Editing Google Docs vs PDFs

When I first started tech editing I decided I would only accept PDFs. It’s what was taught in the tech editing course I took so I just went with it.

But then someone sent me a Google Doc and I realized I actually liked editing in it, too.

What file type you like to edit can be a big debate among tech editors. Whenever preferred editing software comes up, everyone tends to get very opinionated. I tend to like both, and think there are upsides and downsides to both.

So today, I will break down the differences between editing in Google Docs vs PDFs from a tech editor’s perspective. Of course, it’s always best to ask your editor what they prefer and follow their process, but if they don’t have an opinion, this might help you choose.

Google Docs

Google Docs is a collaborative cloud-based word processor. If you’ve never used it, think Microsoft Word (on Windows) or Pages (on Mac), but instead of being an app on your computer, you access it from your web browser.

This makes it a great tool for editing because changes are made live. As soon as I make an edit, the designer instantly gets notified and can even jump in at the same time. On Microsoft Word I would have to save the file and email it before the designer could view changes.

When editing in Google Docs, I make use of the “Suggestions” mode and Comments. Suggestions allows me to replace or correct text, add new text, or fix incorrect numbers. It adds a line through what I want to replace and then my suggestion shows up in green, with a comment box in the pane to the right.


PDFs are pretty straightforward. When a designer sends me a PDF, it’s often a final laid out version of the pattern. I can’t edit the text itself, but I can highlight text, underline it, add comment boxes, or write on the pattern itself.

What I like about editing in Google Docs

  • It’s so much faster to just type a correction rather than having to highlight text, add a text box, and write my comment.
  • I can see the full version history of the file. I can see what changes the designer made since I last looked at the pattern in case they’ve made a change they didn’t tell me about.
  • It feels more collaborative. I can add comments and the designer can reply to them.

What I don’t like about editing in Google Docs

  • Once you start making a lot of suggestions, it gets hard to read through to the original text. As a result I often do more rounds of edits than with a PDF because I have to ask the designer to go in and accept/reject my suggestions so I can get back to a “clean” copy.
  • Often I edit late at night and worry I’m annoying my clients if they’re getting Google Drive notifications from me.

What I like about editing PDFs

  • It’s easier to keep editing even if I’ve already marked up the page heavily, because my comments are in the white space rather than in the text itself.
  • I can see the final layout of the pattern and make suggestions about it.

What I don’t like about editing PDFs

  • When I’m doing multiple rounds of edits I have to compare my previous version to the new version to make sure all the changes have been made. And there’s really not a quick way for me to determine if the designer has made other changes since I’ve first looked at it.
  • It takes so much longer to make many small changes, like correcting typos.

Google Docs vs PDFs: The Winner?

It really comes down to personal preference. I know tech editors who swear by PDFs, and some who only edit in something like Google Docs.

I think overall, for the designer, the total editing time is lower when I’m using Google Docs, which means a smaller invoice at the end. It’s so much faster to make edits, and I don’t have to spend so much time looking for what has changed from the previous version.

However, it takes more round of edits when going through Google Docs. With PDFs I can usually finish up a pattern in two or three rounds of editing. This can make the total editing timeline shorter.

I hope this was helpful! If you’re a designer, head down to the comments below to tell me how you prefer to share your patterns. And tech editors, what file type do you prefer editing? Let me know!

2 thoughts on “Editing Google Docs vs PDFs

  1. This is such an insightful post! So far, I’ve been editing on PDF files. At this point, I learned on PDFs and enjoy working on a PDF where I can’t accidentally change anything to a designer’s pattern. I make the notes, and the designer makes the changes. I hope it would allow the designer to feel that no changes would be made that they didn’t know about. Also, I like how neat and tidy the annotations can be. After reading your thoughts about Google Docs, I want to look into including that as an option for designers. The ability to communicate during editing sounds very helpful as with PDF editing there can be a lot of emails. Thank you so much for your insights, Jenna!

    1. It’s definitely nice to be able to communicate in the document! It helps cut down on those long email chains for sure 🙂 You should give it a try if you have clients who write up their patterns in Google Docs. As long as you’re in ‘Suggesting’ mode it doesn’t make changes to the text until the owner of the file approves your edits. So you don’t have to worry about making changes and the designer not knowing about them because they have to individually approve each change you propose 🙂

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