Changing Outlook's Reply Format

Outlook's behavior with the reply format is to reply in the format of the original message. If someone sends you  plain text message, the reply will always be plain text, because Outlook (rightfully so) assumes the sender prefers mail in that format or can only accept mail in that format. This is good netiquette.

In past years, the reasoning behind the decision not to have Outlook convert the format automatically was in part because not all email clients could display HTML. Additionally, many users paid for internet access by the minute or KB and HTML formatted messages are much larger than plain text messages.

While all modern desktop email clients can handle HTML formatted messages and many users no longer pay for Internet access by the minute, the popularity of smart phones, blackberries, and other handheld or cellular devices still means a lot of people can't read HTML formatted messages on their device and many pay for access by the KB.

"How do I set Outlook to always reply in HTML or RTF? When replying to, or forwarding, an email that is in plain text format, it always uses plain text. I want to force it to use RTF or HTML. I know I can change it every time, but I want it to be automatic."

Outlook does not offer a way to always use a specific format for all replies, be it RTF or HTML. You need to change it on each message or write a VBA macro to change the format. (If you use Outlook 2002 or newer, you can force plain text replies to all messages by using the option to read all mail in plain text.)

Unless you are 100% sure that the sender is not using a blackberry or cellular phone to read and reply to their mail, you should avoid changing the format on replies unless you have a valid reason – such as highlighting text and inserting tables. Don't change the format just because you like HTML better. If you are replying with basic paragraphs of text, respect the sender's choice of plain text.

Do not use RTF format for any message unless you know the recipient uses Outlook. Only Outlook can decipher the winmail.dat files used by rich text formatting so the recipient will get a plain text message and an attachment that they can't use.

VBA Code Sample to Change the Format

A visitor to our old blog posted a code sample in the comments section of our Tip 434: Tip 434: Change Reply Format. It works with Outlook 2003, 2007, and 2010. VBA macro to change the reply format This code sample was in the comments field for Tip 434 on our old blog.

Tip 298: Converting Plain Text Email to HTML

While you can’t readily change the format of all incoming email to HTML, you can change the fonts used to display plain text email so that’s easier to read.

Open Tools, Options, Mail Format, Fonts dialog and change the font used for reading and replying to plain text messages.

Merged Tip 298: Converting Plain Text Email to HTML and Tip 434: Change Reply Format

Last reviewed on September 12, 2013.

  • GPNolan

    If you are willing to set up AutoHotkey, I wrote a little script that does it for you whenever it detects a "plain text" reply/reply all/forward window:

    ; Will convert an active window that says "- (Plain Text)" and convert it to HTML

    ; Note-- for some reason in Outlook 2010 IfWinExists requires the full text of the Window, not just a substring, hence. Typical Microsoft glitch...
    ;
    ; A check is added for a window text element that simply is the opened message (which contains hidden text "Retention Policy")
    ; -- Reply, reply To All, and Forward do not appear to contain this hidden text so I use it as a filter.
    ;
    ; This is designed for Outlook 2010 and uses AutoHotkey. Store this script as a *.ahk file and run.

    Loop
    {
    WinGetActiveTitle, Title
    WinGetText, WindowText, %Title%

    IfNotInString, WindowText,Retention Policy
    {
    IfInString, Title,- Message (Plain Text)
    {
    Send, {ALTDOWN}{ALTUP}oth{ALTDOWN}{ALTUP}h{ALTDOWN}{ALTUP}
    }
    }
    Sleep, 250
    }

  • Diane Poremsky

    The script by GPNolan works with http://www.autohotkey.com/

    In case the code gets messed up in a copy and paste, it's also available in this text file:
    http://www.outlook-tips.net/code/autohotkey-script.txt

  • Sage_Eagle

    Does anyone have a version of this AutoHotkey script that works with Outlook 2007, or have an idea of what to tweak in the code to make it work? In 2007, this script just keeps continuously inserting the letters "hoth" at the cursor position for any e-mail you Reply To or Forward, but doesn't change the reply format to HTML. I already use AutoHotkey for something else, and I would prefer this method rather than trying a VB Macro and dealing with the associated headaches with HTML signature files.

    For what it's worth, I don't care one bit about some out-of-date netiquette guideline. Most smartphones these days have no trouble reading/viewing messages that were sent in HTML format, and literally 99% of the time when I reply to or forward a plain text message, I KNOW the recipient can see HTML-formatted messages fine. In the rare event that's *not* the case, I can manually switch to plain text. It's past time for MS to add this option to Outlook natively.

  • Dale

    Just remove the word "Loop" from the beginning of the script to prevent the annoying hoth repetition in Outlook 2007 :)

  • Tom

    What about when setting the font on a plain text reply does not work? I want it to be Consolas 10.5 pt, like how I receive plain text e-mails. Unfortunately, somehow, it keeps making the reply auto-configure to be Times 12 pt whenever I hit reply to those (works fine to give me my HTML e-mail format when responding to those). If I go to Tools > Options > Mail Format > Stationary and Fonts, it will save the configuration I set there and keep it set, and I can go back repeatedly and it will say Consolas 10.5. But the e-mail consistently changes. The 'Normal' style is Times 12, and I think that's where it gets it from, and I cannot change the 'Normal' style and it stay saved. In Word, there's a normal.dot that would need to get deleted (that Word would re-create) to fix this. Is there a similar one for Outlook?

  • Diane Poremsky

    Consolas is set as the font in Signatures and Stationary, Composing and reading in plain text (last option)? If the message format is plain text, it will use this format for all plain text messages.

    Are you using the macro to convert plain text to HTML formatted replies?

  • Ray

    I would really like to change the RE: and FW: that are defaults in the subject line for Replies and Forwards. For example, can I set it so instead of "RE:" it says "Reply to:"?

  • D Poremsky

    You'd need to use a custom form or VBA but i don't recommend changing the defaults. Outlook and other email clients are programmed to remove the RE :and FW: and changing it to reply to: would affect their ability to remove it. A string of messages could have a subject like "RE: Reply to: Re: Reply to: RE: Reply to: original subject ". This would mess up sorting by subject and could mess up threading.

  • Bugg

    Is there a way to change the font size of incoming html emails in which someone has replied back to me? She has it in 6 pt font. It is impossible to read and is drivng me batty! Unfortunately, she is computer illiterate and uses Yahoo email. It used to be fine but suddenly it has changed to this dinky size. Any suggestions on how I can instruct her to change her font size in an easy manner so not to frustrate her? Thanks to anyone who can help.

  • D Poremsky

    You can adjust the zoom - Ctrl+roll the mouse wheel to adjust it up and down. That may be the easiest.

  • http://att.net/ patty

    I DON'T KNOW WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO MY ORIGINAL OUTLOOK.COM FORMAT. THE IN BOX NOW REMAINS ON TOP AND WHEN CLICKING ON AN E MAIL THE RESPONSE IS BELOW THE IN BOX...I DON'T LIKE..