How to Summarize PDFs with ChatGPT [+ Alternatives]

How to Summarize PDFs with ChatGPT [+ Alternatives]

Ever felt overwhelmed by the number of PDFs on your desktop, each one demanding your time and attention?

I have great news - with new tech these days, you don't always have to read every page from top to bottom to get what you need. AI tools can actually help us zip through files way faster.

Let's talk a little bit more about how we can use ChatGPT (and other similar tools) to work quicker, smarter, and have more fun while doing it!

Summarizing PDFs with ChatGPT

Let's break down the steps to transform lengthy PDFs into concise summaries with ChatGPT:

#1. Attach Your PDF

First off, you need to upload your PDF to ChatGPT. I'll guide you through it: just look for the upload button and choose your PDF file.

Here's a heads-up: there's a limit to how big your file can be, so make sure your PDF fits within this size limit (don't worry, it's quite large - right now, there is a limit of 512MB per file).

Before you upload your document, I recommend you take a minute to remove any private or sensitive info. This could be your personal details, confidential business stuff, or anything private. It's about making sure you're comfortable with what you're sharing.
ChatGPT reading an attached document
ChatGPT reading an attached document

Once that's done, you're all set to let ChatGPT work on summarizing your PDF.

#2. Use The Right Prompt

Writing the right prompt is CRUCIAL. You need to be clear and specific about what you're looking for in the summary. Do you want an executive overview, a thematic breakdown, or an abstract with key data points?

Be sure to specify the type of summary you need, and don't forget to mention how long or short you want it to be.

Let's look at an example to make this clearer. Say you have a business report, and you need an overview of it. Your prompt could be something like:

Please read the attached PDF document and provide a concise summary highlighting the key points, main arguments, and conclusions. Include any important data or statistics mentioned in the document.

By using prompts like this, you guide ChatGPT to focus on what matters most to you in the document. Remember, the more precise your prompt, the better the summary you'll get.

Below is what you can expect to get as output:

ChatGPT successfully summarized the document
ChatGPT successfully summarized the document

#3. Ask Questions (If Necessary)

Sometimes, the first summary ChatGPT provides might not cover everything you need. That's completely okay! The beauty of AI chatbots is that we can have a back-and-forth to get our summary just right. 

If you feel like there are key points missing or you need more detail in certain areas, don't hesitate to ask follow-up questions. This process helps refine the summary to meet your specific needs.

Asking follow-up questions
Asking follow-up questions

Here are some examples of follow-up questions you might ask to enhance your summary:

  • "Can you elaborate more on the main findings of the study mentioned in the PDF?"
  • "Could you highlight the arguments presented in the third chapter of the document?"
  • "I need more detail on the statistical data included in the report. Can you summarize that part in-depth?"
  • "What are the implications of the conclusions drawn in the paper?"

By asking these targeted questions, you guide the summarization process, ensuring that the final summary is tailored to what you seek.

Related: Take a look at my article on using AI to create presentations.

ChatGPT Alternatives for PDF Summarizing

Now, we can debate if ChatGPT is the best tool for summarizing PDFs. Let's take a look at some alternatives:


Using HARPA to summarize a long text
Using HARPA to summarize a long text

HARPA AI is a Chrome extension that simplifies your online experience, using GPT models to assist with various tasks, including summarizing PDFs.

It's super convenient and integrates seamlessly with your browser, making it a useful tool for quick information processing.

Here are some features of HARPA AI:

  • Summarizing pages: You can quickly condense web pages into concise summaries.
  • Summarizing YouTube videos: There is an option to generate summaries of videos for faster understanding.
  • Generating content: You can create various types of content, like meta descriptions for web pages.
  • Reply to messages: HARPA can assist in creating responses to emails or online messages.
  • Correct grammar: You can use HARPA to help improve the grammar and clarity of written content.

When it comes to summarizing PDFs, HARPA is my favorite tool. All you need is to install it as a Chrome extension, and voila! You can get concise summaries in just one click.

Apart from summarizing, HARPA is also highly flexible and can perform a range of other useful tasks.

#2. AskYourPDF

AskYourPDF website
Image credit: AskYourPDF

AskYourPDF is a Chrome extension that revolutionizes the way you interact with PDF documents. It uses artificial intelligence to analyze and understand the content of your PDFs, providing a unique chat interface.

This allows you to engage directly with any PDF, ask questions, and receive answers.

Here's a snapshot of what AskYourPDF offers:

  • Chat with PDFs: Engage in a conversational interface directly with your PDF documents.
  • AI-Powered Analysis: The tool uses AI to deeply understand and analyze the content of your documents.
  • Interactive Document Exploration: Easily navigate through complex documents by asking questions and getting immediate responses.
  • Time-Saving Summaries: Quickly get summaries of key sections without reading the entire document.
  • Enhanced Understanding: Ask specific questions to clarify content or explore topics in more detail.

AskYourPDF's integration as a Chrome extension means it's accessible while you work, streamlining your document handling and research processes directly within your browser.

#3. Other AI Chatbots

Besides ChatGPT, there are other AI chatbots that can summarize your PDFs. Two other popular ones to try are Claude and Bard - they both get the job done but in their own special way.

Claude and Bard are smart helpers that can process your PDF and highlight the most important information so you don't have to read it all. Both can get you the details quickly, but they may approach it differently than ChatGPT.

Can you use the exact same prompts with each tool? Well, sometimes yes, and sometimes no. Some requests will give similar results no matter which helper you pick. But other times, one assistant might understand better than another.

You can always try out a few prompts on each one to see who explains things in a way that makes the most sense to you.

Is It Even Worth Doing 🤔?

While AI can definitely speed things up, is it always the best choice? Let's talk about the pros and cons a little more.

One huge plus of letting the bots do the work is how much time you save. Instead of wasting hours reading everything, they can give you the highlights quickly so you can return to your day.

But we have to remember that AI isn't perfect. When documents get really complicated or technical, the bots may miss some details in their summaries. And they don't catch things like tone or deeper meaning like a human could.

Another thing is they lack our human touch. As smart as they are, bots can't replace what our experience and intuition add.

So, does it mean that you shouldn't use AI to summarize your PDFs? Of course not. But it's important to keep in mind that there may be some inaccuracies, so it's always a good idea to review the content you get (especially if you are unsure about something.)


In case you still have some questions 👇

Can I Use the ChatGPT Prompts in Other Chatbots?

While the same prompts will often work across different chatbots, it's always good to experiment a bit, too.

Rather than assuming the same instructions will work identically, it's best to try things out and see. You never know - tweaking a word here or there could help draw out an even better summary from a particular assistant.

Can I Summarize PDFs With AI for Free?

Yes, you can summarize PDFs with AI for free, but keep in mind that free tools might have limitations like reduced accuracy or restrictions on the size of the PDF you can upload. 

What Is the Best AI Tool to Summarize Documents?

Determining the best AI tool to summarize documents depends on your specific needs.

If you want to upload a PDF and get a concise summary, OpenAI's ChatGPT is a versatile option. However, for browser-based tasks, tools like HARPA AI might be more convenient.

When choosing, consider factors such as the complexity of the PDF, the tool's user-friendliness, and your specific summarization requirements.


And that's it. Now, you know how to use ChatGPT to summarize a PDF!

P.S. Are you curious about improving your everyday work with modern tools?(also using AI 🧐) Sign up for my newsletter to get my thoughts & tips on this.

Thanks for taking the time to read this - let me know if you have any other questions!

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