There should be an image here!I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone say that they opened a Word document included as an attachment within an email, edited the document, and clicked Save. When they re-opened the document within the email, their changes were not saved. Let’s just say that the number of times I’ve heard this is countless.

I added one more to that countless number when my mother called the other night in a panic. She had worked on editing a Windows Mail attachment for two hours, saved it, and now her changes were gone. So off I went to see what she had done this time.

I discovered that she received an email with a Word attachment. She opened the document from within the email and proceeded to edit it. When she was finished, instead of doing a Save As, she simply clicked Save. Her assumption was that her changes would be saved and she could just forward the email back to the recipient. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

What many people don’t realize is that when you open an attachment, such as a Word document, within Windows Mail, it is opened as a temporary file in the temp folder. Once you are done editing the document, even though you click Save, the document reverts back to the original version as soon as you close it. You must save the attachment to your computer if you want to save your changes!

Of course, someone sending a file in Word .doc format could be kind and tell the recipient that such saves won’t work, or send it in a completely different format (such as .rtf or .txt) to preempt this problem. In response to this post, Gnomie Stan wrote to bring up some very good points (republished here in hopes that others may learn from them):

Actually, you should never email a word doc.

You should never open a word document emailed to you.

Do not keep any Word docs that have been emailed to you in your email client.

Word is not a program meant to sent documents over the Web.

If you must send a doc from Word, send it as an .rtf (rich text file).

Microsoft Word files are a security hazard. Unlike standard data formats, Word files can contain programming code which can be executed by your computer automatically when a document is opened. Microsoft’s motivation for including this “feature” in Word was to allow word processing macros to be saved along with the document. However, it was not long before malicious people began exploiting this design flaw by writing Word macro code to surreptitiously delete random files or otherwise damage one’s computer. As a result, Word files are now notorious as the vector for dozens of computer viruses. When you receive a Word attachment by email, do you really want to take the risk of welcoming a proverbial Trojan horse into your system?

In cases where the document makes use of special formatting and you expect the recipient to edit it, you may wish to send an .rtf file instead of a Word file. .rtf was developed as a standard data interchange format for word processors, and most popular word processors can read and write such files. .rtf may not preserve physical formatting exactly, but unlike with HTML, it at least tries to specify physical presentation rather than leaving it entirely up to the recipient’s application.

See: Avoid E-Mail Attachments, Especially Microsoft Word

Thanks, Stan!