PDF Best Practices – Content

J. James Wager, Consultant & Education Strategist

March 29, 2016

One of the most interesting facts about transcripts, from both secondary and post-secondary schools, is that there are no standards regarding content.  Professional organizations such as AACRAO offer best practice suggestions regarding content and many software systems provide a default presentation of the transcript generated by the system.  But for the most part, the presentation of the transcript is determined by the sending school.

In an upcoming article, we will discuss the importance of transcript standards that have been adopted by PESC (P20W Education Standards Council).

A couple of decades ago when the adoption of secure paper dominated the post-secondary sector, the content of transcripts was further promoted as an art-form through the availability of colored paper, design of boarders, background images, graphically delivered signatures, pre-printed transcript legend/key, and other paper-printed appropriate techniques.  Although the features of secure paper did not alter the information content of the transcript, these paper-centric features often took center stage as the sending school described the “look and feel” of the transcript to the receiver.  These secure paper features were all about security and authentication of the printed document.

During the transition from paper to PDF, a sometimes typical response was to incorporate the paper related features into the PDF document.  The primary intent of doing so was to maintain the same look-and-feel of the sending school’s transcript regardless of the presentation format (paper or PDF).  A secondary intent, misguided at best, was to add additional security to the PDF transcript.

PDF documents are fundamentally pictures.  Pictures are represented by pixels; millions of pixels per page.   The addition of background color, graphics, and images do not add any level of security to the PDF transcript but do add, often significantly, to the electronic size (increased number of pixels) of the PDF file.  Larger PDF files require a higher proportion of time in electronic transmission, storage, and general processing.  Worse yet, the inclusion of this background “clutter” often renders the document difficult to read especially after being stored in a document imaging system.

The best practices for presenting a PDF transcript are to eliminate background clutter associated with secure paper.  The inclusion of color, graphics, and images offer no benefit to a PDF document.  Further, the signature of the sending school’s issuing agent (often the Registrar) should not be included on the PDF transcript.  The signature does not add to the PDF document’s authenticity and may be extracted, saved, and used fraudulently elsewhere.

Two features of pre-printed paper that do offer value to PDF transcripts are:

  • Lines, boxes, and column headings that add readability to the document
  • The transcript legend/key that assist the receiver in proper interpretation of the transcript information

Credentials Solutions adheres to these PDF Best Practices while providing for the secure and authentic delivery of the transcript.

In the next article, we will examine the Best Practices for PDF transcripts – Service.

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