Working with documents on the computer is usually much easier than working with physical paper, folders, notebooks and file cabinets. When you’re on the computer, you don’t have to get up out of your chair, maneuver around the stacks of paper cluttering your office, pull out the right file folder, and sift through everything until you finally find what you are looking for. All the while, precious minutes are floating by.
But as you’ve worked with digital documents, you’ve probably come across a lot of file types you are not familiar with or that you do not fully understand. Although we will not discuss every single file format option available to you, we will talk about some of the best options we’ve seen that make working through your case much more efficient and easy, especially when working with case management and trial presentation technology.
First, a word about a couple different file types you’ll come across:
Native File Types vs Image File Types
Native files are in formats that are understood by the original program a given file was created in. For example, an original document created in Word would have a “.doc” or “.docx” file extension. For WordPerfect, the native file extension is “.wpd”. These types of files can only be opened in the program they were created in unless another third-party program specifically creates functionality around opening those types of files.
Because of the information above, trying to always use native files like Word can result in a frustrating experience since the file cannot always be opened everywhere. Or, if it can, it can be slow, awkward, and can result in a frustrating experience.
That’s why it’s usually easier to work with image documents. Image documents are exactly what they sound like. They’re pictures. And pictures can usually be used most everywhere. While you do lose some ability to edit the text of a document, images are very responsive and can be easily managed and annotated.
Plus, you probably shouldn’t be changing the text of documents anyway…
For our purposes here, we will mostly talk about common image file formats.
PDF stands for “portable document format”. PDFs are pictures that look like printed paper but appear on your computer.
While other image file formats only allow one page or picture per file, one of the main benefits of PDFs comes from their ability to house multiple pages into one file. For this reason, they are much easier to store and organize when dealing with multi-page documents, and they can be annotated just as easily as any other image file types.
In some cases, you may want to use native files if you want to find the metadata of your documents, like the author and the date a document was created, to help you build the story of your case. Even in these cases, after you’re done pulling the information you need, it is still beneficial to convert native files to PDF when preparing your case for trial with presentation software.
However, PDF isn’t the only image file format you can use. There may be cases where the PDF option isn’t available, or it’s simply easier to use another format. In that case, we suggest you use PNGs.
The PNG file format provides a single image of a single picture or page of a document. While some programs may allow you to organize several pictures into a multipage document, PNG files do not provide such organization on their own like a PDF does.
PNG stands for “portable network graphics”. This file format was designed to make transferring high-quality images across the internet easier. As such, PNGs have become very popular.
If you’re not going to use a PDF, the PNG file format is great for storing high-quality photographs of evidence, especially if you plan on annotating those photographs and saving multiple versions of the photo.
With other file types like JPEG, TIFF, and GIF, you do not get as much quality out of your image, and at a relatively low file size, as you would with the PNG. Also, the quality of the image can degrade with each newly saved version using these other formats over PNG.
All in all, using a PNG is often a better option.
We suggest only using one of these other image file formats if you have a specific reason for doing so. For example, you may want to use the GIF format for an animation, since GIFs inherently support animated images, whereas with PNG you would have to muddle with image settings to do so.
We have an entire white paper on the MPEG-4 video format. If you want more detailed information, we suggest you download the whitepaper. But, in general, MPEG-4 is the best file format option when working with video.
Using MPEG-4 for your video and audio files provides a better overall experience for you and everyone else you work with.
It retains a high-quality display and sound which is important for reviewing evidence and especially presenting the video to an audience.
It works with most every video-supported software today, making it much easier to transfer the files to clients or other parties in a case. It is also compatible with tablets and other mobile devices. With MPEG-4 you don’t have to worry about running it through a program to change it to another supported file type. It’ll just work.
It also produces a smaller file size, which saves on the cost of transfer as well as the cost of storage. When working with the number of hours that can add up in a single case, that saving is significant.
We’ve gone through some of the most convenient file formats, but you may be asking yourself how you can switch from one file format to the other. Let’s talk about it.
How Do I Change from One File Format to Another?
Changing a file format will be different for any type of file you are working with.
If you’re working with a native file, you can simply open the program the document was created in, and save it as one of the different file types mentioned above. For example, you can open your document in Word, click the File tab, click Save as, choose where you want the new file to go, then select the dropdown that shows all the different file types.
If you’re working with an image, you can use an image editor program to save the image as a different file type using most of the same steps as above. For example, if you want to change a JPEG image to a PNG, you can open the JPEG in Microsoft Paint (it comes free with Windows). Click the File tab, click Save As, and choose the file format you want.
When it comes to video and audio files, changing the file types isn’t quite so simple. It is usually easier to create the audio or video file in MPEG-4, to begin with. But if you didn’t do that, you’ll need to convert the file to MPEG-4. There is a litany of software options, many of which are free, that you can use to convert to MPEG-4. We suggest you search the internet for such options, talk to a trusted tech-friend, and choose the best option for yourself. Once you choose the option you want, converting your file to MPEG-4 should be quite easy.
Overall, when working through the documents of a case, there are only a few file formats you should worry about that will provide all the essential options you need:
If you go outside these file formats, you should have specific reasons for doing so, like collecting metadata from native file formats or wanting to easily show an animation with a GIF.
What file formats do you use when reviewing documents for a case and why?
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