How to Search a PDF for a Word, Phrase, or Text

PDFs are a popular way to distribute information because they can store both images and text in a single, universally compatible file. However, searching for a word or phrase in a PDF can be tedious when working with larger documents. 

Plus not all PDFs are the same. For instance, some PDFs are scanned images of paper documents, making them not technically searchable.

Thankfully, there are quite a few ways to search a PDF for a word or phrase, even in instances where you’re dealing with a scanned document. We’re going to show you how. 

1. How to search for a Word in a PDF on Chrome

Chrome is the most commonly used web browser in the world. It comes standard on Android devices (so you’ve probably used it), but if you’re on a Mac it’s free to download and use. 

One useful feature of Chrome is the ability to easily search for a word or a phrase in a PDF document. Here’s how you can do it:

Step 1: Open the PDF file in your Chrome browser. 

If the PDF file is already on your computer, right-click it, and then select ‘Google Chrome’ from the ‘Open with’ menu. 

Alternatively, you can drag and drop the PDF document into Google Chrome. Or if the file is in your Google Drive, you can open it from there.

Open a PDF with Google Chrome

Step 2:  Click the three-dot menu icon on the top right corner of your Chrome browser.

Three dot icon within the Google Chrome PDF viewer

Step 3: Scroll down the drop-down menu and click ‘find’. A search box will appear on the left-hand side of the address bar. You can also use ‘Ctrl + F’ shortcut to launch the search box.

Find... function in Google Chrome PDF viewer highlighted

Step 4: Enter the word or phrase you are looking for. 

As you type, Chrome will highlight the results in your PDF. Yellow bars on the right-hand scroll bar show the position of matched results in the document.

Search function in PDF viewer of Chrome highlighted, showcasing how you can find text in a PDF using Chrome

Step 5: Use the up and down buttons on the search box to navigate the page as you view each area where the entered phrase appears.

Up and down arrow for finding different occurrences of the text you're looking for in a PDF

Look up a word in a PDF using Windows PDF Reader app — Microsoft Edge

Windows default PDF Reader tool is Microsoft Edge.

As with many Windows apps, the Windows Microsoft Edge PDF Reader is very straightforward, with no clutter and easy-to-use options. Follow these steps to find a phrase in a PDF document using Microsoft Edge’s PDF search function:

Step 1: Launch Microsoft Edge from the Start menu, taskbar, or desktop.

Using Microsoft Edge to open a PDF

Step 2: If the PDF file you wish to search is online, navigate to the document using Microsoft Edge. 

If the PDF file is already on your computer, drag-and-drop the file onto the Edge window. 

Alternatively, you can right-click the PDF file, and select ‘Microsoft Edge’ from the ‘Open with’ dropdown.

How to open a PDF directly with Microsoft Edge from Windows 10

Step 3: Click the more button that appears as three dots appear on the top-right corner of the window.

Step 4: Scroll down and select ‘Find on page‘ on the dropdown menu. Or you can skip steps three and four by using the Ctrl + F shortcut on your keyboard.

Find on page function of Microsoft Edge PDF viewer

Step 5: Type the search box with a single phrase or word. Microsoft Edge will jump to the first occurrence of that phrase or text automatically.

an example of how text is highlighted in Microsoft Edge in a PDF when you search for a term or word

Step 6: Use the right and left arrows in the ‘Find’ on-page toolbar at the top of the screen to move through the instances of a word or phrase. 

You can also navigate through the instance of the phrase by pressing ‘Enter’ on your keyboard.

up down arrows in the search bar for navigating PDFs for text in Microsoft Edge

 An easy way to search for text in a PDF that’s been scanned

Being able to search for text within a PDF is incredibly useful, and the search feature makes it possible. However, if you’re working with a PDF that’s been scanned, the methods that we’ve outlined above won’t help because the text won’t be recognized by a search.

In short, the OCR (optical character recognition) technology can’t understand a scanned file in the same way it understands a standard PDF. 

One workaround to this problem is to convert your PDF file to Word. Word processors were built with words and text in mind, so changing your file type to a DOCX makes it ultimately much easier to navigate for text and characters.

Follow these steps to convert and search for text in a PDF that’s been scanned:

Step 1: Go to our PDF to Word converter page.

landing page of Big PDF Converter's PDF to Word tool

Step 2: Click the ‘Choose File‘ button in the PDF to Word converter and locate the PDF you want to convert. Next, select the PDF file to be converted to Word. You can also drag the PDF document into the window if you’d like.

How to find a PDF file on your computer after clicking on Big PDF Converter's Choose File button on its landing page

Step 3: Your PDF document will be automatically converted to a Word document. Simply click ‘Download’ to open your new DOCX in your browser or Word app.

Download button on PDF to Word landing page highlighted

Step 4: After the downloading is completed, open the word document. Click the ‘Edit’ button, then use ‘Find’ tab on the right-hand side of the word ribbon, or use Ctrl + F shortcut to launch the search box.

Step 5: Type in the term you want to look up and press Enter. The text you were looking for in your original PDF should now appear.

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