Digital Content Creation



Digital Content Creation

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5.0 Best Practices for Optical Character Recognition

Download PDF for Chapter 5


Optical character recognition (OCR) is a process by which specialized software is used to convert scanned images of text to electronic text so that that digitized texts can be searched, indexed and retrieved.  The recommended software for OCR creation is ABBYYFineReader; however, Adobe Acrobat can produce high-quality OCR for clear, crisp, and structurally uncomplicated texts in a variety of languages.

Table of Contents

5.1 Uses of OCR output

5.2 Functionality of OCR Software

5.3 Output File Formats

5.4 Factors Affecting Accuracy of OCR

5.5 OCR Correction and Rekeying










5.1 Uses of OCR output


There are several uses for the output of the optical character recognition process[1]:


5.2 Functionality of OCR Software


Text must be scanned or digitally photographed and saved in either an image or PDF (portable document) format prior to running it through an OCR program. OCR software converts the patterns of light and dark found in a digital image of a page of text into text characters and saves them in a format that computers can search or index, such as Unicode or ASCII.  OCR software generally employs a wide variety of language dictionaries.  ABBYYFineReader v. 10 can read over 180 languages, as well as common programming languages, numbers, and simple chemical formulae.  ABBYYFineReader can read multilingual documents, and includes dictionaries and spell-checking capabilities for 39 languages.  Adobe Acrobat 9 can read over 40 languages and has some basic spell-checking capabilities. Generally, operators select the language(s) of the document from a drop down list prior to initiating the OCR process.

"Reading" of digitized text is the primary function of OCR software; however, some OCR programs (e.g., ABBYYFineReader) have other functions aimed at either improving the accuracy of the OCR results or speeding up the OCR process. Among these processes are:

5.3 Output File Formats

Optical character recognition should be performed for printed textual materials to enhance searchability and access of the digitized version.


5.4 Factors Affecting Accuracy of OCR


Most commercial software packages boast an OCR accuracy of between 97% and 99%.  These rates are based on character errors, not word errors.  So while 97% of characters may be accurate in an OCR'd document, only 75% of words may be spelled correctly.  Any of the following factors can also affect the accuracy of the OCR:


Textual considerations


Scanning considerations that affect the accuracy of OCR include:


5.5 OCR correction and rekeying


If the use to which OCR'd text is being put requires 100% accuracy, two options are available:



[1] Tanner, Simon.  Deciding Whether Optical Character Recognition is Feasible. KDCS, 2004. (

[2] Booth, Jon M., et. al. Optimizing OCR Accuracy on Older Documents: A Study of Scan Mode, File Enhancement, and Software Products (USGPO, 2006). (


6.0 Best Practices for PDF Creation

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