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HTML vs Plain Text Email

If you're wondering why my newsletters or email messages don't contain any fancy images, bold, italic or different sized text, this is because I prefer to receive plain text emails and, as I don't know your own preferences, it's polite for me to err on the side of caution when contacting you.

What is an HTML email?

When you write an email message, can you select bits of text and click on buttons to make that text bold or italic or change the size, font or colour? Can you make phrases like "Click Here" a link to a web page? If your answer is "yes", then that's an HTML email. This type of email (multipart MIME) should typically be sent with the formatted HTML message and an alternative plain text version in case the recipient can't (or doesn't want to) view the HTML version. If the alternative plain text version is missing, the message either appears blank or garbled when the HTML view isn't on.

Aren't people who insist on plain text emails just a minority of computer geeks who need to move into the 21st century? Why cater for them?

Did you know that there are blind and severally visually-impaired people who are able to use computers thanks to screen readers and Braille displays? Plain text is more accessible to them than HTML (especially HTML that contains images without an "alt" tag). Are you going to tell them they're in a minority and say why bother to cater for them? If you're a UK company, that attitude will cause you to fall foul of the disability discrimination act. Other countries have similar legislations. Discrimination has no place in the 21st century.

In fact, the 21st century has introduced advances in technology that call for a return to plain text emails. Mobile devices typically have small displays that work better with plain text and the time taken to download HTML emails (and therefore, potentially, the cost) is much larger than that for plain text.

More importantly, and the reason why many people are turning to plain text, is the fact that HTML messages can contain malicious code including viruses and web bugs. If you send me an HTML email without a plain text alternative, you're asking me to trust you enough to lower my security (by switching to HTML view) in order to read your message.

Think I'm being paranoid? Have you ever received a hoax email purporting to be from someone you know claiming that they're stranded somewhere and can you send them some money? How did that criminal find out your email address and know that you were acquainted with that person? Because that person didn't know enough about keeping their personal data secure. My desire to protect my personal data (and yours if you're in my address book) is one of the reasons why I don't want to receive HTML emails. All companies should make the effort to help protect the personal data stored on their computers. This is not paranoia, it's complying with the data protection act.

If you're one of my customers, I'd like you to trust me. If I'm one of your customers or clients, don't you want me to trust you?

How do I switch to plain text?

Unfortunately there's no single answer to that, as it depends on what application you use to write your email messages, so you will have to look in your application's guide or manual to find out. Alternatively, try doing a web search for "how to switch to plain text emails".
Last modified 2017-02-05

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