Reading mail in plain text can be a blessed relief from complicated formatting, not to mention being quicker to open and more secure than HTML-heavy emails. Here’s how to use plain text as the default in Outlook.

Before we get into how to do this, it’s worth noting that plain text has benefits and drawbacks, both for the sender and the receiver. The main drawback of plain text is that it has no formatting and no inline functionality like images or links. Virtually all of the mail you read will look at least a bit different if you read it in plain text, and some mail will be almost unreadable if it’s been heavily formatted.

However, there are benefits, too. Plain text is more secure because nothing is hidden. There can be no embedded tracking images and no hidden phishing URLs (because if the URL is visible in plain text, you’ll be able to see the whole URL, rather than whatever text the sender wanted you to see). For this reason, plain text emails you send are less likely to be viewed as dangerous or malicious by automated scanners because plain text simply can’t be as dangerous as HTML. (This doesn’t mean someone can’t send you a malicious link in plain text, but it’s much more difficult to trick you into clicking it.)

With that in mind, here’s how to read all messages in plain text, send all messages in plain text, and send just an individual message in plain text.

Reading Mail in Plain Text

If you want to read all mail in plain text, head to File > Options > Trust Center > Trust Center Settings.

Go to Trust Centre, then Trust Centre Settings

Choose the Email Security option, and switch on the “Read all standard mail in plain text” option.

Click “OK” to exit the Trust Center Settings, and “OK” again to exit the Options window. Outlook will now display every email you open in plain text.

Sending All Mail in Plain Text

You can force all mail you write to be in plain text by opening File > Options > Mail, opening the “Compose messages in this format” dropdown menu, and choosing “Plain Text.”

Change "Compose messages in this format" to "Plain Text"

Click “OK” to exit Options and the default format for sending new messages will now be plain text.

Sending a Specific Mail in Plain Text

If you want to leave the standard HTML format as the default, but want to write an individual mail in plain text, you can do that, too. After starting a new message, click Format Text > Plain Text.

If your signature has any HTML in it, such as a link or formatting, Outlook displays a warning letting you know you’re going to lose this when you change to plain text.

Compatibility Checker dialogue

Click “Continue” to change the message to plain text. Once you do this, you can change it back to HTML, but you’ll have to recreate your signature; it’s easier to discard the mail and create a new one.

RELATED: How to Create, Edit and Apply Signatures in Microsoft Outlook

On a side note, if you’ve changed your settings to always send as plain text, you can change this for individual messages in the same way. Open a new mail and click Format Text > HTML to send just that message using HTML.

Profile Photo for Rob Woodgate Rob Woodgate
Rob Woodgate is a writer and IT consultant with nearly 20 years of experience across the private and public sectors. He's also worked as a trainer, technical support person, delivery manager, system administrator, and in other roles that involve getting people and technology to work together.
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