Email Best Practices: Plain Text vs Markdown vs HTML vs Rich Text

What are the best practices for text formatting for sending email? Should I export to email using Plain Text, Markdown, Rich Text, or HTML? Specifically I’m looking for compatibility issues. Here are the potential issues I see with each format within email:

  1. Plain Text: Greatest compatibility but non-existent formatting. I can’t use features like bold, underline, lists etc. to make text more readable for the person that I’m trying to send to.
  2. Markdown: Readable but weird for non-tech people.
  3. HTML: Not very human readable at all.
  4. Rich Text: Very human readable, great formatting. But potentially bad compatibility, and sometimes a pain in the butt to edit after the fact.

Ideally, I want the reader of my emails to just see Rich Text. Most people that I send emails to are non-techy and I don’t want to have to explain to them what Markdown or HTML is. It would be nice to just email Markdown to them and it would just render as Rich Text within their email client. But when I test send Markdown and HTML emails to myself within Spark, it just renders as plain text Markdown or HTML code.

On the other hand, I test sent a Rich Text email to myself and it rendered fine. Should I just send Rich Text emails?

Rich text is rendered by most email clients. You could use an email client that understands Markdown and converts to rich text to send.

this: helps

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As is HTML by most modern clients. Interesting comparison here:

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I use MailMate because I can write (or paste) in markdown and then send a message in rich text.


Airmail, which is available for both Mac OS and iOS, accepts Markdown to create formatted email. It has a URL scheme which makes it great for automated workflows.

I use Airmail – have found it pretty solid over the past few months.
I can use Markdown, and it gives me URL links so I can reference email’s I have archived. Good interface and features. Works well on mobile/iPad --essential for me. What’s not to like?

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Another vote for Airmail. Such a versatile email client.

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I’ll second sjmscott’s motion for MailMate. I’ve used it for years as my primary mail app on macOS. Nothing like it that I know of on iOS, so I use Spark to read mail there.

There is of course an existing Drafts action called Compose Airmail Markdown Email which will “Compose a new Airmail message with the Draft’s title as a subject and Markdown-converted body as the message body.”

The iOS URL scheme is here for reference.

There not a lot of “rich text” email, per se. HTML email is pretty standard, and almost all modern email client render it well and is probably what you are actually looking at when you think of email with rich-text formatting.

Personally, I prefer plain text email because it think it’s the most Universally accessible. Lets people read their email in the fonts and font sizes they have chosen as their defaults and does not lead to sometimes odd rendering issues (like tiny text on a mobile device, etc.).

That said, many people prefer formatting and as long as you only include basic HTML this generally renders very well.

What you want to send and how you want to write it are two different things, however. If you like to write in Markdown in Drafts, use a Markdown Mail action that converts the Markdown you wrote to HTML to send.

This has been a challenge for me for a long time. I generally write email in plain text, but there are at least a few times each day when I need the structure of ordered or unordered lists. For emails that matter, I’ll write those first in Drafts or Ulysses. I often also need to email meeting notes from Agenda with links to external images (screenshots). I have tried many ways to get something reliable without success. Part of this highlights the problem of HTML in the first place, which is that different clients render differently. For my use case, Drafts sends the best-rendered HTML mail for Apple Mail, but Outlook doesn’t like its images. Depending on the platform, Outlook will either render the text unreadably small or present the images too large. iA Writer renders most reliably across clients and platforms for me, but I can’t automate it as well, and the HTML is more prescriptive than ideal (e.g., forcing white background). My next step is to see if I can figure out how to create an HTML preview template for Drafts. Harder than I would have expected to share outlines with images reliably from any of my iOS text editors (Drafts, Ulysses, Bear, iAWriter, Agenda)

So, having compared HTML output from the various editors, it looks like the only meaningful difference is that Drafts encloses the external image links in p tags, while the others use figure. Figure seems overkill to me, but for whatever reason it appears to render better in Outlook. Is it possible to modify the HTML Preview action to close images with with figure tags? I guess I could take the html output and process it again with regex replacements. This is actually where I started because I’m using dropbox links for screenshots and needed to replace titles with ![] and dl=0 with raw=1. Sorry for the dumb questions. I’m not much of a coder. Any suggestions welcomed

So, looks like I was indeed able to fix by delving deeper into HTML preview. I’m sure obvious to most, hopefully useful to another newbie out there