How to Change Email Format to HTML or Plain Text in Outlook

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Email messages come in three different formats: plain text, rich text, or HTML.

Originally emails were plain text, which is pretty much as it sounds, simply text without font style or size formatting, inserted images, colors, and other extras that spruce up the appearance of a message. Rich Text Format (RTF) is a file format developed by Microsoft that provided more formatting options. HTML (HyperText Markup Language) is used to format emails and web pages, providing a wide range of formatting options beyond plain text.

You can compose your emails with more options in Outlook by selecting the HTML format.

How to Compose HTML Format Messages in

If you use email service, you can enable HTML formatting in your email messages with a quick adjustment to your settings.

  1. In the upper right corner of the page, click Settings, which appears as a gear or cog icon.

  2. In the Quick Settings menu, click View full settings located at the bottom.

  3. Click Mail in the Settings menu window.

  4. Click Compose in the menu to the right.

  5. Next to Compose messages in, click the dropdown menu and select HTML from the options.

  6. Click Save at the top of the window.

Now, all of your emails will have HTML formatting options available when composing your messages.

Changing the Message Format in Outlook on the Mac

You can set individual messages to use HTML or plain text formatting in Outlook for the Mac when composing an email message:

  1. Click the Options tab at the top of your email message.

  2. Click the Format Text switch in the Options menu to toggle between HTML or Plain Text format.

    • Note that if you are replying to an email that was in HTML format, or you composed your message first in the HTML format, switching to plain text will strip away all formatting that is present, including all bolding and italics, colors, fonts, and multimedia elements such as images it contains. Once these elements are removed, they are gone; switching back to HTML format will not restore them to the email message.
  3. You're done!

By default Outlook is set to compose emails using HTML formatting. To turn this off for all emails you compose and use plain text:

  1. In the menu at the top of the screen, click Outlook > Preferences... 

  2. In the Email section of the Outlook Preferences window, click Composing.

  3. In the Composing preferences window, under Format and account, uncheck the first box next to Compose messages in HTML by default.

Now all of your email messages will be composed in plain text by default.

Changing Message Format in Outlook 2016 for Windows

If you are replying to or forwarding an email in Outlook 2016 for Windows and want to change the message's format to HTML or plain text for a single message only:

  1. Click Pop Out in the upper left corner of the email message; this will open the message into a window of its own.

  2. Click the Format Text tab at the top of the message window.

  3. In the Format section of the menu ribbon, click either HTML or Plain Text, depending on which format you want to switch to. Note that switching from HTML to Plain Text will strip all formatting out of the email, including bold, italics, colors, and multimedia elements present in previous messages that might be quoted in the email.

    • A third option is Rich Text, which is similar to HTML format in that it offers more options than plain text.
  4. That's it!

If you want to set the default format for all email messages you send in Outlook 2016:

  1. From the top menu, click File > Options to open the Outlook Options window.

  2. Click Mail in the left menu.

  3. Under Compose messages, next to Composes messages in this format: click the dropdown menu and select either HTML, Plain Text, or Rich Text.

  4. Click OK at the bottom of the Outlook Options window.