TechRepublic Tutorial: E-mail formats and signatures in Outlook

How to change e-mail formats and establish signature files in Outlook

People love Outlook’s capacity to send messages with great formatting and signatures. The ability to create colorful messages can help highlight important points and make e-mail great fun. But are your students wasting valuable time creating colorful messages when using plain text is more appropriate? Are they manually signing every e-mail with their name, address, phone, fax, and other pertinent information? Read up on these important features before your next Outlook training session.
This article is the fourth in a series about teaching Outlook. Catch up on the series by reading: “Joys and pitfalls: Teaching beginning Outlook,” “Folders keep the Inbox clutter free,” and “Using the Address book.” Watch for next week’s installment about Outlook’s archiving functions.
Outlook 2000 uses three formats to send messages. One allows you to add colorful stationery to enhance message appeal. Outlook’s signature feature allows users to enter a standard signature or paragraph to be included at the end of every message sent.

What formats are available?
Outlook can send e-mail messages in three formats:
  • HTML (hypertext markup language)
  • Outlook Rich Text
  • Plain text

Each has its pros and cons. It’s important that students understand the differences and benefits of each.

The HTML format sends messages using the same code used to write basic Web pages. Using the HTML format, messages can contain complex material such as Web pages, text formatting, numbering, bullets, alignment, horizontal lines, and backgrounds. Students can also use stationery and signatures when using the HTML format.

Microsoft Outlook Rich Text format allows text formatting, bullets, alignment, and signatures. Rich text is fine for in-house e-mails, but if you send mail over the Internet, not everyone will be able to see Outlook’s rich text formatting.

The plain text format is just that, plain text. It includes no formatting. It’s plain and simple, but you’ll always be sure of what your recipients will receive.

How do I change my mail format?
To change your default mail format, click on the Tools menu and choose Options. Click on the Mail Format tab. In the “Send this message format” list, click the format you’d like to use.

The Mail Format tab controls mail format, stationery, and signature functions.

Once you’ve changed your default mail format, any message you send will be in that format. However, if you reply to a message, the returning message will be sent in the same format it was received. For example, if you receive a plain text message and reply to it, Outlook creates a plain text message to return.

If your default message format is HTML, and you want to send a message to a friend who can only receive text messages, there’s no need to change your default format. It’s easy to change the format of a specific message. Open a new message, or click the reply button on a received message. Then click on the Format menu. The two formats, other than your default, will be shown on this menu. Simply click the format you wish to send. This choice will affect only the current message. If you create a new message, it will be in your default format.

It’s easy to change the format of an individual message.

How can I add colorful backgrounds to my messages?
If you’d like to send messages with great backgrounds, you’ll want to use Outlook’s stationery. You may only send messages with stationery in the HTML format. To choose a default stationery, click on the Tools menu, and choose Options. Make sure that HTML is chosen under “Send this message format.” Click the Stationery Picker button. Click on the names of stationery, and you will see a preview of each in the window below. Make sure the one you like is highlighted and click OK. Now the messages you send will have this colorful background included.

Stationery adds a colorful background to your messages.

If you receive a message from someone with stationery you’d like to use in the future, click the File menu and choose Save Stationery. Give the stationery a name and click OK. You will now be able to use that background when you send messages. It’s also possible to create new stationery. For more help on this, search for stationery in Outlook’s help files.

Making your mark: Using Outlook’s signature function
Don’t take the time to write your name, title, phone number, Web address, and so on, each time you send a message! Use Outlook’s signature feature. Signatures automatically add text to the messages you send, and you can create multiple signatures to suit your every mood.

On the Tools menu, choose Options. Click the Mail Format tab. At the bottom, click the Signature Picker button. Click the New button to create a new signature. Give the signature a name; for example, Professional or Personal. You may choose to base your signature on an existing one, or to create it as new. Then, click the Next button.

Create multiple signatures for different types of messages.

You can then type the text you wish to appear at the bottom of your messages in the text box, or paste text from another document. To change the paragraph or font format, select the text, click Font or Paragraph, and then select the options you want. These options are not available if you use plain text as your message format.

Once you’ve finished typing your text, click the Finish button and then OK. Your signature’s name will now show up in the list of default signatures. If you choose it, it will automatically show up at the bottom of every message you send. It can be deleted manually. If you choose “none” under “Use this signature by default,” you must manually add a signature to a new message by clicking on the Insert button and choosing Signature. A submenu will contain the names of the signatures you’ve created. Click on the one you want to add, and it will appear in the message.

You can manually add signatures if you choose to have no default.

Bringing it all together
Introducing these features to your students can make a mundane computer class quite fun. Students love to add personal touches to their e-mail correspondence. But be sure you know the hazards of teaching Outlook to newbies. Read “Joys and pitfalls: Teaching beginning Outlook,” and you’ll know the three rules that will make your Outlook classes run smoothly.
Do you have a special exercise to illustrate e-mail formats or signatures? What unique uses for signatures have your students come up with? What would you like to see an Outlook article address? Send us your input, or post your comments below.

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