MasterNewMedia
Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi
 


Saturday, December 17, 2005

Newsletter Formatting And The Remove Extra Line Breaks Issue

No matter how many RSS feeds, blogs and news alerts you receive it is likely that to this day you are also a subscriber to multiple email-based newsletters. One of the oldest content distribution vehicles, in existence since before the Web even became a reality, email-based newsletters still represent one of the most effective means to subscribe to information, news and commentary without the need to wrap your non-technical brain gear to RSS or other fancy acronyms.

But if when you open a prestigious and highly regarded newsletter as the Poynter Institute e-Media Tidbits or Stephen Downes OLDaily and you see content formatted as if it was emerging from a 1984 newsletter, I am sure you won't be reading as much as you would have liked.


Photo credit: Poynter Institute e-Media Tidbits newsletter
This is how e-Media Tidbits text-based newsletter version looked today in my Outlook 2003 Inbox

The story started for me over a year ago when, right after upgrading my own laptop to a newer model, I started noticing how awkward my own newsletter formatting looked inside Outlook 2003.

Instead of the classical 65 characters per line which is the de facto standard for text-based email newsletters, and which I was scrupulously using in all my text-based newsletters, my text was running from margin to margin and with no respect to the major breaks I had inserted in it.

It was then the turn of Stephen Downes' OLDaily, a newsletter I loved to read. Nonetheless my proactive attempts at sharing with its author my insight on this annoying issue, the once-great OLDaily, after nine months still goes out daily with a format that I find an insult to readers of any kind.

But what really pushed my attention threshold above other more important items is that the highly respected Poynter Institute e-Media Tidbits text newsletter today came out sporting this new "unformat" itself.

And so it becomes evident that for all the ease and simplicity that newsletters should bring to both authors and readers, issues of formatting and readability may still tinge some of the most popular and respected publishers out there.

Why?

With the advent of the Outlook 2003 functionality that automatically removes line breaks from text-based emails, many a newsletter just looks like crap when opened.

And since most people will NOT bother with clicking on "Extra line breaks in this message were removed -> Restore line breaks" the consequence of all this is decreased credibility for the publisher, unsubscriptions, an more than anything else, fewer readers actually reading what you are sending out.

The problem, in fact, could be easily solved, but the answer doesn't seem to be easily available to everyone, even by searching the technical literature and the Microsoft Office online experts.



How e-Media Tidbits text-based newsletter looks once you click on "restore line breaks": messy but much more readable

The secret to resolve the Outlook 2003 "remove line breaks" formatting issue is rather simple, though it would be impossible to arrive at it unless you had run lots of tests just like I and my team did at the end of last year.

I have personally asked Microsoft Certified Professionals, trainers, wrote to support forums and asked anyone technically competent I knew only to find an endless list of "oh, I don't know... try this... " and not one person having a real clear answer to this newsletter formatting issue.

Even more surprising was that when I shared my own solution with Stephen Downes himself nine months ago, he discarded it with no official justification. The sad thing, as I wrote above, is that Stephen's newsletter still comes out daily in a format that (unless you click on "remove line breaks") really looks bad and unprofessional to the eye. (I myself don't enjoy reading it as much as I did before and I generally now limit myself to the post titles.)

OLDaily_newsletter_format_20051217.gif
How Stephen Downes text-based version of his OLDaily newsletter looks

So when this morning I saw the Poynter Institute flagship newsletter spread out like a kite on my screen I said to myself: "this is the time to share what I know."

Bear in mind, that I myself publish three text-based email newsletters every week, and that each one of them shows up in your inbox perfectly formatted and spaced, independently of what email client you use.

So if I can do it, why can't you do it too?


How my newsletter MasterMind Explorer looks inside Outlook 2003 - the classic 65-character line is fully respected

What you need to do to make your newsletter wrap around properly at 65 characters without having all of your line breaks removed by Microsoft Outlook is rather straightforward, though not so easy to implement unless someone points out a specific way to do it.

The secret is all in placing two empty characters at the beginning of each line of text.

By doing that, Microsoft Outlook 2003 does not remove anymore your line breaks and makes your newsletter look as good as it always should have.

How do I do that?

In truth, writing a newsletter while placing two extra blank spaces at the beginning of each line is not easy nor manageable, especially when you are editing content and trimming sentences here and there. Keeping those two extra blank characters in place may rapidly become a nightmare.

But, you, like me can use a professional text editor like UltraEdit, to first write the newsletter and then to apply to it a text format forcing the two extra blank spaces at the beginning of each line while wrapping the remaining text content at 65 characters as traditionally recommended.

UltraEdit allows all of this, and with a simple configuration of the Paragraph Formatting dialog box I can set up exactly the formatting setup I need.

And here are the precise settings I use:

With this simple trick, this newsletter formatting nightmare can be fully resolved while providing even more legibility to the end user.

As a matter of fact, the two extra blank spaces on the left margin, provide a cleaner and less cluttered layout, avoiding to have text starting just next to the vertical margin of the email client. Just like in more professional publications, content never starts on the margin, but there is always some "air" to allow for less visual clutter and easier scanning and navigation by the reader's eye.

It's not in fact an accident how I arrived at this formatting solution
in the face of no apparent logic. All my newsletters had been formatted for a long time with an extra white space on the left margin, to provide those very information design-related benefits I wrote above.

And so, from one blank space to two, while experimenting with a thousand different variables, made finding the solution easier and faster than those other newsletter authors out there, who could not conceivably even consider such a solution, given the little or no technical information available on the issue until then.



Hey, I am not an Outlook expert, nor a Microsoft Certified Professional, but if you subscribe to any of my newsletters you know that they look good.

If with my humble experience I can help Stephen and the great writers at the Poynter Institute get back their newsletters in a legible shape, well I would be more than happy.

And if I wrote something incorrect or plainly wrong, don't hesitate to correct me right here (click on Comments here below).



N.B.: I entertain no commercial relationship with UltraEdit and receive no commission for the sale of their product.



Update

Right after the publication of this article Stephen Downes has corrected the formatting of its newsletter which now I receive in an impeccable 65 line character style, with my suggested two spaces at the beginning of each line. Well done Stephen!

Nothing yet instead on the Poynter Institute E-media Tidbits text-based email nesletter which remains for all I can see a mess (unless you proactively go and click the magic Outlook button).

 
 
 
Readers' Comments    
2012-05-29 10:03:28

Herr Drache

Awesome. 2012, and the tip on how to set Outlook to do "the right thing" has helped.
"Options" - "Mail" - "Message Format" section. Checkbox for "remove extra line breaks..."

Why do publishers of email newsletters have to jump through hoops because Microsoft decides to screw things up?

Thank you for this old, yet still useful post!



2011-05-10 12:45:40

Ed Sawdon

2011 and we're still suffering from Outlook 2003.
Thank you for publicising this solution.
Kind regards,
Ed



2010-10-25 18:18:10

Rajesh R

Thank you. That seemed so easy, but I'd used uuencode, and tried a bunch of combinations to get it resolved.....



2010-08-27 08:23:32

Konrad

Hi!
Please can anyone help me - I have the same problem, but "two spaces method" doesnt work for me.

I wrote a form in Flash (actionscript3) and I want to pass all the fields that user field in to his Outlook message. All the text transforms good to Outlook, but everything in one line that looks horrible (I used n command in flash - testing in flash and it works). I tried to add two blank spaces in each line in actionscript code, but it doesnt work (two spaces are read in Outlook, but still I have all text in one line).

Do you have any ideas? Maybe sendind it as html text and using br tags could solve my problem?

Many thanks for any advice,
Cheers,
Konrad
konrad_debski@wp.pl



2010-05-18 11:00:26

Richard F. Morgan

Thank you! Thank you! Thank You!!!
I've been fighting this problem for days. We run an environment called MVEnterprise (a version of the old Pick systems - related to Universe and Unidata) My application writes a file down to AIX on our RS-6000 and uses the "mail" command in AIX to send it. A few of the lines in one area of the email were being combined. I could not figure out what triggered the removal of the line breaks - similar lines were not being combined. I tried your fix and it works fine!!!!

Again, THANK YOU!!!



2010-04-27 06:02:34

Jeremy Harkcom

Again it appears that the forum is removing characters. Inside the quotes of the sed command should be
s forwardslash dollarsign forwardslash backslash t forwardslash

Jeremy



2010-04-27 05:58:00

Jeremy Harkcom

Hi

Using this information and that published elswhere, this has solved my problem. Thank you.

An alternative trick is to add a tab character to the end of everyline, thus avoiding the inset if you prefer.

From unix
cat some_file| sed 's$t` | mail

regards

Jeremy



2010-03-25 10:38:21

glenn

Looks like the forum removes slashes and extra spaces. So for the unix people out there, you could use this also:

cat some_file | sed 's#$#(two spaces)#' | mail ...

where "(two spaces)" is where you actually type two spaces.



2010-02-23 11:02:41

sesi

hii..

this is really a great tip.. just added 2 spaces and it worked like magic..

thanks for the great help..



2009-11-21 13:07:43

Ruslan

Thanks for the really great tip.

Another step that may help a lot of people sending letters directly from the UNIX environment would be to use this command (automatically adds two spaces):
cat some_file | sed -n "s^ g;p;" | mail ....



2009-11-13 14:59:35

Dan

It's 2009 and this is still a problem. Thanks for the solution.



2008-11-11 10:03:41

Jeroen Stap

This suggestion is really great. As a sender of emails you cannot actively control the settings of a mail client, so the sent message shoud be in a format which can be read on as many systems as possible, including MS Outlook. This workaround is as simple as it is effective and is a great aid for those who encounter this badly implemented MS feature.



2008-10-09 08:32:38

Antonio Nunes

Sorry but the correct address is:
support.microsoft.com(slash)kb(slash)287816



2008-10-09 07:18:52

Antonio Nunes

Great tip indeed!

BTW if tweaking with Outlook is an option this MS support article may help:
http://support.microsoft.comkb287816

Cheers



2008-09-15 09:09:22

Mallen Baker

Really, really helpful. Like you, my newsletter has had two spaces at the start of each line for ages, purely for ease of reading. But I only recently realised that the list of headlines at the top was breaking down in Outlook - now I know that so long as I give them the two extra spaces it will be sorted. Well done, and thanks.



2008-08-28 18:49:18

ZIFF

Excellent information!



2008-06-24 11:26:32

Chris

This was driving me nuts, thanks for the tip!



2008-06-20 11:40:46

David

You ROCK! I spent hours trying different things to fix this and the double space problem worked the first time. Thanks!



2008-05-09 06:11:24

Charles

Thank you for this! Was trying to fix some e-mails sent from our contact forms and wanted to get rid of that Outlook bar.



2008-04-23 21:55:10

Ryland

Hey there

Even though this was written some time ago now, just wanted to add in my thanks to the author.

I work with an application that sends out many automated plain-text emails and have had issues trying to format them correctly for some time now due to outlook removing line breaks. This has fixed the problem... thanks a bunch.
Ryland



2008-03-24 19:30:56

Rajan

Thank you. Thank you.

The 'two spaces' solution worked for us.



2008-03-21 10:55:03

Antman

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I have been searching for a solution to this for a long time. For me, adding the tab before the line break seems to work well in OL2K3.



2007-12-02 22:15:14

Pegasus

Thanks for all the solutions! This stupid feature of Microsoft has bothered me for a long time. Now I use the solution from Jeremy to append a Tab at the end of each line and the mail looks normal in Outlook 2003 SP3. I really appreciate you, Jeremy.



2007-11-26 15:10:51

Stephen

I am working with Outlook 2003 (SP2), and the spaces in front work for me, while the tabs in back do not. Of course, the solution caused a new problem for me: I get a blank line I cannot get rid of above my text.

Thank you for the posting. I have spent too much time on this Microsoft-spawned stupidity as it is.



2007-08-23 16:32:57

Jeremy

I take it back. Go with the tab at the end of the line as suggested. Apparently two spaces works for Outlook 2002 but not 2003, while a tab works for both. More outlook hatred.



2007-08-23 16:17:34

Jeremy

Actually, putting two spaces at the END of the line works just as well, and eliminates the wrapping problem. This is a huge problem for automatically generated emails such as my newsletters are, so it's a much simpler solution for all. David, the point was how to send these so that everyone can see it properly, and not as much about how we can set our individual settings to do so.



2007-06-21 17:15:26

Peter Meiller

thanks for the work around
Personally the "two spaces" solution works best for my situation



2007-04-24 21:14:41

Tracy

Wow! Thank you so much! Kudos to you for your tenacity in solving this issue! I love Ultra Edit and use it all of the time! I will start applying your trick immediately!

Thanks again!

Tracy Monteforte



2007-04-19 12:19:43

Mark

Yea baby!
Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.



2007-04-05 09:35:29

Stephan

Many Thanks, for this great solution. And I mean it is really a solution!

Thanks for sharing this knowledge.

regards

Stephan



2007-04-04 02:41:20

Branka

Thank you very much for this simple solution!!



2007-03-02 01:11:10

Eric T Bear

Nice one,

A big congrats to you for finding the solution to this positively ridiculous bug.

This bug, imho, sums up entirely what is wrong with Microsoft and why they will lose the race for the internet to Google.

As a web developer having to deal with this kind of nonsense in Internet Explorer everyday since 1995 makes my blood boil.



2007-02-08 11:03:34

Eric

Thanks much for posting this! You helped me solve a very frustrating problem.

Damn Outlook programmers...



2006-11-08 06:33:28

Robin Good

Thank you Mike! Much appreciated indeed. The problem is: How do you tell all Outlook users about it?

See the issue is exactly that. Unless everyone knows about this feature and sets it up properly, all newsletters done in a standard way are going to look funky to them.



2006-11-08 06:12:18

Mike Gipson

You can prevent Outlook from removing the line breaks by going into tools, options and on preferences select email options and untick the 'remove extra line breaks in plain text' There nice and easy....



2006-10-17 16:19:32

Misa

Thank you for posting this article. It helped me a lot!! If I didn't find this, I would still be in the dark.



2006-06-02 08:32:50

John A. Barba IV

I have to say -- the feature in question, the automatic removal of line breaks -- has to be the stupidest, most idiotic addition to any application -- EVER. It's 100% useless, inaccurate, and just plain retarded. Whoever thought this little gem up ought to be dragged out into the parking lot and shot -- seriously. We should not feel bad that this problem has had so many of us stumped and coming up with work around "hacks". It was a stupid idea on Microsoft's part, and badly implemented.

Outlook -- an application DESIGNED to read messages as they are sent -- which is how they were intended to be read -- should NEVER, EVER, EVER alter the content of a message unless that content was deemed to be dangerous in some way -- and even then, I would argue that it SHOULD NEVER EVER ALTER CONTENT.

I can't believe I've had to spend so much time figuring out how to get a message I send to display correctly using the oldest technology around -- plain text. Absolutely ridiculous.

In any event, I have an alternative solution you might be interested in. Instead of adding two spaces to the start of each line, I add a tab character right before the line break at the end of the line (CR, LF). This seems to satisfy Outlook, in that even if this RETARDED feature is enabled it will treat all lines correctly.

Why is this important? Why can't we just turn the option off? Believe me -- I have, but you can't expect other readers to know, or even care about doing that. It should be the responsibility of the content provider (sender, in this case) to ensure that content is formatted correctly, regardless of the end-users' setup. User's are not always the smartest of people, so even when you provide them with crystal clear 1,2,3 instructions, you can't expect them to A) follow them, or B) get it right.

Anyway, that's my two cents on the subject -- I just had to vent. Hope my alternate solution is of benefit to others.

Microsoft -- PLEASE DO US A FAVOR AND REMOVE THIS COMPLETELY RETARDED FEATURE! Or at the very least, disable it by default!



2006-05-25 20:42:08

Barbara A.

This solution helped me enormously; lots of our clients use Outlook 2003 and we can't expect them to know (or care) about making our mail to them look right by turning off the "remove extra line breaks" feature [bug].

Microsoft apparently doesn't care about this, but that's the great thing about having a monopoly; you don't have to care.



2006-05-19 16:44:54

Robin McKenzie

Robin,

Thanks for your article - it's helped me out enormously.

Regards,

Robin



2006-05-10 22:54:22

Kacchua

There seems to be a better way to overcome this problem in the Outlook program itself.

Please refer to the following support document from Microsoft:
http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;EN-US;q287816

I find this easier because it is hard for me to put a requirement on all the people who send the email to me to include two extra blanks at the beginning of the line.



2006-01-13 00:22:27

Mark

Something I meant to add:

Another interesting piece of ammunition against this Outlook feature you might find interesting is that in the typesetting world it's considered a very bad idea to have long lines of text. The automatic removal of line breaks isn't doing anyone any favors: The next time you read a long message in Outlook, maximize the message window and notice how fatigued you get -- now shrink the window and let the text wrap after 70 or so characters... you'll find you're able to absorb the email much more readily.

Misc. articles on line length:
http://graphicdesign.about.com/od/typesetting/a/linelength.htm
http://www.graphic-design.com/Web/email/typesetting.html
http://www.poynton.com/notes/typesetting/index.html

From http://www.ctan.org/tex-archive/macros/latex/contrib/memoir/memman.pdf :
"Experiments have shown that the number of characters in a line of single column text on a page should be in the range 60 to 70 for ease of reading. The range may be as much as 45 to 75 characters but 66 characters is often considered to be the ideal number. Much shorter and the eye is dashing back and forth between each line. Much longer it is hard to pick up the start of the next line if the eye has to jump back too far - the same line may be read twice or the following line may be inadvertently jumped over."

From http://accurapid.com/journal/03type.htm
"On the average, a person can grasp between 10 and 12 words, or about 50 characters at a time. This figure determines the maximum size of a typeset line that can be comfortably read at a single glance. Therefore, the larger the type, the longer the line which can be set. The lower limit of the line length is given by the average length of words in the text, which varies from one language to another. Excessively short lines result in too many hyphenated words, ragged margins or, in the case of justified copy, large gaps between words. A line should have no less than 3 or 4 and no more than 10 or 12 words on the average."



2006-01-12 23:48:49

Mark

Great write-up, thanks! This drove me crazy for a while, and I came up with an alternative solution. It's a bit of a hack, too, but it works well with almost every mail client out there.

My solution is to send the message as HTML, but use the HTML <pre> tag to tell the renderer that it's preformatted text. This has the following effect:
-The text looks just like plain text using a monospaced font (courier, typically)
-Your line breaks and tabs are preserved
-Outlook thinks it's HTML, so it doesn't do the lame line break removal business.

If you're writing your message in Outlook with Word as your email editor, you can accomplish this by following these steps:
-Create a new message.
-Paste your text into the message body.
-From the menu bar, select Format->Styles & Formatting.
-At the bottom of the Syles and Formatting pane, select "All Styles" from the dropdown.
-Select all the text in your message.
-Choose "HTML Preformatted" from the Styles and Formatting pane.
-Send your message.

This works well with 99% of your email clients. If possible I'd avoid using Word, though, because Word adds some unnecessary garbage to the HTML. To make you HTML output *much* cleaner you should use Thunderbird to send the message:

-Create a new message in Thunderbird.
-Paste your text into the message body.
-Highligh all of your text.
-Change the paragraph style from "Body Text" to "Preformat" using the style dropdown.
-In the Options->Format menu, make sure you have "Rich Text (HTML) Only" selected.
-Send your message.



2006-01-11 15:06:30

David

Robin,

This is interesting information, and I understand your point is aimed at the people writing the newsletter rather than the people reading it.

However, for those readers who are struggling with wrapped text -- rather than flaming the writer of the e-mail message -- there is a very simple solution built right into one of Outlook 2003's options.

Click on Tools -> Options. Then on the Preferences tab, under E-mail, click the E-mail Options button. Then the fourth checkbox (which is turned on by default) says "Remove extra line breaks in plain text messages". Turn that checkbox off and Outlook won't try to format your messages for you anymore.

Did I misunderstand something or was that not the goal?



2005-12-28 13:56:30

Robin Good

Stephen,

I think you have done the right thing, in going to implement what I suggested. Your newsletter now looks professional again.

As far as your comments go here is my feedback:

a) I don't like to subscribe to HTML newsletters. I also see you offer a text-based one as I like. Why shouldn't I be using it?
If the text one sucks, why don't you drop it?

b) The examples I am showing of your newsletter is exactly what anyone with Windows and Outlook did see for all this year 2005. If someone out there saw a different formatting I am here to listen. The screenshot is of this year and after your original "fixes".

c) regarding my original suggestions too bad that what i wrote was not taken seriously as I did write. Here it is for the record what I wrote to Stephen Downes a few months ago:

-----Original Message-----
From: Robin Good - Luigi Canali De Rossi [mailto:ikonosxxxx@xxxxxit]
Sent: Thursday, September 01, 2005 4:22 PM
To: 'Stephen Downes'
Subject: Yes it is Outlook :: RE: OLDaily ~ September 1, 2005

Yes,

It is Outlook doing it. (all versions of it after 2000)

The only way I have found to fix this, (after months of grief) is to add two spaces to each line.

If he (Outlook) finds only one he screws it up.

It is also true that if readers click on the Outlook provided link that says "Extra line breaks were removed" (at the beginning of each email - but hardly viewable) then everything goes back to what it should look.

But to the average user, if you don't know all this, it just looks very messy.

I hope this helps.

Robin

-----Original Message-----
From: Stephen Downes [mailto:stephen@doxxxxxx]
Sent: Thursday, September 01, 2005 1:24 PM
To: ikonosxxxx.sas@xxxxxit
Subject: Re: OLDaily ~ September 1, 2005

Hiya,

I am trying to figure out why your display is bad.

The text version looks fine on my screen. See below.

It is as though some - but not all - of the line feeds are being removed. But I can't tell whether Outlook is doing it or not.

-- Stephen



2005-12-19 23:47:55

Stephen Downes

Well, first of all, I don't understand why you don't simply subscribe to the HTML version, which renders beautifully in Outlook and does not take a long time to load (and it even looks good if you leave the images turned off).

That said, you write:

"Even more surprising was that when I shared my own solution with Stephen Downes himself nine months ago, he discarded it with no official justification. The sad thing, as I wrote above, is that Stephen's newsletter still comes out daily in a format that (unless you click on "remove line breaks") really looks bad and unprofessional to the eye. (I myself don't enjoy reading it as much as I did before and I generally now limit myself to the post titles.)"

This is quite unfair and in my view misrepresents our discussion about text formatting.

When we discussed formatting you suggested several things, which I tried. In my testing, I found that they failed. I do not recall the 'two spaces before the line break' specifically being mentioned. I do recall 'one space' being discussed.

After hours of work (which should never have been necessary in the first place, as it is absurd that Outlook would ignore the \n plain text character) I came out with something that looked pretty good in my own tests - not perfect, but far better than the screen-wide lines you seem to imply I produce (it would have been better had you offered readers a current screenshot of OLDaily, if you're going to discuss it).

At any rate, I will try the two-space solution. We'll see if that makes things better.



2005-12-19 22:01:48

Lance

Thanks for your help!



 
posted by Robin Good on Saturday, December 17 2005, updated on Friday, February 26 2010


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