How Should You Display Links To PDF Files?

Jeff Sauro, PhD

I’m always gathering and looking at data. One consequence of this is having to reconcile conflicting data-points—say data from users who express different perspectives on an issue. For example, one of my articles was recently tweeted with the note:  “any website with the name usability in it should let you know you’re clicking on a PDF.”

Few things slow the web-browsing experience down more than waiting for Acrobat to load up and then open a large file. Then you need to close the file and reorient yourself back to the webpage. While I’d like to avoid linking to PDF’s whenever I can, many journal articles and publications are in PDF format, so it’s hard to avoid. So in thinking this was a good suggestion, I started adding notes to my links letting users know that the link would open the dreaded PDF. First I made them look like this:

And then since they often appeared in parentheses, I made them superscripts to stand out from the other material to look like this

SEQ PDF: Single Ease Question

All was fine for about another two weeks when I got another tweet that said: “Should we still identify links to docs with file type, size (pdf, 78k)? Superscript? Like.” And so I suspect I’m not the only one who has grappled with how to let their users know they’re about to have an awkward experience without well, having another awkward experience. What’s my solution to this somewhat conflicting data?  Well…more data of course.

Let me know what you would do or have seen that works well for dealing with the PDF-link issue in the comment box below. Oh, and no links to PDF files please.

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