Tips & Tricks

Searching PDF files with Adobe Reader

About the Author

Adam Behringer

Mr Behringer is the founder and CEO of Bee Documents, Inc. He has participated in the design and development of custom business applications in areas including data-mining, e-commerce, statistical reporting, and document management. Adam Behringer presents lectures and...  More



A major benefit of PDF documents over their hard-copy counterparts is their electronic nature. This makes them both simple to transmit via email or the web and capable of being automatically searched. Adam Behringer explains how to use Adobe Reader 6.0 to search PDF document sets.

Adobe Reader

Adobe Reader can run in one of two ways. First, it can run inside of a web browser. If you click a link on a web page that points to a PDF, it will usually open the PDF within the web browser. Adobe Reader retains the most common functionality this way, but some of the advanced features are hidden. The second mode is a standalone application. Adobe Reader, when launched by clicking its program icon or double clicking a PDF on your hard drive, will open in this mode. Rather than opening as a subset of your browser, it shows all the menu items and features. We recommend using Adobe Reader in standalone mode whenever working with large document sets as it is easier to find the advanced features this way. Most browsers allow you to download PDF files instead of viewing them in the browser by right clicking the PDF link or by changing the setting or preferences.

Version 6.0 added some wonderful new search capabilities which did not exist in previous versions. Make sure that you have at least version 6.0 or above and that you have the full version installed (that includes searching). If your version does not meet these requirements, you may download the latest version for free from Adobe.

Editor's Note: The latest version of Adobe Reader is also available for free download from PDF Store.

Find a Keyword in a File

For our example, we are going to search an Environment Impact Statement found on the City of Issaquah's web site. Here is the link if you would like to follow along with the example. When you first open your PDF file, the first page of the documents fills most of the window:

Viewing a PDF document

To begin searching the document, you need to reveal the Search PDF window. There are several ways to do this:

  1. You can choose the "Search" option in the "Edit" menu.
  2. You can click the icon of the binoculars in the toolbar.
  3. You can press a keyboard shortcut. It is Control-F on Windows, and Apple-F on a Macintosh.

When you have performed one of these actions, a Search PDF panel will be displayed on the right side of the screen like this:

Searching a PDF document

Searching for a single keyword in a document is very simple. Enter the keyword that you would like to find in the box labeled "What word or phrase would you like to search for?" For this example, we are searching for the word "Issaquah." When you have typed your word, press the search button. Adobe Reader will find every occurrence of the word and display a list in the bottom half of the search panel. Clicking on an occurrence will cause the document to switch to that page in the main window. Also note that your keyword has been highlighted on the document to help you find it.

Search results in a PDF document

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