When in Doubt, Send Plain Text Email, Not Fancy HTML

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Hammers. ©Casey Bisson; CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license

Plain text emails can be received and read by anybody on any device, which makes them a safe choice.

Richly Formatted Messages Are Nice, But Not for Everybody

Using fancy formatting in emails is both nice, of course, and often useful to stress a point or pick just the font you like for legibility. Then, all these stationery (for the like of Outlook Express and Windows Mail) or letter (for IncrediMail) creations are fascinating to get started with rich emails.

Not everybody can or wants to receive rich-text messages with formatting and layout, however.

Some email programs are not fully capable of rendering the HTML used for rich formatting in email messages. Others try, but fail miserably (or crash), rendering your message unaccessible to the recipient. Even the programs and services that do support rich formatting can display your emails in unintended ways.

Other recipients have email clients that can properly render HTML messages, but despise rich formatting in email for various reasons (purity of the medium, bandwidth issues, security and privacy among others).

When in Doubt, Send Plain Text Email, Not Fancy HTML

So, whenever you are not sure a recipient appreciates email communication using rich and fancy HTML formatting,

  • send plain text emails by default, especially
  • if you have not previously exchanged emails with the recipient.

How to Send Emails in Plain Text

Here's how to send plain text only messages using various email programs:

Send HTML to Users of Web-Based Email Services?

It is usually safe to send HTML-formatted emails to users of web-based email services like Gmail, Windows Live Hotmail or Yahoo! Mail.

Does Plain Text Mean No Formatting at All?

Writing and sending an email in but text characters means you have to do without formatting applied to the letters. You can use the plain text's characters to indicate formatting, however.

Specifically, you can

What about Multipart/Alternative?

In lieu of sending a plain text email, you can also send multipart/alternative messages that contain a plain text version, of course. The recipient's email program or service can then show the preferred version.

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