The Truth About Saving a Fillable Form as a PDF with Editable Form Fields in Microsoft Word

During a Business Requirements meeting with an existing client (who is considering moving to Office 365), a business challenge surfaced that piqued my interest.

The Executive Director of the not-for-profit mentioned she was having to outsource the creation and updating of the organization’s intake forms. The multi-step process was an obvious waste of time and resources that could be focused in other areas.

The editable PDF forms were built and maintained using Adobe Acrobat, which she did not presently own (or have access to) a copy of. She was also not familiar with the Adobe program interface, which meant she expected that she would not only have to invest money in purchasing a license, but also invest her time learning how to use the new software.

Eager to be helpful, the wheels started turning to see if I could resolve her quandary using the tools she already owned and was comfortable with. Hence the following question arose:

If you can create and edit PDFs in Microsoft Word…

… then can you create fillable forms in Microsoft Word that can be saved as a PDF with editable form fields?

My saunter down the rabbit hole of online forums and blog posts led to the following conclusion:

In order to create a fillable PDF form, you must have Adobe Acrobat. Yes, you can create fillable forms in Microsoft Word 2010 (and this is how, courtesy of the Microsoft Office Support page), but (and this is key), if you try to save a fillable form as a PDF, the edible form fields will no longer work.

Why? Because the file you save is a static PDF image of the file with no editing functionality.

At this point, the questions you need to ask yourself are: Must the form with fillable fields be a PDF? Is there any reason why it can’t be a Word document?

If the answer is “yes, must be PDF”, then:

 Hopefully you’re an eligible non-profit, as Tech Soup Canada has copies of Acrobat Pro XI available to NFPs for less than $50. If you are not eligible, then expect to invest $100-$200 US.

If the answer is “no, could be Word”, then:

  1. Use Word to create forms with fillable fields
  2. Keep the fields unlocked (if you lock them, people will not be able to fill in the fields)
  3. Save a Master copy of the form file in your document library for safe keeping
  4. Share a copy of the form with your users
  5. Optional: Have them save the document as a PDF in Word before sending you a copy.

Other Relevant and Commonly Asked Questions:

“Why would I choose a Word solution over an Acrobat solution?”

You don’t have to buy or learn to use Adobe Acrobat – saving you time and money

And you can now easily make edits and updates to the form in-house using a tool you are familiar and comfortable using.

“I didn’t know you could create PDFs in Word!

Yep, that functionality has been available since 2010, and there’s even a Microsoft Office Add-in for Office 2007 called “Microsoft Save as PDF or XPS” – which is available here.

“You can open and edit PDFs in Word?”‘

Yes, you can open PDFs in Word, and you can edit PDFs in Word if  it was made in an Office program and this is how, again, courtesy of the Microsoft Office Support page. 

“What’s a PDF?”

A PDF or Portable Document Format (pi : di : ˈɛf/) is a common format for sharing final versions of files.

Have other questions? Discovered an even better solution?
I want to hear about it – so let’s connect!

24 responses to “The Truth About Saving a Fillable Form as a PDF with Editable Form Fields in Microsoft Word

  1. Thank you Kelly – this is VERY useful information. The way you explain the details of this topic is excellent! I have subscribed to your blog and I am looking forward to receiving other great tips in addition to researching your other topics.

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  3. Some questions I have are:
    1) Can the date in the fields in a pdf or word form be retrieved easily? Something like I get a form that’s filled out and select ‘save data as csv file’ or something.

    2) If using Word, what does the user need to have to fill out the form (probably Word, but what versions)?

    3) If I have a Word form already created, how do I convert it to a fillable pdf form or do I need to recreate it from scratch?

    1. Hi John,

      Great questions! I finally found a free moment to thoroughly read through your comment. I don’t have answers off the top of my head, but I will take some time to look into them and comment with I discover from research and testing!


    1. Hello Jolene,

      Thank you for the comment, and the question. I will need more space than a comment box to respond, so I will write a detailed blog post and share the link in a follow up comment here.
      Thanks for your patience.

  4. I’ve been producing a fillable form to send to my clients. It’s a lengthy questionnaire with text boxes, checks, drop-down menus, radio buttons, etc. I then apply editing restrictions to enable fillable content only. Save it. Reopen it…everything works great. As soon as I send it as an email attachment, however, much or all of it goes static…no longer are there editable fields. I’ve done this over and over but even the shorter test forms have issues…some content remains intact, while other is static at the other end. My beta testers are losing patience with me. 😉

    1. Hi Helen,
      Sorry to hear you’re having trouble!
      Sounds like a frustrating issue. I don’t have a solution off the top of my head.
      I will do some research and testing and get back to you with an answer as soon as I am able.

      If time is of the essence, I would encourage you go check out the Microsoft MVP site and search for a Word MVP – they may be able to answer your question quicker than I.

      Here’s a link to the site:

      If they are able to give you an answer faster than I, I’d be thankful if you share your findings in the comment here, as that can help me help others. 🙂


  5. i’ve been using PDF X change viewer for a couple of years now – love love love the fact that i can have tabbed documents open just like tabbed pages in a browser (which adobe still hasn’t thought to do!). it can also remember which documents i had open, AND where i had them open to (great for those uni ebooks)

    1. @softserialhq, agreed: PDF-XChange Viewer has a lot of great features.
      Acrobat Reader DC is closing the gap though. You can do some basic edits such as adding text (similar to the typewriter feature in PDF-XChange Viewer), highlighting, comments, etc. Acrobat Reader DC also does tabbed documents.

  6. As a developer i have looked at any ways of doing this, and using word is one of them. The biggest issue i have found using word and saving as a pdf is that it adds all the fonts that are using and bloats the size of the pdf.If you are not intending to have the pdf’s filled in online that’s fine.

    What i do is create the word document as a template. Then create the pdf using adobe using the word template and not allow any fonts to be used, Around 1800KB PDF from word shrinks down enormously to around 20KB using adobe. If you are in a work environment that’s a lot of disc space being saved. when there are 30,000 copies of that individual document.

  7. Thank you. While trying to create a questionnaire for readers of our new book, Stack the Legal Odds in Your Favor, I was trying to create a fillable (checkboxes only, really) PDF from Word 2007. This answers my question!

  8. Dear All,
    As far as, I know these are the options to make fillable PDF forms or questionnaires,
    1. Use Adobe Acrobat DC Pro (Adobe Subscription required)
    2. LibreOffice (Free & Open Source) – If you have time & energy to withstand learning curve you can go for this.
    3. Scribus (Desktop Publishing Soft. Free & Open Source) – If you have time & energy to withstand learning curve you can go for this.
    4. Find a freelancer to do the job professionally without any frustration. I like this one –

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