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Stop Emailing Word Attachments

This goes out particularly to nonprofits, with whom I work quite a bit, but it's a more general plea to small organizations and to small/medium groups within larger organizations.

Please stop emailing Microsoft Word attachments for the vast majority of your documents. Use Google Docs instead, or if the document is something with intended permanence, post it on your organization's internal or external Web site.

Note: I have no connection to either Microsoft or Google, so I don’t stand to gain or lose financially from your choice, but consider.

Word docs are emailed as attachments. When you need to find it again, you have to search your email. If more than one version was mailed, you have to make sure you find the right one. Did you save it in a downloads folder? Is it still just an attachment in your email? Which version? A Google doc is always up-to-date and you can always see how it looked in the past (using the "Version History" feature), and it's always in the same place—Google Drive.
  • But you can share Word docs using OneDrive. Yes, but that requires an Office license (see below) to install the OS-specific client. Google Docs works with web browsers on any platform including tablets and phones.
Word docs cannot be collaboratively edited. If two people receive an attachment, and each one makes edits, there is no way to merge the edits. If you make edits to a version that turns out to be out-of-date, it is painful to try to replay your edits into the latest version, assuming you can confirm where that version is. Google Docs doesn't have this problem. (And OneDrive doesn't solve this problem either, except by letting you use “Word Online,” an impotent version of Word that is way worse than Google Docs.)
  • But Google Docs can only be edited if you're connected to the Internet! You can't view or edit them when disconnected!   Wrong. You can too edit offline.
Word docs must be backed up. You do back up your hard drive or SSD, right? Because it's not a question of whether it will someday fail but when. You could back up your Word docs to the cloud, of course. But Google Docs is already there and does this for free.

Word docs require Word. Word isn't free. Many universities/businesses have site licenses, so you personally may not have had to pay for your copy. But for individuals, Microsoft Office (now called Microsoft 365) runs between $70-$150. And it will not run on Chromebooks, which are much cheaper than Windows or Mac computers and often a great choice for low-intensity tasks. Google Docs is free, as in beer.
  • But Word has a million features that Google Docs lacks. True, but when's the last time you used such a feature? (OK, Outline Mode is pretty cool. But for short documents it's rarely needed, and for long documents neither Word nor Docs is adequately powerful.)
  • And Word has many more pretty fonts than Google Docs. Wrong. Also, you should leave font choices to professionals. Unless you're a designer or typographer and going for a very specific aesthetic, do us all a favor and stick to the classics—Times, Helvetica, Courier, Lucida Sans, and so on. Unless you know something about typography, you’re more likely to make your doc look like it was designed by kindergarteners.
Email attachments are a way to pass the buck. If a document is important enough to be preserved—for comments, for dissemination, for future discussion—emailing it as an attachment sends the message “I abdicate my responsibility to steward this document going forward.” It’s like sending an email to multiple people on the To line—no one who receives it believes they are the specific person expected to take action, so no action is taken.

Off-topic—should I use Google Sheets and Google Slides instead of Excel and PowerPoint? Maybe. Excel is far superior to Google Sheets, but Google Sheets takes care of the vast majority of my simple spreadsheet needs. Google Slides is far inferior to PowerPoint. But for bread-and-butter memos, short documents, meeting minutes, and the like, for me GDocs over Word is a no-brainer.
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