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How to change the text format of a message reply in Outlook

You can change the format of a message when you reply to it or forward it. For example, if someone sends you a plain text message, you can reply to that message or forward it using HTML or Rich Text Format. (How the message appears to the person receiving it depends on their email program. You can’t control that.)

Change the format of a reply or a forwarded message

For example, you can change a plain text message to HTML. Here’s how:

  1. In the message, click Reply, Reply All, or Forward.
  2. If you’re working in the Reading Pane, click Pop Out.
    (If you aren’t working in the Reading Pane, you don’t need to do this.)
  3. In the message window, click Format Text > HTML.

Other options:

  • If you want to change the message to Rich Text Format, click Rich Text.
  • If you want to change a message from HTML or Rich Text Format to plain text, click Plain Text.

Each message format has different benefits. For more information on when to use which format, see Differences between the message formats.

Note:  If you’ve chosen to read all email in plain text, your replies are also sent in plain text format. But you can change the format on individual-messages.

Change the format of one new message

  1. Create a message.
  2. If you’re working in the Reading Pane, click Pop Out.
    (If you aren’t working in the Reading Pane, you don’t need to do this.)
  3. In the message window, click Format Text, and then click HTML, Plain Text, or Rich Text.

Change the format of all new messages

  1. Click the File tab.
  2. Click Options.
  3. Click Mail.
  4. Under Compose messages, in the Compose messages in this format list, click HTML, Plain Text, or Rich Text.

Differences between the message formats

Outlook gives you three choices of message formats, so you can choose the format you want depending on whether you’re including bold or italic text, colors, bullets, or pictures in the message body.

Here are some tips about when to use each of the message formats:


This is the default message format in Outlook. HTML is also the best format to use when you want to create messages that look like traditional documents, with various fonts, colors, and bullet and numbered lists, and when you want to show pictures inside your message.

Plain Text

This format works for all email programs, but it doesn’t support bold or italic text, colored fonts, or other text formatting. The Plain Text format also doesn't support showing pictures inside the message, although you can include pictures as attachments.

Rich Text

Rich Text Format is a Microsoft format that’s supported by only these email applications:

  • Microsoft Exchange Client versions 4.0 and 5.0
  • All versions of Microsoft Outlook

When you choose Rich Text, you can format text with bullets, alignment, and other options, and you can include linked objects.

Attachments in a Rich Text message appear as icons within the message body. (In HTML messages, attachments appear underneath the subject header of a message.)

You can use Rich Text when you send messages inside an organization that uses Microsoft Exchange, but we recommend that you use the HTML format.

When you send a Rich Text Format message to someone outside your organization, Outlook automatically converts it to HTML, so the message keeps its formatting and its attachments. Outlook also automatically formats messages that contain voting buttons and converts tasks and meeting requests to iCalendar format.


Documentation and information provided by the MIT Community

Last Modified:

March 31, 2016

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