In an increasingly computerized world, it is becoming standard practice to submit work in electronic format. This has a number of advantages: Students and instructors can exchange information from any two computers; others can edit work without having to retype it into a computer file; and anyone can change the file into other formats, such as HTML, for a variety of purposes.

Unfortunately, the computer world is still too complex.  There are different file formats, operating systems, e-mail readers, and word processing programs.  Moreover, these formats and the hardware that supports them change constantly. This means that if you save a file in WordPerfect Version 8.0, and the recipient has only Microsoft Works Version 2.0, your recipient may not be able to open the file at all. If the recipient does manage to open the file, it may be mixed in with gibberish. Either way, the result is frustration.

There are a few rules that can avoid a lot of this frustration. Electronic file submission is essentially a two-step process.  First, you must save the file in a format the recipient can read.  Then, you must give the file to the recipient. Each step has some general rules that apply to most file transfers.

Step 1. File Preparation

Rule 1: Save files in IBM-compatible format. If there are any Macintosh users out there, be sure to save your file on a floppy disk formatted as an IBM-compatible disk. Macs can read IBM disks, but IBM-compatible computers cannot read Mac disks.

Rule 2: Save files in a format your recipient can open. Not all word processing programs are compatible. There are two ways to ensure that the recipient will be able to open your files.

Rule 2a: Check with your recipient to find out what operating system, software programs, and versions thereof he or she has. Tell the recipient what program and version you use, and find out if that person has the capacity to open documents thus formatted.

  • Microsoft Word 2000 and earlier (.doc suffix)--PREFERRED!
  • WordPerfect 9.0 and earlier (.wpd)
  • HTML files (.htm, .html)
  • ASCII files (.txt)
  • Microsoft Works (.wps)--with considerable difficulty and some data loss (see Rule 2b)


Rule 2b: Save files in a universally readable format. Some formats are common to nearly all programs:

If you need to convert a file to another format, do the following:

  1. Open your file in the word processing program you ordinarily use.
  2. Click on the File menu, then on Save As.
  3. Click on the arrow next to the Save As Type box in the Save As dialog box. Find the appropriate type. ASCII text will usually be described as Text and it will have a ".txt" suffix. HTML will have an ".htm" suffix. Word has a ".doc" suffix, and WordPerfect has ".wpd".  Release the mouse on the appropriate type.
  4. Click Save.
  5. WARNING: BE CAREFUL converting files if you have used the footnote function of your word processor. Footnotes do not always convert, and your computer may even freeze.

Rule 3: Make file names descriptive. For those of you who were raised on DOS--HELLLLLOOOOOO!!!  Unless you're running DOS or Windows 3.1, you're not limited to eight letters anymore! And as of Summer 2000, neither is your instructor. 

Remember that the file is for the recipient as well as yourself. <Homework for Dr. Brooks> may be descriptive to YOU, but it doesn't help ME a lot.  Try to get COURSE, ASSIGNMENT NUMBER, and STUDENT NAME (Last FirstInitial) into the file name.  Example: 


Rule 4: Always run an anti-virus program on your disk before giving it to anyone. This is only common courtesy.

Step 2. File Submission

Once you have the file in a format your recipient can read, you still have to get it to your recipient.  There are basically three ways of doing this.

Via Digital Drop Box (preferred if available on Blackboard)

If your are submitting a file in a course for which there is a Blackboard web site, and the Digital Drop Box is available, use it. 

  1. Close the file you want to send. Log in to Blackboard.
  2. Click on Student Tools, then Digital Drop Box.  Click the SEND button (NOT the ADD button).
  3. Type the Assignment Name in the File Information box.
  4. Click Browse to find the file you want to send.  A dialog box will pop up. Double-click on folders until you find the file you want to send. Click on the file, then Click Open.
  5. Type any Comments you want to send with the file.
  6. Click Submit.

A nice tutorial on the Digital Drop Box is available at the University of Texas Center for Instructional Technologies web site.

Via E-Mail (preferred if Digital Drop Box not available)

Submitting files via e-mail has some advantages over submitting them on floppy disk. You don't have to copy a file to a floppy disk and give the disk to your instructor. Indeed, with e-mail you never have to see your instructor at all, which some students seem to prefer.

However, despite the existence of Internet standards for e-mail, there is a still a bewildering array of e-mail formats and e-mail software, not all of which read other formats and software.

Rule 5a: Send the file as an attachment (preferred). If at home, connect to your Internet Service Provider; if on campus, log in to your account at one of the computer labs.  Open up your e-mail program. Create a new e-mail message. Attach the file following the instructions for your e-mail program.  Send the message.

The advantage of submitting your file as an attachment is that the file reaches the recipient in the same format in which you created it.  The disadvantage is that if your recipient does not have the proper word processing software, he or she will not be able to open the file. Be sure you follow Rules 1-4 above. In addition, attachment-handling protocols differ with different e-mail programs and providers. Even if the file is in a compatible word processing format, the recipient may not be able to open it.


Rule 5b: Copy and paste your information directly into an e-mail message. Open your file as you would normally, using your word processing program.  Select the whole document, and copy it.  Then open your e-mail program, create a new message, and paste the file directly into the e-mail message.  Send the message.

The advantage of this method of submitting your work as an e-mail message is that you avoid the disadvantages of submitting it as an attachment.  The disadvantage is that you lose any special formatting. Because of past problems with attachments, most businesses that accept online resumes require that they be inserted into rather than attached to an e-mail message.

Rule 6: Make sure the recipient can easily identify the e-mail message. Always put the course designator and the assignment in the subject line (e.g., <HIST12003 Assgn 04>). That allows me to sort, store, and retrieve messages easily. Also, be sure your name is somewhere in the e-mail message.  Many people have e-mail addresses that are not easily identifiable, such as (a typical campus account) or (a typical web-mail address).  Put your name in the message. Finally, if you send the file as an attachment, describe the file type in the e-mail message--e.g., "Saved as Microsoft Word 6.0". That way I will not waste time trying to open files I can't, and I will know what type of file to save it as when I send it back to you.

Rule 7: Follow up to make sure your recipient has received the message and file. If I try to open a file and cannot, I will let you know. However, in some cases an attachment gets detached, or else it never got attached in the first place.  In such cases, I am not necessarily aware that I am missing something. Always describe attachments in the e-mail message. And follow up to make sure I got everything.

Via Floppy Disk

If you do not have convenient access to e-mail, or if you just prefer the certainty of physically handing in an assignment, put it on a floppy disk. However, be sure to follow rules 1-4 above, as well as

Rule 8: Put the file by itself on a clean disk. Disks cost about $0.25 these days, less than the price of a report cover. Splurge and buy a new one.  If the disk is old and looks like it will damage my computer, I will give it back to you. Do not put other files on the disk. I do not want to search through a disk to find your assignment, nor will I promise to give the disk back because you have files for other classes on it.

Rule 9: Put a descriptive label on the disk. Put a clean label on the disk. Disks without a label will not be accepted. Include the following information:


If you follow these rules, you will find that you can send information in electronic format easily and with a high degree of likelihood that the information will be readable on the other end. If you receive information in electronic format that your computer cannot decipher, you can pass these rules along to your sender and increase the likelihood that the information will be readable the second time around. In short, you will look like a computer whiz! And you will find that electronic transfer of information is an extremely efficient and powerful tool.