A tool for turning online research reports into PDFs

July 2023
3 min read
by Sam Devitt

We’ve long advocated for producing HTML versions of research reports in full online within your website CMS.

Doing so makes your research and expertise more accessible, searchable, sharable (and easier to use with new AI applications). But, the fact is, that many users also want a PDF version – and that for some research workflows PDFs have real advantages.

When users want to print the content of a web page – including an online report – their only option usually is to rely on their browser to compress what they can see. This often means it will print everything on that page – banners, sidebars, navigations, menus – leaving the main content cramped or illegible.

To solve this problem, we’ve started incorporating our own Page to PDF tool into more and more of the websites we design and develop.

What this means is that you can have an online version of your report and the PDF version at no extra cost after the initial set up.

Elements of Page to PDF

Essentially, Page to PDF allows the client to generate a PDF based on a page of a specific content type(s), usually publications or chapterised content. We create a bespoke document template, and all of the relevant web-page content maps to styles in the PDF document at the touch of a button.

The generated PDFs have a bespoke design, in keeping with the website, but tailored to the print format. We build options for PDF-specific content in to the back-end of the content management system (CMS). These PDF-specific fields allow us to add content that perhaps makes more sense in a print format, but isn’t suitable for the web. Examples of this might include front/back cover-specific content, running headers/footers and page numbers.

The generated PDF comprises all of the content from the web page that is not dynamic, which does limit the PDF output in some ways. For instance, anything interactive (calls to action, animations, hovers, any interactive graph or chart) will either be excluded from the PDF or have an option for a ‘fallback’.

A flexible, time-saving tool for our clients

The huge benefit of this functionality is the amount of automation it gives an organisation. This is a solution that can eliminate the laborious process of laying out your reports using InDesign or similar software, generating a PDF and finally uploading it to the website.

Not only does it neatly unite web and printed content, it also serves as a massive time saver. It’s a completely refined process that boils down to the click of one button: invaluable to any organisation that is interested in promoting their content through the PDF medium.  It also gives users with different needs and preferences the choice to access content in a way that suits them.

Once a PDF is generated, it will be automatically mapped to a ‘download’ field on the web page, so any user visiting the website can download it when they reach the page. If a client later decides that they want to change the content on the page (/PDF), they can simply re-generate the PDF and those changes will be reflected in the downloadable version on the front end of the website.

On top of that, we’ve recently started developing Page to PDF templates that have different design variations, allowing the client to pick between two or more templates that will feature unique cover pages and running content. This type of feature is perfect for any organisation that has multiple branches under one umbrella and may want to differentiate between each one.

Continued development on a popular tool

Overall, it’s a really exciting feature to be able to offer our clients. We’re already putting it into practice for Bruegel, EITI, NRGI and the National Centre for Social Research among others. And we continue to develop the feature, expanding the possibilities and potential of Page to PDF for everyone.

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