Five tips for cleaning up email messages before you forward them

The messages you forward should be as clean and professional as the ones you create from scratch. Here's how to make sure your forwarded messages aren't full of extraneous junk.

Most of us receive and send forwarded messages — and they're often a mess when they arrive. Cleaning things up a bit before forwarding a message can go a long way toward ensuring clarity and conveying professionalism. The recipients will never know the trouble you went to, but they'll certainly notice when you don't. The following tips will help you shift the burden of wading through messy forwards from your recipients to you, where it belongs.

1: Remove > characters

If you're re-forwarding a message, the body probably contains numerous > characters. Many clients use this character to indicate forwarded text. Depending on the number of times the message has been forwarded, the message could consist of more > characters than meaningful text. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but even a few of these characters make the message difficult to read. Fortunately, you can easily remove them using Find And Replace as follows:

  1. Open the message that contains the text you want to forward and click Forward in the Respond group on the Message tab. In Outlook 2003, click Forward on the Standard toolbar or press [Ctrl]+F.
  2. Select the text you want to clean up.
  3. Press [Ctrl]+H or click Replace in the Editing group on the Format Text tab. In Outlook 2003, you'll find Replace on the Edit menu.
  4. In the Find What control, enter >.
  5. Click inside the Replace With control and press [Delete]. (You must click inside the control or this technique won't work.)
  6. Click Replace All or Replace, depending on your needs. (In this case, Replace All is more efficient, unless you have > characters you need to keep.)
  7. If prompted to search the remaining document, click No.
  8. Click Close.

2: Clear formatting

If you're forwarding a message for the first time, you can probably retain the original formatting. When you're re-forwarding, the original formatting is often a mess. If you need to retain some formatting, convert the badly formatted portion of the text to plain text by selecting it and then clicking Plain Text in the Format group on the Format Text tab. In Outlook 2003, choose Clear from the Edit menu and then select Formats. Doing so, you can remove run-amok formatting and images quickly, while leaving other formatting in place. You can then apply new formats to the plain text or leave it as is.

To reset the entire message, select nothing and click Plain Text. Doing so converts the entire message to plain text. Converting to plain text will delete any selected images, so be careful what you select.

3: Remove previous recipients

When re-forwarding, do all your contacts a favor and delete the email addresses from the header.( I recommend that you delete the entire header unless you have a reason not to.) Never forward email addresses along with the message without asking first. It's a violation of privacy, and your contacts won't appreciate your lapse in judgment.

4: Update the subject

Subject text often takes a back seat to all the FW: clumps in the subject line of a re-forwarded message. Remove them before sending the email so recipients can see the subject text instead of FW: FW: FW: FW:. Many clients know better, and this isn't the problem it once was — but check!

5: Delete signatures and disclaimers

Delete signature lines and disclaimers from the original message. They're nuisance text your recipients must wade through. They hate this stuff as much as you do, so take pity on them and remove these extraneous lines before forwarding.


Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

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