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When sending a mail to a professor/ academic, is it OK to send link of a document/draft/preprint instead of attaching it to the mail? What is the convention?

The reason is, if you attach it, it takes some space in the mailbox of recipient. Thus, the recipient might delete it to save space, after some time.

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closed as off-topic by David Richerby, Wrzlprmft, gerrit, vonbrand, scaaahu Feb 14 at 2:40

  • This question does not appear to be about academics within the scope defined in the help center.
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

This is no different from sending an email to any other person on the planet. #ProfessorsArePeopleToo. – David Richerby Feb 13 at 20:22
I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because the question is not about academia: sending an email to an academic is no different from sending one to anybody else. – David Richerby Feb 13 at 20:58
I think you should specify whether the document is expected by the recipient or not. (For what it's worth, I will neither follow a link nor open an attachment in an unsolicited mail from an unfamiliar sender; otherwise, I prefer links to attachments above (say) 1Mb -- even if space and bandwidth is cheap nowadays, it starts to add up once you get into triple figure emails per week (or day!), and IT starts getting huffy once your IMAP account passes several Gb on their servers. Just make sure the link doesn't rot quickly, to give your recipient time to look at it if they're busy at the moment.) – Christian Clason Feb 13 at 22:07
up vote 4 down vote accepted


You want to make sure it is easy for the recipient to read your mail, no extra clicking and waiting. In any case, cold sent mail asking to review your work will be silently ignored. If it contains external link or not, it will pretty soon be cleaned up (or hang around forever, not looked at again).

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I might send you a review request :) , you academics are horrible! – Jim Feb 13 at 12:43
@Jim, just overworked and forgetful. – vonbrand Feb 13 at 14:38
I understand "overworked and forgetful", but still you(plural) should have some space for people like "us". – Jim Feb 13 at 14:41
@Jim, most of the time we get crank mail, or "offers of brilliant ideas, just need to be worked out" (the "work out" part is 99% of the job, and I have enough ideas of my own, thank you), or stuff that lies well out of our area of expertise. One fast (inaccurate, sure; but it weeds out 95% of nonsense) filter is just leave stuff from unknown senders/uninteresting subjects "for later". And we all know "later" means "somewhen after retirement, if at all". – vonbrand Feb 13 at 14:49
Ooening an attachment usually requires at least one extra click as well, unless it's displayed inline such as an image or plain text. – fkraiem Feb 14 at 5:44

In my experience, the key concern about attachments is not the amount of space they take on the recipient's computer (most people have big hard drives these days), but whether they will cause your message to fail to be delivered. There are two issues that I frequently encounter in which attachments cause problems with email:

  • Most mail servers have an upper limit on the attachment size they will allow. At the moment, this is often seems to be no more than 10MB, but I've encountered as low as 2MB.
  • Aggressive protective software sometimes gets upset about attachments, especially known malware vectors like zip files.

If you trigger a filter like this, your email will disappear into a black hole and, depending on the configuration of the system that ate your email, you may not even know that this has happened. Thus, for any attachment above about 1MB or of an unusual type, I recommend sending a link instead.

Note, however, that links can also be viewed as suspicious, by either software or people, since there's a lot of nasty phishing schemes out there. Thus, I recommend not using link shorteners and if possible hosting an academic institutional server or on a well-known and semi-trusted service like DropBox.

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Thanks for your response, BTW, I did not mean Hard drive space, I meant Mail server. Anyway sending link appears to be okay. – Jim Feb 13 at 12:41

By sending a link for a document, if the document is editable (such as google drive), you could edit the file after sending it. This way revisions could be made and would be seen without sending out a new file.

To counter this though, if the link is deleted, the file is lost. In an attachment, as long as you have email access you would still have the file.

Overall most files are not too large so that storage space does not matter. Only videos and large data sets would be hard to store, but the email program would not be able to send it in the first place as file size limits are normally about 15MB.

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If your document is light enough (below 5 Mbytes, to be safe), I suggest you to send it attached. Very often, you can often shrink the document, using for instance pdf options (low resolution images). It is important to make sure that the document is easy to open, so a pdf can be a good option; be careful with, for instance, .doc or .odt versions.

But you can easily provide the attachement, and an additional link in the mail, for instance to a full resolution or color version that could be bigger.

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I agree with many of the other answers (large attachments can be a problem, while linked documents can change or disappear and can look like phishing), but my main concern is surveillance. When someone sends me an attachment, they won't know whether I looked at it. By contrast, when someone sends me a link I typically assume they are deliberately monitoring whether I follow it and, if so, when and perhaps from where. It feels like being stalked.

This doesn't particularly bother me in some cases, such as referee requests. However, it bothers me a lot if the email comes across as unconventional. Then I worry that I don't want to encourage or provoke the sender. (Over the years, I've received a few disturbing or abusive emails, for example from someone upset that I wouldn't endorse his proof of Fermat's Last Theorem.) It sometimes feels better to let the sender wonder whether the email was caught by a spam filter, rather than knowing I accessed the file.

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