When Do You Use PDF Files?

Are you using eMail to send prayer letters to your ministry partners? Are you sending these via an eMail with an attached PDF file? I’d like to encourage you to switch over to blogging or to MailChimp (or a similar eMail service) instead. Here’s why…

PDF Files Are for Printing

Did you know a PDF (Portable Document Format) file is essentially a snapshot of your document? The only time I send a PDF prayer letter is for a church who prints copies to post or distribute. (Also, the only times I send prayer letters electronically are for over one hundred non-donors plus one donor living in Europe. Our financial partners all receive the paper version, but this is a side note.)

Consider these pros and cons for using PDF files for prayer letters:


  • A PDF file can be huge, causing problems for your recipients. The largest PDF file in my inbox right now is 2MB!
  • It’s also possible that your recipient’s spam filter, when it detects an attachment, could toss your lovely letter in their junk mail folder.
  • Your friends may be reluctant to open attachments or could have problems opening your letter.
  • The more “clicks” required to read something, the more likely you’ll lose readers. You have two hurdles: the first two words of your eMail’s subject line should be compelling enough for them to read your email; your few sentences in the body of your eMail should also be intriguing so that they’ll want to open the PDF file.
  • PDF files are awkward to read on mobile devices. It’s likely that half your readers are using mobile devices to read their eMail (and this percentage is growing). They need a responsive format for reading content (that is, the letter fits the size of the screen). To read a PDF file, your friend may have to scroll side-to-side and up-and-down. Your eye-catching layout is lost on them as they have to read small sections at a time.
  • You can’t be sure your readers will click to read your PDF letter. For instance, they see your eMail from their phone, but know it’s better to read it on their laptop. They may choose to ignore your eMail or forget to read it later.
  • Your friend needs to download the software for a reader, such as Adobe Reader , or they may be able to open your letter in Word.
  • The “social” aspect of sending a PDF file attachment is limited. Your reader can reply to or forward your eMail. That’s it. Other options give them an opportunity to have a conversation around your letter via Facebook and/or on a blog. (I’ll explain this in part two.)


  • Your recipient, such as a church partner, wants to print a dozen or so copies.
  • You want the reader to have the look of the printed letter, not an eMail with photos.

Dinosaurs and PDF Files

PDF files have been around since 1993. Yes, they may be “going the way of the dinosaur.” Other options are rapidly replacing this means of communication (read part two). For instance, PDF files can be opened on most devices so your co-worker in Singapore, using a PC, can read the document you created on your Apple; however, collaborative files on Google Drive, or other cloud software, replaces this scenario.

If you need further convincing to stop sending your PDF letters, higher education groups (and others) were abandoning PDFs in 2011. I recommend reading Liberate Your PDF Newsletter Content for a slightly different approach to this argument.

Now that you’re ready to stop sending PDF prayer letters, read part two, Your Options to Replace PDF Letters.

When do you use PDF files? Are they helpful in an office or field ministry? Do you have reasons to use or not to use PDF files?

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