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How to Search in a PDF File for Words or Phrases

Contents

1. How to Search in a PDF File Using Adobe Acrobat Reader
2. Using the Advanced Search in Adobe Acrobat Reader
3. Search a PDF Using a Web Browser
4. Search a PDF with SeekFast
5. Search a Scanned PDF with Adobe Acrobat Pro DC
6. Search in a Scanned PDF Using Free Online Tools
7. Happy Searching!

 

 

Depending on its size and length, searching through a single PDF document can be challenging. When you’re drowning in paperwork or are generally swamped, you need to know all the tricks to quickly find what you’re looking for.

 

Luckily, there are some specific tools and methods that can help you become efficient in searching for words in PDF files.

 

This article is about searching in a PDF file in Windows. For Mac users, we recommend our article on How to Search Text in Your Documents on Mac.

 

When it comes to searching PDF files in Linux, see our guide How to Search Text in Multiple Files in Linux.

 

 

1. How to Search in a PDF File Using Adobe Acrobat Reader

 

Adobe Acrobat Reader is the most popular PDF reader.

 

Here’s how to search for a word in a PDF file using this program:

 

1. Download Adobe Acrobat Reader and install it on your device (if you don’t already have it).

 

2. Open your PDF file with the Acrobat Reader.

 

3. Press Ctrl+F to open the search feature, which will pop up in the top right corner.

 

 

 

4. Type in the word or phrase you want to find in the text box and press "Enter." The program will highlight all occurrences of your searched word in the document.

 

 

 

5. Click on "Previous" or "Next" to toggle between the different instances of the word or phrase in the document.

 

You can also click on the gear wheel icon in the search box to choose some advanced options such as "Case Sensitive" and "Whole Words Only."

 

 

2. Using the Advanced Search in Adobe Acrobat Reader

 

Adobe Acrobat Reader also offers an "Advanced Search." Its main advantage is that you can search not only in the current document, but also in all PDF files in a given folder.

 

Here’s how to use this feature:

 

1. To access the Advanced Search, press Ctrl+Shift+F (or navigate to Edit > Advanced Search).

 

2. Type in the word or phrase you want to search in the text box below.

 

3. Select the conditions you want to apply to refine your search. For instance, you can choose to search for exact match of the word, look in comments, etc.

 

 

 

4. Once done, click "Enter."

 

Unlike the ordinary search, here the results are displayed differently – you can see all fragments of text containing your searched words. Click on each fragment to navigate to the place of the text in the document.

 

You can read more on finding words or phrases in multiple PDF files in our guide How to Search Text in Multiple PDF Files.

 

Let's see the pros and cons of using Adobe Acrobat Reader.

 

Pros

  • You can use the free version of the program.
  • Highlights all occurrences of your searched word in the document.
  • Displays all fragments of the text in the Advanced Search.
  • Easy to use.

 

Cons

  • Sometimes the program crashes abruptly.
  • Cannot search for combinations of words.
  • The program cannot display more than 10,000 search results at a time.

 

 

3. Search a PDF Using a Web Browser

 

If you do not want to install Adobe Acrobat Reader, searching a PDF using a web browser is a good option. This method is only suitable for small PDFs, as large PDF files are displayed in the browser extremely slowly.

 

The best PDF search features can be found in the Mozilla Firefox browser.

 

To search a PDF file using Firefox, follow these steps:

 

1. Right click on your PDF file, click "Open with," and select "Firefox."

 

2. Press "Ctrl+F," type the searched word in the search box and press "Enter."

 

3. Click on the "Highlight All" checkbox to highlight all occurrences of the searched word in the document.

 

 

 

Through the other checkboxes you can make your search case-sensitive, search for whole words only, and more.

 

Searching a PDF document with the Google Chrome browser is similar to Firefox, with the only difference being that you don't have as many options here. Chrome does not have the "Highlight All" option and you will have to move through your document with the small up and down arrows on the search box.

 

Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of using the Firefox browser to search in a PDF file.

 

Pros:

  • You do not need to install Adobe Acrobat Reader.
  • Highlights all occurrences of the searched word.
  • You have useful options like case-sensitive search, whole words search, and more.

 

Cons:

  • Very slow performance for large PDF files.
  • Cannot search for combinations of words.

 

 

4. Search a PDF with SeekFast

 

SeekFast is a reliable search tool that lets you find words or phrases in the documents on your system.

 

SeekFast gives you several great advantages when searching in a PDF file:

 

1. You see all the sentences in which the words you are looking for appear. The words found are highlighted in red.

 

2. You can search for word combinations. For example, if you are looking for a "small notebook," SeekFast will also show you the sentences that contain "the notebook was very small."

 

3. Smart Search – SeekFast shows you the most relevant results at the top, not in the order in which they are found in the document.

 

4. You can see the extended context of the found text without opening the PDF file itself.

 

5. You can easily search multiple PDF files – up to 100,000 files in the full version of the program.

 

 

Here’s how to search for a word in a single PDF file with SeekFast:

 

1. Download, install and launch the free version of SeekFast.

 

2. Put your PDF file in a separate folder.

 

3. Click on the "Browse" button and navigate to the folder where you’ve placed your PDF.

 

 

 

4. Type in the word or phrase you want to search in the field to the left and hit "Enter."

 

 

 

5. Click on a sentence in the results to see a larger part of the text.

 

 

 

You can also match words, sort the results by relevance, and perform case-sensitive search.

 

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the benefits and potential drawbacks of using SeekFast.

 

Pros

  • No need to install Adobe Acrobat Reader.
  • SeekFast displays all sentences containing the word or phrase you search.
  • You can look for combinations of words that occur in different places in the sentence.
  • It has a free version.
  • It’s also available for Mac.
  • The program is easy to use and is capable of providing results from multiple PDF files.
  • In addition to PDF files, it can also be used to search text in Word, Excel, OpenOffice, LibreOffice, TXT, LaTeX, RTF, and more.

 

Cons

  • The search is limited to 50 files per one search in the free version (100,000 files in the full version).

 

 

5. Search a Scanned PDF with Adobe Acrobat Pro DC

 

The scanned document is essentially an image, so you must convert the image to text in order to search it. This process is called "Optical character recognition" or OCR for short.

 

The easiest way to search a scanned document is to use the paid version of Acrobat – Adobe Acrobat Pro DC.

 

Here are the steps for searching a scanned PDF document:

 

1. Open the scanned document in Adobe Acrobat Pro DC.

 

2. Click on the "Tools" menu and select "Scan & OCR."

 

 

 

3. Click on "Recognize Text" and select "In This File."

 

 

 

4. From the "Language" field, select the language of the document.

 

 

 

5. Click the "Recognize Text" button and wait for Adobe Acrobat Pro DC to convert the image to searchable text.

 

 

 

6. Press Ctrl+F and type the word or phrase you are looking for in the search box.

 

7. Click the "Next" button to navigate in the results.

 

 

Once the program has converted your scanned image into readable text, you can save the file as a textual PDF document.

 

Adobe Acrobat Pro DC also offers a batch convert of multiple scanned files into textual PDF files.

 

Once you've converted one or more scanned PDFs into textual PDFs, you can easily and conveniently search them using SeekFast or another document search program.

 

Pros

  • Adobe Acrobat Pro DC has an elaborated technology for OCR of scanned documents.
  • It has many useful settings for improving the recognition.
  • You can export the document to MS Word, Excel, or PowerPoint and then edit it easily.

 

Cons

  • The program is not free – you have to pay a monthly subscription to use it.
  • Processing of large scanned documents is quite slow.
  • The program does not show the search results in a convenient way.

 

 

6. Search in a Scanned PDF Using Free Online Tools

 

If you are looking for a free alternative to search a scanned PDF document, you can convert the document to text using one of the many free online tools available on the net.

 

Here are the steps to convert a scanned PDF document into searchable text using the Free Online OCR tool:

 

1. Go to the Free Online OCR website, click the "Select File" button and select your scanned PDF document.

 

 

 

2. Select the language of your document.

 

 

 

3. Click the "Convert" button and wait for the file to be converted.

 

 

 

4. Click on the "Download Output File" link to download the converted file.

 

 

 

Once the file has been converted, you can easily search it from MS Word or through a specialized document search program. For more information on searching in MS Word files, check our guide How to Search Text in Multiple Word Files.

 

If you need to convert a large number of scanned PDF documents, I recommend you to use one of the professional desktop OCR tools such as Abbyy FineReader PDF, OmniPage Ultimate and others.

 

The pros and cons of using the Free Online OCR tool are as follows.

 

Pros

  • The tool has a free plan.
  • It’s easy to use.
  • You get an MS Word document that you can edit easily.

 

Cons

  • Some characters may not be recognized correctly.
  • You can convert up to 15 pages per hour in the free version.

 

 

7. Happy Searching!

 

I hope that you can use this knowledge to become more efficient at your editorial, academic, or research work.

 

And of course, your opinion on the topic is more than welcome, so feel free to leave your thoughts using the comment form below!

About the author
Dimitar Stamenov
Dimitar is a software developer and entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience in software development and online marketing.
1 comments
  • rxrum says:

    Using Acrobat, Control+F only searched what appears on the page I was viewing. Using the search bar that appears at the bottom of the page searched the entire document. Hope this helps.

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