Outlook 2010: Give me back my Plain Text Line Breaks!

Many of us may never encounter this issue and we’re glad you’ve been spared. For those of us who do have a problem with Outlook, removing line breaks from plain text messages, this post is for you!

Sometimes when we receive an email in plain text with Outlook, parts of the message may appear garbled. You might think the person, or program that sent the message was having problems, but it’s actually the receiver causing trouble. Outlook eliminates certain line breaks in messages if it seems that the block of text is a paragraph. And Outlook isn’t always right.

See the following example:

Original Message

Received Message

As you can see, Outlook has let us know it has removed the extra line breaks in this message. But in doing so, it has also garbled the original message.

We’ve found that when a line of text is less than around 40 characters, it’s shown correctly. But when the line is greater than that and you use a line break, Outlook thinks it should treat that as one continuous line or paragraph instead.

This can be especially confusing for lists. See the example below:

Original Message

Received Message

From these examples, we’re sure you can imagine how a message without the proper line breaks could make an otherwise clear message very confusing. Luckily, you can get these original line breaks back.

Adding your line breaks back in an individual message

Say you’ve already received a message that has become hard to understand because of line break changes. This message can be reverted to its original contents on a message-by-message basis.

  1. Click EXTRA LINE BREAKS IN THIS MESSAGE HAVE BEEN REMOVED at the at the top of the message.
  2. Select RESTORE LINE BREAKS.

Receiving Messages: Changing the Line Breaks Setting

To prevent line breaks from being removed in future messages, follow these steps:

  1. Choose FILE, OPTIONS, then select MAIL.
  2. Under MESSAGE FORMAT, uncheck REMOVE EXTRA LINE BREAKS IN PLAIN TEXT MESSAGES.
  3. [Click] OK.

Sending Messages: Changing the Message Format

So we’ve taking care of receiving messages, but what if you’re the one sending the messages that are being garbled? The only option you have as the sender is to change the message format to HTML, or Rich Text. Otherwise, you will have to kindly ask the recipients to make the above change in their Outlook settings.

To change the format of a single message:

  1. Choose HOME, NEW E-MAIL .
  2. Choose FORMAT TEXT, , or .
  3. Complete the message, then [Click] SEND, or press <Alt-S>.

To change the default format of all messages:

  1. Choose FILE, OPTIONS, then select MAIL.
  2. Under COMPOSE MESSAGES, select HTML, or RICH TEXT from COMPOSE MESSAGES IN THIS FORMAT.
  3. [Click] OK.

For instructions with previous versions of Outlook, see: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/287816. For more easy-to-follow steps to get the most out of Outlook 2010, check out our Microsoft Outlook Quick Reference Cards.

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4 thoughts on “Outlook 2010: Give me back my Plain Text Line Breaks!

  1. As the sender, you can also do some post-processing on your messages to tell outlook:

    This item is part of a list: precede line with two or more spaces.
    Good for “presentation” formatting, weird in normal conversations.

    This item is separate from the things following it: end all lines with \t\n (tab-enter) instead of just \n (enter)

    Generally you’ll want to do post-processing with a text-editing program.

    HTML line breaks have their own issues, where outlook will insert tags, leading to every line break being doubled.

  2. From some website, you can add 3 spaces at the start *or at the end* of a line to stop outlook doing that with that line. Especially at the end of the line, this will be invisible. It works in my limited tests. I’m guessing the tab you insert is seen as 4 spaces.

  3. Thank you – Something like:

    In Microsoft Word:
    1. Copy your text message into Word
    2. Press Ctrl-H or choose HOME, REPLACE.
    3. In FIND WHAT, type: ^p
    (Find paragraph marks)
    4. In REPLACE WITH, type: ^t^p
    (Replace with tab & paragraph).
    5. [Click] REPLACE ALL.
    6. Copy back to your email

    … Quite a bit to go through just to keep using text email!
    Maybe just following Legolas’ suggestion of adding 3 spaces to the end of paragraphs you don’t want combined… :)

    Thanks for your input!

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