PDF and Document Guidelines

Should you use a PDF? 

All PDFs on the website need to be legally accessible to all users, and legally allowed on the website. Starting August 1, 2020, PDFs that do not meet these standards may be deleted from Krieger School websites. At a bare minimum, PDFs must be readable and tagged.

If the text can be or is already on the website, it should not be included as a PDF. This makes your content more accessible and searchable for all users, easier for users requiring screen readers, and easier to be viewed on a tablet or mobile device. This applies doubly to word documents and other non-html formats. The ideal place for content on a website is within the body of a page.

On department and program pages, some PDFs should be hosted on OneDrive instead of the department site. Users can then link to those services from the website. This does not apply to faculty pages or sites.krieger.jhu.edu as of 2020.

Use this checklist from JHU Accessibility to make accessible documents, or this training on making accessible flyers.

PDFs should be reserved for: 

  • Student handbooks
  • Documents that are commonly printed 
  • Non-copyrighted research and publications  
  • Word documents can be used for downloadable forms if absolutely necessary, but should be interactive forms or PDFs whenever possible
  • Syllabi

PDFs that should be hosted on OneDrive or elsewhere:

  • Personal journal articles
  • Faculty publications
  • News clips
  • Other portfolio materials

Do not post pdfs for:

  • Event flyers 
  • Brochures 
  • Newsletters
  • Faculty or author proofs of books or articles 
  • Articles that would normally be behind a paywall 

What to consider if using PDFs

Legal Restrictions on PDFs 

Publications are subject to copyright, even if the author is a faculty or staff member at Johns Hopkins. Advance proofs and faculty copies of articles, research, and books are not legally allowed on our website. Any PDF that would normally be behind a paywall should not be posted. 


An accessible PDF meets certain technical criteria and can be used by people with disabilities, slower speed internet, or other needs. Making a document machine-readable allows users to search the contents of the PDF, and copy and paste its text. A PDF that is scanned is not accessible because a screen reader cannot read the words on the page.

You can always check the accessibility of a PDF with Adobe Acrobat Pro, to test for logical structure, images with captions or alternative text, tags, title, color contrast and more.