Forgetting to attach attachments, not

We’ve all done it: written an email that references “the attached file” and then forgotten to attach the attachment. Sometimes we realize this and send a second message, usually titled something like “I am an idiot!” with the attachment. Sometimes we don’t realize this, and get back a flurry of messages from our correspendents with subject lines like “You are an idiot!”.

When I was young and footloose and working at the Royal Ontario Museum translating FORTRAN programs into BASIC, and working, on the side, in Turbo Pascal, Gene Wilburn, the director of IT at the Museum, gave me a very useful programming trick: when you’re writing a program and have occasion (as one often does in Pascal) to use a curly bracket ({) which will later need to be closed, simply type, in advance, the closing bracket at the same time, and fill in the “middle” afterwards.

I’ve used this technique ever since, and it’s saved me a lot of hunting around trying to figure out where my mis-matched brackets are.

So in the spirit of Gene’s sage advice, I offer the following similar suggestion: when you are composing an email with an attachment, and you type the word “attached,” as you inevitably will, at that very second you should actually attach the file.

So the progression would go something like this:

Dear Bob,

I have attached

…and here you break and actually attach the file to the message, after which you continue…

the spreadsheet you requested.


Get into the habit of doing this, and you will never be called (or be forced to call yourself) an idiot again!


Wayne's picture
Wayne on September 24, 2003 - 23:51 Permalink

Even when properly indented, lines of code can make finding a closing bracket like looking for a needle in a stack of needles. And I have sent many emails somewhat lacking. Thanks for two great tips.

Daniel Von Fange's picture
Daniel Von Fange on September 25, 2003 - 01:18 Permalink

The brace trick I picked up somewhere, and so I’ve never had trouble closing them.

Nice idea on applying it to emails. I wonder what else in life you could apply the concept too…

Steven Garrity's picture
Steven Garrity on September 25, 2003 - 03:06 Permalink

As for applying this concept elsewhere in life — I was in a meeting once and we decided that the next step in our process would be for the person I was meeting with to make a phone call. I was ready to leave. He picked up the phone, and 30 seconds later, we were ready to the next step.

Deane's picture
Deane on September 25, 2003 - 15:36 Permalink

Another handy trick with Outlook…

Using VBA, detect the Send command, and scan the message for the word “attached” or something similar. If VBA finds it, check for an attachment. If there’s not one, pop a warning box and offer to cancel the send.

I’ve done this with subject lines too — if there’s no subject line, pop a box asking if that’s really what the sender wants to do.

Gene Wilburn's picture
Gene Wilburn on September 26, 2003 - 02:13 Permalink

Peter, nice to run into you again after all these years. I doubt I invented the brace trick but I’m glad it’s worked for you as it’s worked for me.

Cheers, Gene

Chris Corrigan's picture
Chris Corrigan on September 27, 2003 - 08:08 Permalink

I have doine what you suggest for years, and it usually works. The odd time when I forget the attach the attachment, I usually send a follow up saying something like:

You may be interested to know that I have been studying Buddhism lately and practicing non-attachment. However, that doesn’t appear to be very practical under the presnet circumstances, so, with my apologies, please find the attached, as promised.”

Usually works like the charm that it is…;-)