Unless you are in the realms of the spy world, paper is paper and ink is ink. Turn it upside down, back to front, or any way you like, all you see is paper and ink. In the electronic world however, documents often reveal far more than the sender may intend.
Email makes it very easy to send a variety of document formats to clients, suppliers and the like. Typically these are word processing documents, spreadsheets and presentations but can also include a number of other document types.
The problem with these documents are that they often contain the logic used to create the document as well as a host of other information gathered whilst editing the document. Do you send original documents to suppliers and clients? Examples are quotes or contracts done in a spreadsheet program or word processing document, sometimes with a request for them to be signed and faxed or emailed back to you? So what is the problem with this you may ask? Quite simple. Unless explicitly protected or hidden in the software, the formulas in a spreadsheet are visible to anyone that chooses to take a look. They may reveal cost or margin information, options or scenarios and if understood by a person you are negotiating with could seriously put you on the back foot. Similarly sending an editable document through to someone for signing and faxing back to you can lead to some key part of the document being changed. How often do you check that the document you received back is the same as the one you sent? Do you or your staff have the time to re-read your own detailed document in case of change?
Then there is also the risk of plain human error. Often spreadsheets contain multiple worksheets. You may only intend to send one of the worksheets but accidentally you send the whole lot! I have seen this happen in my corporate career and such errors can have significant consequences.
So here is a general rule: if you don't intend the document to be edited, print or save it to a PDF (Portable Document Format) and attach that to your mail. This has the additional benefit of generally being a smaller file than the original thus saving you a bit of bandwidth and reducing the risk that it will be bounced by the recipients server. (Beware of exporting to a PDF. Sometimes the whole document rather than just the bit you intend sending is exported)
And if you do receive an editable document, do a test yourself and have a look at the formulas in the spreadsheet, the properties of a word processing document or the note pages in a presentation. You may be amazed at what you find!
Think twice and check before you send that next document.
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