Software

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.

About

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.

14 comments
bobc4012
bobc4012

When I forward a message, I "copy" the main body and click on "Forward". I then "paste" the copy above the "original" message and delete the original. Granted, the headers are still intact, but at least the message content has been made readable - occasionally, I even need to clean that up as some mail programs insert "=" at the end of some lines or some other such crud. When forwarding non-important stuff (e.g., jokes, cartoons, etc.), I also bcc my copy list and send to either myself or "undisclosed_recipient" and delete the rejection to "u-r". This at least keeps the "cc" list a little shorter (and protects the other receivers from any prying eyes that happen to be looking when the e-mail is opened - again the headers remain). If I had thought of it way, way back then, I would have requested an actual e-mail address of undisclosed_recipient (or some other bogus address) just for forwarding jokes, etc. and forwarded those type of e-mails to that address. Actually, I do everything mentioned in the article.

patricia kearns
patricia kearns

These are an indication of quoted text. If you have received something that was pasted in as a quote in some earlier forwarding of the message OR if the message originator copied something from some source and then pasted it into the email message as a quote OR the original source is simply forwarded, it will appear as quoted text, hence the vertical line alongside. This is not unique to Outlook. It's a feature of many, if not all, email programs.

Jambotech
Jambotech

I have a lot of users ask if there is a way to get rid of the blue vertical lines that outlook places to the left of a forwarded message? Have not seen a solution to this is posted anywhere.

n4aof
n4aof

"If youre re-forwarding a message, the body probably contains numerous > characters. Many clients use this character to indicate forwarded text." I can't think of a single email client that uses the greater-than symbol specifically to indicated forwarded text. When limited to plain ASCII text, most clients do default to using the greater-than symbol to mark the beginning of QUOTED material in replies -- and some will do so in forwarded messages. However, the use of plain (ASCII) text in email is about as common as confirmed extraterrestrial arrivals on the White House Lawn. The only time you would be likely to see significant layers of greater-than symbols from mutiple forwarding would be if an email was forwarded repeatedly entirely within some business or government agency where the IT department enforces a Plain-Text-Only configuration for the company email client. IF it were occasionally necessary to remove multiple layers of greater-than symbols, it would be more appropriate to take the trivial extra time needed to reduce the multiple layers down to a single greater-than symbol at the beginning of each quoted line. This can be readily accomplished using the replace function as suggested but set the Find What to >> and the Replace With to > then repeat the replace command (no need to re-do the Find What or Replace With) until the text has only a single > character at the start of each quoted line.

jbenton
jbenton

I often use this field to avoid sending everyone's contact information in the first place (and avoid them getting replies only intended for me when someone carelessly uses reply to all) Similar to the '>' problem, try not to indent original text multiple times; by the fifth iteration it's almost off the screen

Helen Phelan
Helen Phelan

I sometimes find information converted to tables when forwarding, and reforwarding creates another set of nested tables etc etc. I always convert tables to text before resending so the information is presented cleanly.

h8usernames
h8usernames

To be honest I often want recipients to know that it is an obviously forwarded message and that content was not created by myself. Personally, I'm not one to forward messages unless I need to and when I am forwarding it is usually as reference. When this happens I want the > character to be there and generally the FW: in the subject line BUT I have always removed the headers unless it is a common contact information. Both re-formatting and leaving the message format has it's own benefits that I do understand but, it does depend on who you're sending the message to and the context of the message. My 2 cents for the day... thanks for the tips!

jimdandy45
jimdandy45

The simplest way to really get this straightened out seems to be to copy the desired text into a word processing program - even wordpad. Edit the text from there, then paste the text back into A COMPLETELY NEW MESSAGE. Then add your own subject line and BCC contacts and continue on.

ssharkins
ssharkins

Well, we're on the same planet I'm sure ;) but I still see a lot of this in my work.

bclomptwihm
bclomptwihm

While no mail client uses the > symbol nearly all the webmail programs do and there millions of people who use webmail daily on computers that are not their regular machine

Ron_007
Ron_007

It represents much of what I do. As h8... says, I like the FW:, (or RE:), but only one. If as Susan suggests you are in a case where there are more than one, then I will cleanup the "extra" ones. For long discussions that have been forwarded many times I will often trim the oldest parts that are not relevant to the current points being discussed. I agree with jbenton, when forwarding to more than one person I always use BCC if they are not all part of the same project. I would make that item number 6 in the list.

ssharkins
ssharkins

I'm suggesting the clean up options because forwarded content is often difficult to read. It's not always the case of course.

ssharkins
ssharkins

Removing old discussions that are no longer relevant is another great tip -- thanks!

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