Target Formats for Federal Document Conversion

The Federal Government produces a remarkable number of paper documents. As agencies and departments grow, they are required to collaborate with each other, as well as increase the public’s accessibility of their documents.

This puts a burden on agencies and departments as they attempt to comply with the Office of Management and Budgets’ (OMB) cloud-first policy. Many agencies are implementing document management systems or moving their existing systems to the cloud as part of the OMB’s initiative. This means that every department must seriously consider what systems they put in place because not all of systems use the same formats for the documents they store.

Federal Guidelines

The Federal Government provides guidelines on how agencies and departments should choose file formats:

  1. Choose a file format based on the intended audienceFit the format for how that audience intends to consume the documents. Consider:
    • How frequently audience members will consume the documents.
    • How they intend to use the document.
    • How easy the format is for the audience to access.
    • How difficult it is to convert current documents into the target format.


  2. Use industry standard file formatsOften this is a format such as HTML or XML. PDF has started to become more widely used, but because it requires a special reader (not just a web browser) it should not be the primary format. However, PDF is a reasonable alternative choice in a few situations that leverage its strengths:
    • The document has special formatting and images that must be preserved.
    • The document uses special fonts that may not be present on the computers of the intended audience.
    • The document will likely be printed out or is especially long.


  3. Avoid using proprietary formats such as Microsoft WordThat is, unless you can be sure that every member of your target audience has a license for it. Using a proprietary format limits the document’s accessibility to the general public. Furthermore, because Microsoft Word provides the ability to export as HTML or PDF ( on Mac OSX and Windows 8 ) it’s simple to provide those formats while still using Word for writing the document.


In summary, going forward, consider these guidelines when you’re considering document conversion software or services. Make sure that you’ve thought about your audience and their usage patterns and accessibility needs. Consider the answers to these questions and ensure that the document conversion software or services support your desired format(s) well.

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