After a few of our customers wrote in recently asking for tips on formatting both text-only campaigns and the text versions of HTML campaigns, we figured it was high time to revisit an oldie, but a goodie – how to make the humble plain-text email look something flash. Given that the app automatically generates a text version whenever you create an HTML email campaign, you can be forgiven for never giving this a second thought. For the die-hards out there that continue to send plain-text emails, formatting can be do-or-die.

But first, a little background. For those who are wondering why text versions are still relevant to HTML email campaigns, it’s because we send all HTML messages as multipart. This means that if an email client doesn’t know how to display an HTML message, it can conveniently fall back to displaying a provided text version of the campaign. Although most email clients can deal with HTML messages these days, there are those on older phones (notoriously the Blackberry), command-line clients and others on which image-free email is still alive and well. We’ll be looking at how we can do our best to look after these subscribers. If you’re sending plain-text only, this group is, well, everyone.

Text wrapping vs. adding line breaks

Text wrapping vs. line breaks on the iPhone

When it comes to formatting plain-text emails, there are two camps – those who add a line break every 60-65 characters to their message, then those who don’t. Both have pros and cons, depending on which email client your message is viewed in.

Personally, I find the 60-65 character limit works best in desktop and webmail clients. You can view a few examples here. This is because there is effectively no limit to how wide paragraphs of text can run in most reading windows or preview panes. Paragraphs of text can become very much unreadable after 60 characters or so – traversing from the end of one long line to the beginning of another is just too much visual work for effective scanning.

What should we use?

It’s likely that if you’re sending HTML email with a plain-text version containing line breaks, most mobile email clients won’t ever have to fall back to viewing it. So it isn’t quite time to undo the app’s handiwork when it automatically creates a nicely formatted text-version of your HTML campaign. However, if you’re sending plain-text campaigns only, then things are a little more complicated. Do you let email clients wrap your message text as they see fit? Or do you add your own line breaks for the benefit of desktop and web clients?

If you’ve sent a few HTML email campaigns in the past, it’s worth having a look at your email client usage reports when deciding which way to go. If you’re like us (with nearly 25% of our monthly newsletter subscribers reading it on iOS devices), then it may not be an appealing idea to add your own line breaks. Let your text run (and wrap) free! But in other instances, putting the time into formatting may be worth it. Unless sending HTML email takes your fancy instead, of course.

Do you send plain-text email campaigns? Does formatting matter to you? Let us know in the comments below.

  • Jeff D

    I’ve always enjoyed trying to create visually interesting text emails, and I also enjoy getting Travelzoo’s plain-text only ones; it’s sort of a refresher to just get the text. It seems like they send with wrapping at 60 characters, but I can’t say for sure. The format (as far as I can tell) hasn’t changed in a while, so it seems to be working for them.

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