Email query format problems

Dear Miss Snark:

I've sent out a bunch of e-mail queries and noticed when I received some answers (and my query shows up at the end of the responses) that sometimes my letter looked strange on the other end. I copy and pasted my query from a Microsoft word document into the body of the e-mails and some of them apparently look like I wrote it in a foreign tongue. My apostrophes have been replaced by Russian looking letters. The columns and everything look out of whack. Other replies show that my query looked fine, just as I had sent it from my end. It looks normal from my "sent" column and it also looked fine when I sent a test run on some of my friends' computers. What's going on? Am I doing something wrong? Are these agents seeing Russian letters instead of my apostrophes? Thanks.

Yup, they are, in some cases.

I have one colleague who reliably sees weirdness in my emails so I have prevailed upon her to be my "reader". All she has to do when I send her a practice/draft email is hit reply when I send it to her for testing (her email program prints the text of my email at the bottom).

That way I get back what the finicky computers see, and I can fix it. It usually takes three or four "send/reply" cycles to get all the problems fixed.

The trick is to find the one friend who will see it like that, and bribe her into helping you.

There are other tricks to employ here too, and I'm sure some of the comments will give you some additional good ideas.

The good news is, most of us are pretty used to seeing that. It's annoying, but it's not a deal breaker. You DO want to fix it though cause it's really hard to read.


Tori Scott said...

I've finally figured out that, if you want to email a query, save it in rich text format first, then copy it into the email. Word does weird formatting stuff that doesn't translate well to email.

Anonymous said...

Odds are good that your have some of Word's Autoformat options on--this consists of "smart quotes" that determine whether quotation marks are opening or closing (they curve in different directions). I think apostrophes go in either direction too. These directional marks are not within HTML's character set, so it really depends on the reader's e-mail program as to whether they display properly or look like gibberish.

Type up your queries in something like Notepad or Textedit and your apostrophes and quotation marks should display normally. (They will be "straight quotes" and not "smart quotes") Failing that, go turn off the related Autoformat options in Word and then run it through a test like Miss Snark suggested.


Anonymous said...

Many times you get all that gibberish when you paste from Word to an email application because you're pasting formatted text, and either your email program or the recipient's email program can't read the formatting. Try pasting your query as plain text (either save it from Word as plain text first, or type it into Notepad as plain text). Yes, you'll lose any fancy formatting--italics, bolds, colors, em dashes, etcetera. Actually, in a query, probably not such a bad thing.

Hope this helps!


Anonymous said...

If you send your email as plain text as opposed to Rich Text or HTML, and save your word doc as plain text and then copy & paste from it, you should be fine.

Anonymous said...

To reiterate one of the points alluded to above - it's happening because Word sucks as an email composer.

In a business email (such as a query), it is never wrong to use plain text. Indeed, there are very few circumstances that call for anything except plain text emails - perhaps emailing friends and relatives, but that's it.

Configure your email programme to use a plain text email composer, and write in it. There's no reason to use Word or any other external editor in any modern email app. If you're using webmail, just use the form that your webmail service provides. (Indeed, most webmail services let you compose rich-text emails if you insist on it.)

Hope that helps!

pax et bonum

domynoe said...

Word is notorious for extra symbols -- we've had issues with this over at the DII forums. When I post anything to the DII list, I remove ALL curly quotes and apostrophies, use a double dash instead of an em-dash, places spaces in between the periods of an ellipses, and either paste it into notepad (preferred since you get black rectangles for Word's symbol mess) or wordpad. From there it gets copied and posted into my email program.

To turn off Words symbols & otherwise make something more email compatible, here's what we tell DII members to do:

1. Open your work in your word processing software, then open a wordpad file.

2. To remove "curly" quotes and other symbols, do the following: in the edit menu click replace; in BOTH the find what and replace with box type a ' (or whatever other symbol you are replacing); click replace all; it will automatically take out the curlys

other symbols you may want to do this with:
-- (which gets turned into an em dash)
- (sometimes gets turned into an em dash)
... (should be changed to . . . , spaces included)

3. Copy and paste your work into wordpad and save either as a text file or as an rtf file. This will help convert whatever version of word (or any other program you happen to be using) into a format that most pc's can see without resorting to formatting idiocies. Go through and DOUBLE SPACE between EACH paragraph (like what you see between this line and the first line of #4 below).

4. DO NOT use stationary or any other images in your email as it adds to the size of the email you are sending and some programs do not accept it. DEFINITELY do not add music or anything of that nature. Outlook Express users need to avoid using an OE signature as OE signature files are one of the most popular ways to spread viruses.

5. Don't indent and don't put line breaks along the right side of the page or email.

6. It helps if you turn Word Wrap OFF.

7. Copy from the wordpad and paste into your email.

Some of that is unnecessary for regular email, but most of it helps keep email issues at a minimum for most members.

domynoe said...

Oh, we also have this post about removing the Word symbol mess almost entirely from Word docs:

To avoid odd symbols when pasting text into your posts:

in the format menu, choose Auto Format
in the dialogue box, click options
click the AutoFormat tab and make sure the following are unchecked:
Straight Quotes with Smart Quotes
Symbol characters (--) with symbols
Click ok
Click ok again (not close, it won't work that way and resets back to having this options checked)

Teacake said...

When in doubt, tell your email client to send as text only. You won't get any formatting, and you'll probably have to clean it up on your end (line breaks and such), but better yours than theirs.

Anonymous said...

Turn of Smart Quotes, do a search-and-replace to fix them, and set your program to not squish double hyphons into an em-dash. That'll fix virtually all the problems.

Saving to .rtf is a good idea, too.

Anonymous said...

When sending a mail set the character encoding to UTF-8 rather than ISO-8859-1.

Theoretically everybody should be able to read this one (unless possibly you are writing in Russian ...)

Dave Fragments said...

Turn off the curly quotes and make sure WORD isn't changing elipses into one character.

And in some incarnations of WORD and Windows, you don't remove these artifacts by copying into NOTEPAD.

WORD calls it autoformatting but most people call it screwing up the text.

Anonymous said...

As some have already said, the issue is with Word's automagic formatting of text. You can save the document into PLAIN TEXT and copy and paste from that .txt file.

But it's not just queries. If folks want you to submit material by pasting into the body of an email, you'll have the same problem, only multiplied many times. Any time you email your text to someone, use only PLAIN TEXT, as the person on the receiving end may have HTML turned off to keep from seeing spam sent as images instead of text, to circumvent spam filters. Let your words wow them, not your choice of fonts or interesting formatting.

PresterJosh said...

I would suggest typing the query up in your email program, and perhaps leaving a copy in "drafts." This way you can probably avoid any word processor weirdness.

If you really must use a word processor to copy and paste from, consider something like Google Docs, which will only use HTML entities.

Anonymous said...

I've found if you hit spell check on this kind of document, AOL will highlight every part that will come out with the strange symbols. The words that highlight, just retype. Problem solved.

Matt said...

Mina's got the solution: Write it in Plain Text.

The weird gobledeegoop comes when e-mail systems convert your text to a different format. They do this because HTML can hide viruses and other nonsense. Plain Text can't.

CD Park said...

Using rich text format can also lead to problems -- it's a proprietary format developed by Microsoft that preserves some of the very formatting that you want to shed. Use a plain text editor instead.

Anonymous said...

In addition to the other advice, I'd suggest you don't include columns in your emails.

Text files are just that - pure text. Reliably placing text at a particular spot on the screen is impossible because the recipient's email program displays in whatever font the recipient requested, not the font you used. Different fonts use different-sized blank spaces, so even if you try making columns by entering blank spaces, your columns still won't line up when the recipient views them.

Lose the columns, and any other positioning. Bowl 'em over with your text.

Anonymous said...

[Echo] I 'wash' all my stuff in notepad, pasting it there, then copy it into my email.

If you really need bolds, italics, you'll have to edit them in after the fact. This should preserve the formatting.

Anonymous said...

in many e-mail programs, the send and recieve messages default is set to HTML, I personally don't uderstand the protoco; for using HTML but e-mail programs do. Many times, people will go into tools and reset this option to text instead of HTML. When it is set to text you will get strange characters and even odder formatting in the body of the e-mail message.

so; go into the e-mail program, go to "tools", then choose "options", then choose the "send" tab and make sure that the "mail sending format" is set to HTML.

hope this helps

John Jeter said...

I just sold my novel to a top-shelf house, contract, advance, the whole deal, with positive coverage from a film agency, too. Now I'm told I need an agent, but I can't seem to find one. Got any ideas?

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark,

It was rather devilish of you to post that "how do I find an agent" comment, but I guess if I had the power to throw babies to the wolves, I'd do it too.

For the person who's handle sounds strangely like a pedophile:

1. lrn2read
2. lrn2searchbox
3. Stay on topic if you want the trolls to like you

Unknown said...

My head hurts...