Plain Text or HTML Text and the Recipient's Font Display

Discussion in 'Help Desk' started by foggy, Nov 16, 2013.

  1. foggy

    foggy Valued Member

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    My limited understanding of email formats (plain text vs. html) is that the former does not 'impose' font styles, sizes, etc. on the recipient, whereas the latter does. (Whether this is only mostly true or entirely true, I don't know.)

    Now, if I want to send an email to a friend who has old eyes and needs fonts slightly larger than normal, I have two choices, as I see it.

    1) I can send all messages to him in plain text, and his client (I believe he uses T-Bird) will render the font in whatever he has chosen in TB's settings.

    The problem here is that my emails to him tend to be longer than average, and I like including some rich text elements (bold, italics) to help with readability.

    2) I can send messages in HTML and choose a font size that I think will be appropriate for his viewing comfort based on what font he uses in his emails to me (Times New Roman 12 or 14).

    But I don't know if he could actually have settings configured that would end up making my enlarged font appear to him even larger than he wishes. And since I don't know what kind of computer he has -- and, therefore, don't know the screen resolution -- I may be messing things up royally by trying to finesse my settings to match his presumed preferences.

    So, let's suppose he keeps forgetting to tell me what font he likes to see when reading emails.... Is there any way for me to compose an email that does have certain rich text, eye-pleasing features (occasional bold, italics and maybe an emoticon or two :D) but does not force its font size on him? IOW, I don't know if there's a way to get his client to display some rich text elements while allowing his font size preferences to be displayed.

    Comments? Suggestions? :)
     


  2. popowich

    popowich EQ Forum Admin Staff Member

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    That's a fine way of thinking about it, plain vs something that could look like a web page. Technically I'd only want to change one word in your statement, and change impose to suggest, since it's possible for a recipient to force choose how they read the email on their end.

    For example, almost all of my email readers force reading email as plain text. If I get a broken email that that only has the HTML part it won't display correctly for me, which is fine since that case is 99.9% of the time going to be spam or some other email I didn't want. HTML email should be multipart and also include a plain text part. It is not required that the plain text part have the same content as the HTML part, it can be a completely different email. That's right, it's technically possible to send an email that will show up as "Foggy is great!" in the HTML part, but if you switch to reading as plain text it says "Secret message to Foggy".

    There is also the Rich Text middle ground, which is really HTML, but it gives senders some useful formatting options such as font changes, style, and color options when composing their email, but it's not the full blown HTML that looks like a web page that you typically get when receiving an email newsletter.

    If you view the full email headers of an email look for the Content-Type lines.

    I prefer to send plain text email. These days anything like an http:// link gets automatically turned into a clickable link by the recipients mail program. There is no reason for me to send it as a clickable link.

    You are correct that if someone has modified their screen, you're making changes against their defaults for screen viewing may actually hurt not help the situation. Mail programs like Thunderbird support the same font size modifications that web browsers do:

    http://www.emailquestions.com/email...p-prevent-eye-strain-headaches.html#post18312

    Knowing that, it sounds like sending as plain text and sticking only Rich Text flavored changes such as bold fonts for important parts of the email makes sense in your situation when sending to help with readability issues.

    I'd send a regular plain/rich text email, using a standard font, such as Veranda, and only make simple style changes such as the occasional bold phrasing or a :)
     

  3. foggy

    foggy Valued Member

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    Thanks for the detailed and very helpful response, Ray!

    However, I was with you all the way until you said "it sounds like sending as plain text and sticking only Rich Text flavored changes such as bold fonts for important parts of the email makes sense in your situation when sending to help with readability issues" and "I'd send a regular plain/rich text email, using a standard font, such as Veranda, and only make simple style changes such as the occasional bold phrasing or a :)."

    That confused me. I understand what you said about html messages being sent in both plain text and html 'versions' -- but your above comments left me with the impression that both of those elements can be present in the same view (i.e. without toggling between plain and rich text versions).

    IOW, I'm not sure how exactly I can "[send] as plain text and [stick] only Rich Text flavored changes." If someone's reading the html version of my email, then the entire message as viewed is rich text/html, is that right? Even the parts that are just plain, unadorned text.

    Maybe you could clarify for me by commenting on esp. the last of these three options:


    • I send someone a plain text message using Verdana 10pt font. [Here the recipient's client probably (but not necessarily) takes over and displays according to his preferred font settings, and any pics I would want to send along would have to be included as attachments, which many clients strip away for security reasons!]

    • I send someone a "rich text"/html message using Verdana 10pt font which includes html elements (bold, italics, inline pics, smileys, etc.). [Here it may be my own font settings which override the recipient's settings and put his viewing pleasure at my mercy.]

    • I send someone a "rich text"/html message using Verdana 10pt font but include no special formatting (i.e. no italics, bold, underlining, indentation, smileys, etc.). IOW, I compose & send it as if it were an html email, but I don't actually put in any textual styling. [Here my present understanding is that, even though there is no visual indication of rich text formatting, it still 'goes through' as an html message and the recipient's client will again show my font preferences (i.e. my choice of font and font size), not his.]
    So, despite your very informative reply I'm still uncertain as to how doing what you said at the end of your post will prevent my recipient's client (TB) from yielding to the font preferences in my rich text message.

    Sorry to be so dense. (Now you know why I chose the name "Foggy." :rolleyes:)

    Thanks again for the help! :)
     
  4. popowich

    popowich EQ Forum Admin Staff Member

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    It's one or the other. I don't remember ever seeing mail program that shows both. It was extra info to know that not only can you send both, they don't need to match, leaving you the ability to have some fun if someone toggles back and forth between reading plain text or HTML.

    I shouldn't have been combining plain/rich as if they are the same. They're not. The take away from that which I was trying to get across is send regular looking emails (whether they be plain text, or rich/html with minimal style changes) so that whatever you are sending is likely looking the same on the recipients end as the rest of the email they are reading. If you send a crazy big font, and the recipient already increases their screen size from defaults, you're going to appear MUCH bigger than everyone else, and probably not helping since they might have to take special action to make yours smaller to match other emails. I guess the best thing is to ask the recipient. Let them know it's possible to increase the default font they see from everyone, and ask if they'd still consider it helpful if you went above and beyond and still increased yours when sending too?

    The short version of all that, unless the recipient says otherwise, I'd assume it's best to send regular looking emails to them like you would to anyone else, and expect they are taking any special actions needed on their end.
     
  5. foggy

    foggy Valued Member

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    Thanks for the further information, Ray!

    Yeah, I did mention it to my friend several times in emails, and since he has never spoken to that issue in any of his replies to me, I figure it's not a big deal to him if I use the 'regular' (i.e. small) font that I use for others. I mean, I gotta figure that just about everyone else he's corresponding with is also sending messages with 'normal' font sizes, and not going out of their way to accommodate his reading preferences, right? So he's probably got things set up to adjust things for all incoming mail (though, again, he's never said that).

    Too bad there isn't some sort of universal font display standard or something to make all this easier on everyone, but I guess that's pretty much impossible with all the different devices out there, different screen resolutions, different font styles (which don't all have the same apparent size at the same 'point' or 'pixel' setting), etc. Heck, some email interfaces don't even mean the same thing when they say "medium" font. Some 'medium' font displays in Outlook 2007 as 10pt and other as 12pt!

    Ah, well. Thanks again for the comments and adding to my limited knowledge of plain/html email. :)
     

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