First, It is never wise to send an editable document or investigative report to a client; if you MUST send it in MS Word then you should protect the document from any unauthorized edits or changes. If you are using MS Word 2003 or later, click on “Tools” in the toolbar and select “Protect Document” then choose the options you need.
We would all like to believe that our clients (or their friends, enemies or… opposing counsel) would not change a report… but how many of us still believe in the Easter Bunny?
Next, you should consider compatibility. We convert our documents into a .pdf file. Adobe Reader is installed on greater than 99% of all computers purchased and solves the compatibility issue of the many competing file types… .doc, .docx, .rdf, .txt, .wps, .xml, .htm, .html, .jpg, .gif, .png, etc. etc. ad nauseum. Even if your client can open a document, it does not mean that he or she is seeing it exactly the way you intended because their software settings, viewing and layout, are probably different than yours. If you take pride in your work and take your time about the aesthetics of your presentation, .pdf’s ensure that what you see, is what the recipients of your documents are going to see.
Lastly, we convert documents into a .pdf due to “portability.” If you are going to send your report to the client via email or upload them to your website for download, then you should consider file size; .pdf’s are generally smaller in size than Word documents and, if you use Adobe Acrobat, there are options to reduce the file size even further.
If you don’t have the several hundred dollars laying around to pick up the latest version of Adobe Acrobat, our favorite FREE .pdf creation tool is “Primo .pdf.” http://www.primopdf.com/
One last thought on the subject of file size: optimize your photos! If you are including digital photo’s as exhibits in your document, then you should reduce not only the dimensions of your photos to fit the page but also the resolution; 96dpi is perfect for a standard report. Compress the image for even further reduction in file size. Work with copies of your digital photos and not the original files.
Here is a video demonstration of me reducing the file size of a sample report from 128MB to 2.75MB by compressing the included photographs: