Special delivery for your documents

Too many accountants are using the body of emails to deliver information instead of using the attachment function.

How many emails did you receive today? More importantly, how many did you actually read from start to finish? The fact is, we are so inundated with email that most of us subconsciously apply the Tl;dr principle to our email, textspeak for "too long; didn't read." Welcome to work in the knowledge age.

More and more, we are delivering our finished goods electronically via email. That's OK, as long as the expertise being shared — the interpretation of data, presentation of results, recommendations for action, compliance reporting, etc. — is not private in nature. However, many of us are starting to slide down a slippery slope and into a bad habit. We are using the body of the email to deliver our product instead of using email to deliver our attached product.

As accountants, our product is our expert knowledge. We structure and package our knowledge into a document so that it can be delivered to our clients. That is to say, we do not normally communicate this content verbally and if we do, we follow up with a document that contains the content we communicated. We use a document for two reasons: so that our client can easily access it on demand and so that we can easily file away a copy for evidentiary and client-service purposes.

In order to deliver the content to our client, we should ensure that it is published to a static document such as a Portable Document Format or PDF. This removes the content from the influences of the original application's databases, scripts and other programming logic. A PDF ensures your content can be accessed on just about every possible electronic device out there. It also ensures that your content is protected from innocent or accidental change.

So now we need to deliver the content to our client. That's where email comes into play. Think of it this way: the email is the envelope directing the recipient to the attached product. It's easy and very efficient.

Many compare email to a postcard: short and to the point. Thus, when delivering an attached PDF document, the body of the email can simply say, "See the attached document." The problem — and this is the beginning of the slippery slope — is when we start to describe the nature of the knowledge contained in the attached PDF in a too-detailed synopsis in the body of the email. All of a sudden we've completely bypassed the PDF stage and we come face to face with the client's Tl;dr reaction.

Even if your client is inclined to read long emails, the librarianship function of email is complex, which is to say, there is no easy way to share email information. However, an attached PDF can easily be saved to a location where it is accessible on demand. The reality is, most of your documents are accessed more than once and by more than one individual.

A separate attached document allows for simpler librarianship. Saving it to an easily accessed file folder, or better yet, within a document management system, provides easier navigation to find the information you need. Once the end user has the document, the goal is to access the knowledge it contains as quickly and efficiently as possible. This comes down to how you structure the knowledge you want to share and the navigation tools you use within the document — but more on this in a future article.

Delivering your structured finished product, your expert content, in the body of an email is a surefire way for it to be forgotten in someone's inbox, maybe even unread. Publishing your content in a document, attaching and delivering it via email will allow end users to save, find and use the information when they want, where they want and how they want.