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MIT Thesis FAQ: Saving Your Thesis as a PDF/A-1

About PDF/A-1 files

Why PDF/A-1?

PDF/A is the more suitable format for long term preservation than a basic PDF. It ensures that PDF format conforms to certain specifications which make it more likely to open and be viewable in the long term. It is best for static content that will not change in the future.  

In this document when we talk about PDF/A we are referring specifically to version PDF/A-1 (either a or b), as this is the most preservation-worthy version and does not allow for some complex elements (see PDF do's and don'ts) that could corrupt or prevent the file from being viewable in the future.

What about my original files?

It is still best to submit your original file(s) alongside the PDF/A as a supplemental file(s). This will allow for an even greater chance that your work will be accessible in the long term in the manner that you originally intended. 

PDF do's and don'ts

  • DO create a PDF/A if possible. While MIT accepts regular PDF, a PDF/A -1 document is preferable for the reasons mentioned above and it follows the do's and don'ts in this section by default.
  • DO start out with your original files if possible (text, Word, InDesign, LaTeX, etc.). It is much easier and better to create valid PDF/A's from your original files than from a regular PDF.
  • DO make sure all your fonts are embedded in the document. This is to make sure the type appears how you want it to in the future. When creating a PDF/A, fonts will be embedded automatically.
  • DO make sure all your hyperlinks are embedded in the document. This is so your links remain accessible and clickable once the PDF is created. This is something that can be easily lost if you print to PDF rather than converting to it.
  • DON'T embed multimedia files (audio and video), scripts, executables, lab notebooks, etc. into your PDF. Still images are fine. The other formats mentioned can be submitted as supplemental files.
  • DON'T password protect or encrypt your PDF file. The file needs to be accessible!

Creating the PDF/A-1 file

Creating PDF/A files

Below is guidance for creating PDF/A-1 documents in common tools. 

Note: before you get started, you should consider adding some basic embedded metadata (things like author, title, etc.) to your thesis via your original authoring tool. See the appendix for information on how to do this in Microsoft Word 2019. It is easier to add this prior to PDF/A creation as the format is read only, so you would need to reconvert it if you add metadata later.

Adobe Acrobat Pro: How to Create a PDF/A-1 file

Adobe Acrobat Pro

Adobe Acrobat Pro is available to MIT students/faculty/staff through Adobe Creative Cloud. It can transform a number of document types into PDFs, especially those created in another Adobe software such as InDesign.

To create a PDF/A using Adobe Acrobat Pro follow these steps:

  1. Open Adobe Acrobat Pro
  2. Under the Tools tab, go to the Create PDF tool and click open
  3. Under the Single File section, click Select a File and choose your source file
  4. Click Advanced Settings gear icon
  5. In the box that pops up select from the Adobe PDF Setting dropdown menu choose the PDF/A-1b:2005 (RBG) option, if you are particular about the color palette, you may select the PDF/A-1b:2005 (CMYK) option as an alternative.
  6. Check the "Enable accessibility and reflow" box and click OK
  7. Click the Create button.
  8. You will then have to save the document in a location of your choice.

Google Docs: How to Create a PDF/A-1 file

Google Docs or Other Cloud Word Processing Websites

There is unlikely to be support for creating PDF/A documents on cloud word processing software such as Google Docs. In order to create one, you should first download your document from the cloud service in a format  that produces a document similar to the one you've been editing, such as OpenDocument format or Microsoft Word.

Once you have your files available locally, you can convert them to PDF/A using Microsoft Word, LibreOffice, or Adobe Acrobat Pro.

Microsoft Word 2019: How to Create a PDF/A-1 file

Microsoft Word 2019

You can save a file directly to PDF/A-1 from Microsoft Word on Windows if you have Adobe Acrobat installed. 

Note: Mac users will have to use Adobe Acrobat Pro separately as outlined above. If you are unable to install or use Adobe Acrobat either standalone or through Word, see the LibreOffice Writer section as an alternative.

If you are using a Windows PC, follow these steps:

  1. Go to file > Save as Adobe PDF
  2. In the file explorer window that appears, click the Options box
  3. A new box will open, check the "Create PDF/A-1a:2005 compliant file" box and click OK.
  4. Click Save.

LibreOffice Writer: How to Create a PDF/A-1 file

LibreOffice Writer

LibreOffice Writer is a free, open-source word processing software that works on a number of operating systems. If you are unable to install or use Adobe Acrobat either standalone or through Word, you can download LibreOffice and you will be able to convert to PDF/A from standard word processing document files.

Open your document in LibreOffice

  1. Go to File > Export As > Export as PDF…
  2. In the box that pops up, in the General section, check the "Archive (PDF/A, ISO 19005)" box and under PDF/A version dropdown, choose "PDF/A-1b".
  3. Click Export.

Overleaf/LaTeX: How to Create a PDF/A-1 file


Templates are available here and in Overleaf that meet the MIT Libraries thesis specifications. The templates currently do not produce PDF/A but there are guides available online that can help you produce a valid document such as this guide here.

After Creating Your PDF/A-1 file

Inspecting and validating your PDF

You should at least do a visual inspection of the created PDF document to ensure it looks the way you want it to with correct layout and images. If something looks wrong you can try the conversion process again.

Going the extra mile: validating your PDF/A with Adobe Acrobat Pro

If you want to ensure that your document is a valid PDF/A you can validate it using Adobe Acrobat Pro. Follow these steps:

  1. Open Adobe Acrobat Pro
  2. Under the Tools tab, go to the PDF Standards tool and click open 
  3. Click the "Select a File" button on the new screen and locate your thesis PDF file and click Open
  4. On the right side of the screen click the "Preflight" button
  5. In the box that pops up, make sure "PDF Standards" is selected in the dropdown box at the top
  6. In the Profiles tab, go to the PDF/A section and click on the "Convert to PDF/A…" line for the version you converted to (PDF/A-1a for documents created through Microsoft Word, PDF/A-1b for all other methods described above).
  7. Click the Analyze button at the bottom of the box.
  8. The results will display on screen
  9. If your file is in valid you may try reconverting from the original document or clicking the "Analyze and fix" button instead in step 7 of this section.