Students, staff and faculty now communicate very well by email. There
are simple things you can do to use email even more effectively to get
your message across1.
Avoid using attachments if you can send the message in the body instead. Some email reading tools do not handle attachments well. Using attachments makes the recipient take extra steps to read your message. Attachments are the primary way viruses are transmitted. Attachments are often in a proprietary format (such as Word, Word Perfect, Excel, and so on) that the recipient might not have the software to read. That software can be expensive, and might not work on every operating system. Reading attachments in proprietary formats is especially hard for recipients who use Unix or GNU/Linux or who lack the funds to upgrade proprietary software annually.
If you want more formatting than a simple email message can provide, consider using a non-proprietary format such as HTML (.htm, .html), Rich Text Format (.rtf), or Portable Document Format (.pdf) in preference to proprietary formats such as Word (.doc). More people will be able to read your message; there is a smaller chance you will inadvertently transmit a virus; there is a smaller chance you will compromise your own privacy accidentally; and you will save University resources--the files are much smaller. You can use your usual word processor to write documents but still save them in a more accessible, compact and safer format to send them by email. Help is available to learn how to save documents in these formats. The pros and cons of several common document formats are tabulated below. Security risks, privacy compromises, and hidden costs inherent in email attachments are detailed in the appendix.
However, if you really need to send a file (such as a spreadsheet) to a particular individual so that person can work with it, attaching the file to an email message can be an effective way to transmit it--if the file is not too large. If you just want the recipient to be able to read or print the information, send the information in the body of the message or use a non-proprietary format: there is a better chance the recipient will be able to read your message.
Email attachments should be used to send only moderately-sized files (less than 0.5MB or so) to a small number of recipients (up to 10 people). Larger files or larger recipient lists can cripple email servers. If a large number of people need to work with a large file, consider posting the file to a web site and sending just the URL by email, or transferring the file using FTP or SFTP.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Remember: Think Before you Click!
|Email Attachment File Types: Pros and Cons|
|Format||Editable?||Cross Platform?||Secure?||Compact||Proprietary||Advanced Formatting?||Permanent||Cost|
|Plain Text ASCII (TXT)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes||Free|
|HyperText Mark-up Language (HTML,HTM)||Yes||Yes||Variably ||Yes||No||Yes||No||Free|
|Portable Document Format (PDF)||No||Yes||Mostly ||Yes||Yes||Yes||Largely ||Free|
|Rich Text Format (RTF)||Yes||Partly||Yes||Yes||Yes||Some ||Yes||>$5|
|Word Document (DOC)||Yes||No||No||No||Yes||Yes||No||>$20|
 Often HTML that is authored within an email program (such
as Eudora or MS Outlook) is secure. However, HTML email that you
receive can have web bugs or other security vulnerabilities. It is
important to understand what the default security settings of your
email program are and that the default settings can be insecure.
Some things you might want to do are 1) turn off cookies within
emails, 2) not allow scripts to run in emails and 3) open
your email off-line to avoid web bug tracking.
 PDF is largely a secure format. It does allow some basic
scripting and URL linking which can be used to run programs on your
system and to track where the document is being viewed on the
 PDF undergoes changes regularly although it is expected to
 Some advanced formating is available in RTF.
Attaching documents to email is often unnecessary, costly, exclusionary and risky, and transforms UC Berkeley in a way that burdens some units financially. This can be illustrated by looking at one of the most common email attachment formats: Microsoft Word. (For example, minutes and agenda of administrative and Academic Senate committee meetings are often sent as Word email attachments.) Some of the following discussion is specific to Word Documents but most of the comments apply to email attachments in general.
Word has features to track changes in documents by several co-authors.
When a group of authors collaborates on a document they have agreed to
write in Word, it can be appropriate to send the manuscript back and
forth by e-mail. However, Word documents are used principally for the
formatting capabilities of Word, not for more advanced features.
Unless the advanced features are really needed, there are advantageous
alternatives to Word, depending on the amount of formatting the user
desires: plain text (TXT), hypertext (HTML), Adobe's Portable Document
Format (PDF) and rich text (RTF). The features and limitations of
these formats are delineated in the table in the body
of this document.
The alternative formats are much safer for the sender and the
recipient. (However, note that when a Word document is saved as html,
which preserves much of the formatting and makes the document more
accessible, Word embeds potentially sensitive information in the html
In conclusion, please be sensitive to accessibility, security, and
cost when you send email. Send plain text in the body of the message
when that will get your message across. If you need more advanced
formatting to achieve your goals, use the safest and most accessible
format you can. Send (or post) final versions of formatted documents
in HTML or PDF.
About this document: This document was written in LATEX and translated to PDF using dvipdfm and the hyperref package. The HTML was created using LATEX 2HTML5. Last modified 4 May 2003 by Joseph Lorenzo Hall (firstname.lastname@example.org).