Attachments : Successful Writing

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Attachments :

When you want to send a document electronically and retain its formatting (such as a report to a professor or a resume to a prospective employer), you need to send an email transmitting the report along with an attachment containing the report itself.

The content of such an email (called a letter of transmittal) is pretty standard.

The first paragraph says something like "Dear Professor Kilgore, Here is the final report you requested for English 360, on the types of advocacy pages on the Web. 1 hope you will find it conforms to your requirements in terms of its .... "

The second paragraph is actually a three or four-line summary of the attached document.

The third and last paragraph makes clear what you hope will happen after your recipient reads the document and opens a channel for further communication: "I understand that after you have read the report you will notify me to schedule a conference at which we will discuss your evaluation of my report. While the most reliable way to reach me is always via email, I also welcome your phone call at 555-1234."

Then the report itself, fully formatted, with tables, graphs and so on, goes with that email as an attachment. As always, it is important for such an email to have a subject line identifying it clearly (such as "Final Report for English 360") and for the receiver to be expecting to receive the report from you in the form of an attachment. The problem of viruses has led many people to refuse to open email containing an attachment that they did not expect.

Computer viruses are a major problem on email today and many viruses spread themselves through attachments. Once the host computer opens the attachment, the virus can send itself to everyone on that computer's email list. So you will get email from someone with whom you're had previous correspondence and whose name you may well recognize. But the attachments will contain the virus. About the only clue you might have is that the virus usually cannot customize either the subject line (so it will be something generic like "Cheek this out!") or the email message itself (so it will be something like "I thought you would be interested in this"). If you open the attachment, your machine becomes infected with the virus which then starts using your address list to replicate itself.

Excellent antivirus software exists (such as Symantec's Norton Antivirus at or VirusScan at, but some people will not open unsolicited email with attachments. Therefore if you want to send someone an attachment, it is a good idea to send him or her another email first (or first call on the phone) saying that you are about to do so. And of course, running good virus protection software on your own computer will be doing everyone a favor.

You may, also face compatibility problems with attachments. Many computers still will not read attachments done on MAC's and some attachments done with the latest software are difficult or impossible to read with three-year-old software. One way around such problems is to send your attachment the second time (after the recipient sends you the "I can't read your attachment" message) in an older version of some very common software program (something like WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS, for example). You could also save and send the file as an ASCII (plain text) file (this, however, will lose much of the formatting) or as an RTF (Rich Text Format) file. (In Word, all of these options for saving a file in another format can be accessed by clicking on File, then on Save As and selecting the appropriate option from the menu that opens.) For many, the easiest scenario is simply to paste the entire document into the body of an email (thus losing just about all the formatting, visuals, etc.) and then send the document as email.

To continue the section on
Sending Electronic Communications,

Writing for Online Readers

Emails Dos and Don’ts

Handling Casual Correspondence

Handling Professional and Academic Correspondence

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