How to Search for a Word In a Document & PDF File on Mac

How to search for a specific word or phrase in a PDF on your Mac using the Preview app

How to Search A PDF on Mac For Specific Word?

Do you want to search for a specific word or key term within a pdf on mac, to cut your time and efforts to go to the exact part of the PDF file? In this article, several free ways on how to search a pdf on mac are offered, together with the best solution to search for a word within non-searchable PDF on mac.

Searchable PDF & Non-Searchable PDF

A searchable PDF includes 2 layers, image layer and text layer. In the text layer, the text content is saved and enables users to locate a specific word within the PDF. A searchable PDF is basically native PDF, which is generated from an electronic source(Word, Excel data,etc) with internal structure.

A Non-Searchable PDF is just an “image-only” pdf. There is no text layer and users cannot search by text. A non-searchable PDF is basically scanned PDF, which is created by scanning software that digitize paper document into electronic PDF file format.

How to Search a PDF on Mac with Preview?

Preview, a free mac tool to manage PDF and images, allows users to search a specific word within PDF on mac fast and easily.
Note: Preview can only search a searchable PDF on mac.

  1. Open PDF with Preview
  2. Go to File>Edit>Find. Or you can use search toolbar in the window, even press “Command+F” to search a pdf on mac.
  3. Input the key word you want to search in the field and the word will be highlighted in yellow as to search for a word in a document on mac

How to Search A PDF on Mac with Adobe Reader?

Assuming you are working with PDF on a regular basis, you must have a PDF editor, and much likely to be Adobe. For sure, you can use Adobe products to search a pdf on mac. But if you are being hesitate to cost some big money on subscribed Adobe Acrobat, you can still utilize the free Adobe Acorbat Reader DC to search a word within pdf on mac.

  1. Go to Adobe Acrobat Reader DC, download and install on your mac.
  2. Open PDF with Adobe Reader.
  3. Go to Edit>Find. Or just click the search icon in the panel. Even you can press “Command+F” to search a pdf on mac.

how to search for a keyword on mac

Why a PDF Can’t be Searched? Fix it!

There are occasions that a PDF cannot be searched, but why? If you are sure that there is nothing wrong with Preview and Adobe Reader itself, there are 2 reasons that possibly lead to this.

  1. The PDF file is corrupted.
    If Preview and Adobe Reader can function properly (test with different PDF files), but a PDF cannot be searched, the PDF file may be corrupted. A PDF file can be generated from different resources and the encoding may be quite different. If it is the problem about encoding, you can go to online pdf repair service: Repair PDF Files. If still corrupted, then you have no way but to get back to the original PDF resource.
  2. The PDF is not searchable.
    At the beginning of this post, we talked about searchable PDF and non-searchable PDF. And image-based PDF (scanned pdf) is a principal reason to cause why a pdf cannot be searched on mac. In this case, the solution on how to search a pdf on mac would be making the PDF searchable before searching by text.

To make a PDF searchable, you need the aid of Cisdem PDF Converter OCR, a PDF converter for mac allowing users to convert native, scanned and images into searchable and editable PDF, or other 15+ formats. It supports batch conversion, OCR performance on more than 40 languages, while keeping original file quality. Even, it supports to create PDF from other document type, and users can utilize this program to customize their PDF, such as adding password to PDF, adjusting PDF size and quality.

how to search for a word on apple mac

  1. Upload PDF into Cisdem PDF Converter OCR.Go to “Converter”, drag and drop PDF files into the program.
  2. Perform OCR on PDF to make “search a pdf on mac” possible.
    Once the file is uploaded to the program, choose output format as PDF, select page range. Don’t forget to turn the OCR button ON to do ocr and choose language.For more accurate OCR results, you can click the “Settings” icon.
  3. A new interface will appear, with each part of the OCR applied zone marked as Texts, Images or Tables in different colorful boxes. You can check if all the contents are marked correctly, if not, manually adjust. For example, if you want a part recognized as Table, remove the defaulted mark box, click on “Mark Tables” under OCR Applied Zone toolbars, then drag a mark box to select the contents you want to recognize as Tables.
  4. Start conversion process to make PDF searchable.
    This program also allows users to add password to PDFs, you can set password for your PDF if necessary. Click “Convert” to start doing OCR on PDF. You will get a searchable PDF within seconds. It will look exactly the same as original.
  5. Search a PDF on mac within Preview or Adobe Reader.
    Repeat the steps to search a pdf on mac with Preview or Adobe Reader.


As you can see, searching a pdf on mac is quite easy and requires no cost, a free Preview and Adobe Reader will be of great help. But when dealing with non-searchable PDF, you will need to make the PDF searchable first, then you can start searching a pdf on mac in Preview and Adobe.

In the screenshot examples here, we’re searching a multi-page product info PDF file for the term for a specific term, and you’ll notice the matches are highlighted throughout the PDF file opened within Preview.

* Preview is the default PDF viewer on the MacOS and Mac OS X, but if you have installed another app that has taken over as the default you can set the default PDF viewer back to Preview with this guide.

Longtime Mac users will likely note the Command+F keystroke is also what can be used to search for files quickly within the Finder windows (separately from Spotlight), and search for matches in Safari and Chrome web browsers, and many other apps as well. It’s a handy keystroke to remember as it works in many Mac apps as the Find keyboard shortcut.