Putting a pdf on a website isn’t communicating

Taking a document, turning it into an electronic format suitable for the online world and putting in on a website has much to commend it. It’s something I’ve done often enough myself. But only if you realise that those are just preparatory steps to getting the document read online, just like firing up your wordprocessing software is the preparatory step to writing three brilliant chapters. (Or, in my case, three not-quite-brilliant chapters.)

It’s something the World Bank is to be commended for getting to grips with:

World Bank pdfs graphWhat if someone had already figured out the answers to the world’s most pressing policy problems, but those solutions were buried deep in a PDF, somewhere nobody will ever read them?

According to a recent report by the World Bank, that scenario is not so far-fetched. The bank is one of those high-minded organizations — Washington is full of them — that release hundreds, maybe thousands, of reports a year on policy issues big and small. Many of these reports are long and highly technical, and just about all of them get released to the world as a PDF report posted to the organization’s Web site.

The World Bank recently decided to ask an important question: Is anyone actually reading these things? They dug into their Web site traffic data and came to the following conclusions: Nearly one-third of their PDF reports had never been downloaded, not even once.

The answer to this? It’s to remember that putting a pdf online is but preparation for sharing and readership. You also need a thought-through communications plan to secure the readership.

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