The question of whether to use paper or digital documents has become more relevant than ever as the world increasingly goes digital. Businesses and individuals face the decision of whether to use physical or online documents in their everyday transactions. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages — factors that one might need to consider before making a decision.
Paperwork is an essential part of operating a business or keeping personal records. Companies and individuals use documents to store important information, communicate with others, or conduct transactions. The use of paper documents has been the norm for centuries, but the introduction of digital technology over the years has led to a debate over which type of document — paper or digital — is better.
There are pros and cons to both paper and digital documents. We have listed some factors to consider before deciding whether to continue transacting using physical documents or embrace digital documents fully.
Advantages of Paper Documents
Storage is easy
Paper documents are easier to store and organize. All you need is a physical space to keep them in and you are good to go. You can use a physical filing system, labeling them depending on their types. Their retrieval is also easy as you can just scan through the labels to find what you need.
Does not rely on the internet
You can access and read physical documents without an internet connection. They do not require any technology — devices, software, or applications — to view or store them. Physical documents are reliable, especially in emergency or urgent situations or even without electricity.
Long-term storage is possible
When you store them properly, paper documents can last for a long time. You can store them in a fire-proof safe to protect them from disasters to further ensure their longevity.
Disadvantages of Paper Documents
Vulnerable to damage
Paper documents are less durable than online documents. They are susceptible to physical damage such as fading, tearing, and water damage. Once they become damaged, they can be difficult to read. Restoration may be possible but it can be costly.
Content-modification is difficult
It can be difficult if you need to make changes to an already-done paper document. You can use correction fluid or white-out, but there will be noticeable stains. You can completely rewrite the document, but doing so can take time.
Can be lost or stolen
We can easily misplace paper documents. In addition, thieves or fraudsters can easily steal them. This is a major disadvantage especially if the document contains sensitive information.
Paper documents can take up a lot of space. They require filing cabinets, boxes, or folders — items that can become cluttered and difficult to manage. Storing paper documents takes up physical space that you may use for other more important purposes.
Time-consuming to file and retrieve
It is time-consuming to file and retrieve paper documents as you need to sort them into categories, alphabetically, by date, or by type. To find a specific document, you may need to search through several different files. As much as it is time-consuming, it can also be frustrating to look for documents when you cannot remember where you placed the documents or what category you filed them under.
The cost of printing and storing paper documents can be quite expensive. Using physical documents involves not only the cost of the paper itself but also the cost of the printer and the ink or toner. In addition, you will need to factor in the cost of storage for all those paper documents.
Advantages of Digital Documents
Easy to modify
With digital documents, it is easy to make changes and updates since you can simply edit on your computer — even on your smartphone. Moreover, you can save different versions of the document so you can go back to an earlier version if needed.
Easier to share, store, and access
With paper documents, you usually have to physically hand them over to the person you want to share them with. This practice can be inconvenient, particularly when the person is located far away. On the other hand, you can easily share digital documents via email or using a file-sharing service. Moreover, you can save digital documents to your device. Accessing them is easier and faster compared to accessing paper documents that you would have to physically find and retrieve.
Digital documents do not require paper; hence, they are more environmentally friendly than paper documents. You can contribute to the global cause of preserving our natural resources.
Takes up less space
Since you can store digital documents electronically, you do not need any physical storage. Your online documents will be on your computer or in the cloud; therefore, you do not need to worry about finding a place to store them.
Password-protection features and encryption make digital documents more secure than physical documents. You can add multiple levels of security to your online document, making it difficult for hackers to access them.
Disadvantages of Digital Documents
Susceptible to hacking
Even though digital documents are more secure than physical documents, they are not completely safe from hacking. Hackers can potentially access your sensitive information if they can break into your computer or device.
Cannot be accessed without electricity
You need electricity to use digital documents. This can become a serious problem when you need to access a document urgently or in case of an emergency. You must also connect your device to the internet to view and edit your online documents.
You can accidentally delete a digital document and not notice it if you are not careful. Once you have deleted a digital document, it might be gone forever unless you have a backup.
Issues with printing
Depending on the format, some digital documents may not print correctly. Therefore, you need to be sure that your document is in the correct format before you try to print it to avoid unnecessary printing costs.
Both paper and digital documents have their advantages and disadvantages. The one you should use would depend on your need and the situation you are in. Digital documents offer many upsides, but paper documents remain indispensable. They both have their merits, so it is up to you to decide which one matches your requirements.