Explain it to your grandparents and it seems like wizardry of the highest order: documents, images, contracts, music – anything – teleporting instantaneously across the globe to limitless recipients; an inestimable boon to business communications.

Email has transformed business, but its very simplicity and speed leaves it open to misuse and poor standards.

Attaching files to email, in particular, is a potential minefield.

To maintain professional standards and avoid annoying the recipient:

1.  Do not attach files on first contact

Your first email to a new contact should not include attachments. If you are introducing your business, include links to your website instead. People tend to open attachments only from correspondents they trust, so your efforts may be wasted and your message lost.

2. Use standard file formats – PDF where possible

It is obvious that attachments that require non-standard software to open should be avoided. However, although most business contacts can access standard office file formats, unless files are being sent for editing, email a PDF version instead, because:

– different versions of the likes of Word, Excel and PowerPoint may cause problems
– people may not be comfortable opening such attachments for fear of viruses
– documents may not display as you intended, due to the recipients’ settings

Free PDF conversion software may be downloaded from CutePDF.

3. Refer to the attachment in the email text

Let the recipient know about the attached file(s). Ideally, the body of your email should include a list of attachments and their purpose or content, if this is not clear from the filename, which brings me to…

4. Take care with filenames

Working on files internally, we may be careless with naming. Before emailing a file, check that the name is relevant and meaningful for an external recipient; “Pension Investment Proposal-July 2010” rather than “PensPropTemplt-kh-tw-FINAL”.

Retain references and versioning details if necessary, but include these in the body and properties of the document rather than the file name for emailing.

5. Link to very large files instead of attaching

If you have large files to share, consider uploading these to your website or extranet rather than emailing them.

Remember that many browsers convert spaces in filenames to a confusing “%20”, so use hyphens or underscores instead on files for upload i.e. “Training_Proposal_July_2010”.

Alternatively, use one of the many free online services for sharing large files, such as YouSendIt.

The bottom line, as always in e-business, is that solid business principles are fundamental to success. In this case, respect for your correspondent, attention to detail and expectation management – something our beleaguered grandparents understood perfectly well.

I am a digital marketer who has recently returned home to Ireland, following a two-year stint working in Silicon Valley, California. I am an avid traveller, reader and oenophile, always happy to connect with new people, online and IRL. All content (c) Karen Henry 2010-2016