What Does the Paper Clip Mean in Email Inboxes?

By Kaia Liamson

As the world has moved into the electronic age, where computers are nearly ubiquitous, email has become one of the most common ways to distribute information. The sustainability movement, which encourages people to reduce paper use, has also resulted in an increased dependence on email to transfer documents from person to person. As a result, there are now several universal symbols used to denote the characteristics of a particular email message. One of these symbols is a paper clip.

What Does It Mean?

The paper clip icon next to an email in your inbox indicates a file has been attached to the message, such as a picture, a Word document or a PDF. In other words, the paper clip icon means "see attached." A file that has been appended to an email message in this manner is, appropriately, called an "attachment."

Opening an Attachment

In order to access an attachment, just click the attachment icon or the title listed next to the icon. In many cases, your computer will ask you whether you want to open or save the file. If you want to be able to access the file later, you should save it to a location where you'll be able to find it. Otherwise, the file will be saved to a temporary folder and will be deleted automatically.

Sending an Attachment

If you'd like to send a picture or document to someone you know, you can attach your file to an email message and transmit it electronically. Compose a new email message, then click the button to add an attachment. The button usually says something like "Add an Attachment" or "Attach a File," but the wording varies among email clients.

A Word of Caution

Email attachments are an easy way for viruses and other malware to infect your computer. To be safe, you should only open attachments you are expecting from email addresses you recognize. If you receive an email with an attachment you weren't expecting, contact the sender to make sure the message was sent intentionally. If you don't recognize the sender, either reply to the email asking for identification and clarification or delete the message.