using whatever application that can create the file format in question (for example, Microsoft Word, PhotoShop, etc.)

Google Drive upload buttonOne thing to note about using the red upload button: For certain file formats, including Microsoft Word or Excel, Google Drive may automatically convert the file to the equivalent Google Drive format (Google Docs, Google Sheets, etc.). While Google Drive formats are useful for collaboration and other functions, some users do not want or need conversion. To turn off conversion, click the Settings icon in the upload window (see image below) and uncheck “Convert uploaded files”.

I’ve found dragging and dropping to be the easiest method of transferring large numbers of non-Google file formats to Google Drive. It’s very easy, as long as you have have the Google Drive application installed on your PC or Mac. Simply select a file, folder, or group of files and folders in My Computer (Windows) or Finder (Mac), and then drag them to your Google Drive folder.

As for saving files directly to Google Drive from whatever application you are using, you’ll need to have the Google Drive application installed on your PC or Mac. When saving the file for the first time (or using “Save As” or “Duplicate” functions), just be sure to select the Google Drive folder on your hard drive, instead of My Documents or other folders you use.

For more information on setting up Google Drive on your PC or Mac, read Chapter 7 of “Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes”. Conversion is discussed in Chapter 2 (Google Docs). Purchasing options are listed here.

Image: Changing the automatic conversion settings for Google Drive:

Google Drive automatic conversion

Storage of non-Google formats in Google Drive

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A reader of “Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes” wants to know more about storage of non-Google formats in Google Drive. This could include anything from images to PDFs to Microsoft Office documents. It’s possible to upload such documents to your Google Drive account and use it as an online drive that synchronizes to all PCs and devices that have the Google Drive application installed. However, there are a few issues that make Google Drive a bit different than Dropbox or other online storage services:

  1. There are no account limits on the size or amounts of documents saved in native formats (Docs, Sheets, Slides, etc.). In other words, you can save as many of these files as you like, as long as they were created using Google Drive.
  2. Non-Google Drive formats are limited to 5 gigabytes of free storage space per account. When you hit the limit, you have to buy more storage space, or start deleting files.
  3. Non-Google files that other people share with you will not be counted toward your Google Drive account total.
  4. When browsing the files in your Google Drive account, non-Google formats are clearly identified in both the online and offline version using icons (see image at the bottom of this page).
  5. Google Drive’s online interface has many advanced features that cannot be found in Dropbox or other services, such as automatic conversion of Microsoft Word, Excel, and other Office file formats.
  6. There are lots of synchronization options, such as being able to control which subfolders are synced with the master repository online.
  7. For cross-device syncing, I’ve found that the Google Drive application needs to be manually nudged in order to update. This is unlike Dropbox, which is completely automatic and requires no manual intervention to update.

I’ve extensively discussed conversion options between Microsoft Office and Google Drive in “Google Drive & Docs In 30 Minutes“, as well as in the free videos available here. However, in the coming days on this blog I will also cover:

  • Basics of uploading non-Google formats to Google Drive
  • Syncing and “nudging” the Google Drive application on PCs and Macs
  • Accessing previous versions of a non-Google file

Follow the links above to read about these specific issues.

Image: Non-Google formats are identified by different icons in a Google Drive folder. In this example, native formats have their own icons (.gdoc, .gsheet, .gslides), while a Microsoft Word doc and Adobe PDF file have their own icons.

Google Drive non-Google format