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A soft copy is an electronic copy of a document. It contrasts with a hard copy, a document printed out on paper or another medium. Soft copies are easy to transfer, distribute, share, and manipulate — all potential drawbacks or advantages, depending on the document involved. They can also be used to generate hard copies, by printing out a copy of the document. Many paperless or low-waste offices rely heavily on soft copies for communicating and sharing information.
Soft copies can typically be opened in a variety of word processing programs. For added security, a document can be saved in a read only format. This will allow people to view it, but not to change the soft copy. In cases where people are concerned about data being changed or manipulated by people who have access to the file, this can be useful. Some programs also maintain change logs, allowing people to track changes made to the document, reverting them if desired to restore the document to a prior point.
People with soft copies can send them via email, transfer them over a network, or put them on a disc or portable hard drive to share. This variety of techniques for distribution can be useful and may allow offices to eliminate expenses like fax machines and couriers. Soft copies do not generally have quite the same legal standing as hard copies because of the potential for alteration, but they can be used for most activities in an office, including things like sending soft copy drafts of a contract back and forth for editing and approval, with people reviewing the hard copy carefully before signing to make sure it contains the changes they want.
Soft copies can also be used for things like presentations, with people either distributing the document electronically so everyone has a copy, or displaying it on a screen at a presentation or event. The ability to make edits up to the last minute can be useful for people who want time to perfect their presentations and who may need to make last minute changes to accommodate changing information and other issues. Teachers often store classroom materials in soft copy form so they can readily change them and reuse them for lessons.
For offices where space is a major consideration, going entirely or mostly electronic can confer significant benefits. People can review materials in soft copy and avoid the generation of large volumes of paper that will require storage. If security is a concern, electronic security measures can be established to provide as much protection as possible to soft copies. This can include tools like remote backups to save copies in the event of fires, viruses, and other problems.