It’s the first week of the new term and I’m back with my weekly dose of sarcasm masquerading as an informative email to improve teaching and learning with technology.
This week I’m sharing something that’s a very small thing, but that makes a massive difference to your professionalism as an educator, and your thoughtfulness as a human being.
Don’t Share Editable Documents when you don’t need to!
Attaching a PowerPoint file to an email and clicking send. That’s lovely, you’ve sent me something useful. Problem is that I opened the file on my phone and what I’m seeing looks nothing like the original, and text is overlapping, images are in the way of important information.
Honestly, it’s unreadable. So now I need to get to a computer, with a compatible copy of PowerPoint, in order to open the file you’ve sent me. I’m probably not going to remember and realistically all that lovely content you’ve sent me is now lost to the ages…
What if you’re putting a letter to students up on Moodle, edmodo or on your website? Is it a good idea to write that word document, get it all styled up and simply published to the web? Well… no. It’s not. This relies on everyone who wants to read the letter having a compatible version of a piece of software that costs the best part of £100 installed simply to see some text you’ve written. Worse still is the fact that now I’ve released an editable version of our official letterhead to the public, so anyone can very easily make a formal looking, headed letter with whatever content they want.
So no. It wasn’t a good choice.
My students are going on a trip, we’re taking them to the National Computing Museum to see Colossus. It’ll be cool. I’ve written a letter in Word, which I’ve had put into our School’s letterhead format and I’m ready to print them out and distribute them.
I’ll also need to put them online though, and maybe it’d simply be easier if I emailed them to the parents and put a copy on the website. Easy! I’ve got the word document here on my computer, I can click attach in my email client, find the file and – hey presto – everyone’s got a copy.
That was easy. Right?
- If the people trying to view the file are doing so on a mobile device, then you are running the risk that your carefully created document will look absolutely awful. People will forget to look at it on their computers and the message that you are trying to send will be totally lost.Here’s an example of a recent PowerPoint sent around by an unnamed member of staff, and what it looked like when I tried to read it on my iPhone
- People may not have the same software as you, or worse, have a slightly different version meaning that they either won’t be able to open your file at all or, once again, it’ll be mangled and look awful.
- If we put any of these barriers in people’s way then they are unlikely to engage with the content we are sending out, be that an announcement of a trip, exam results or homework assignments.
- Making the raw and editable files available to everyone is not always the best idea, in most cases this is irrelevant to what they need to do with it; quick tip: if the person receiving it doesn’t need to edit it then do not send an editable document
- Allowing editable files to be accessed by anyone defeats the point of having a formal style that cannot easily be copied. If we send the students editable versions of our letterhead then we make it easier for them to be able to take those and adapt them to suit their needs; now I’m not saying that this isn’t possible anyway, any student with half a brain can copy your house style – but it is much more difficult if you haven’t got a copy of the letterhead in Word format sitting on your hard drive!
- Editable documents are not designed for reading – just think about it, does a book you read have a flashing cursor? Is the top of your kindle showing the formatting toolbar when you’re reading your way through the latest Discworld adventure? No? Then why should anyone have to deal with all that distraction when trying to read your content?
- Simplicity is hard, and going to the extra effort to make a non-editable version of your document might seem like a pain, but if you think about it then do you even need to send it as an attachment in the first place?
Two choices here really. The first, and most simple is to simply copy and paste the content of the letter into the email, or the webpage. Reduce the amount of clicks that a user needs to make to read your content and they’re more likely to read it.
Realistically though, you’ve spent ages formatting that letter so that it looks ace, let’s simply turn it into a PDF file and send that out. That’ll keep your formatting, images and tables exactly as you want them!
PDF (Portable Document Format) is something you’re bound to have come across already, it’s an uneditable, locked document that looks the same on any device that it’s opened on. Think of it as an electronic print copy of your work, and by turning your letter into a PDF you ensure that everyone and anyone can open and read the document that you’ve sent and know that they’re seeing exactly what you’ve designed and not some awfully rendered aberration.
- Most computers, mobile devices and even eReaders have support for PDFs as standard, but even if they don’t then Adobe provide the reader software free of charge for every platform in the world. Because of the ubiquity of the format you can practically ensure that anyone receiving a PDF will be able to read it.
- If you’re wondering how to create a PDF from a document then you have two options, if you’re on a Mac then any print dialogue box will have a PDF button in the bottom right so you can literally click File -> Print -> PDF to create one. You can also install a PDF printer, which works just like a normal printer but gives you PDF files as output, this is such an easy win and simply adds one button click to your letter writing/PowerPoint making workflow. If you’re on Windows I’d recommend CutePDF as a great little PDF printer.
- PDF files tend to be much smaller that the documents in editable form, this is because they are designed to be portable and compressed unlike many of the standard document formats which are built to keep the quality of the original elements the best that they can be. This means files load and send much faster.
- The nice thing about PDFs is that they’re electronic representations of paper, so you can expect everything you see to be exactly what the user sees; or what they print out if they decide that they prefer reading off that too.
- Why not just forgo the attachment altogether and just send the content in the email as plain text? Unless you’ve got complex images or lots and lots of content with diagrams then often you’re better off just slapping it into an email or webpage.
No amount of me whining here will stop people posting fully editable, huge files in emails and on websites, and it won’t ever stop people sending me documents in Microsoft Works format that I then have to spend half an hour converting just to read. However, what I might be able to do is get you guys to think twice about how the format of the documents you produce reflects on your professionalism and what you expect the recipient to do with the document.
It’s easier, better and fancier all around if you only send editable documents to people who actually need to edit them!
So please, use a PDF instead of a PowerPoint and put the content in the email instead of attaching a word file.
Otherwise you’re doing IT wrong, and if you are, maybe you need my book… which happens to be on sale!