Why Email Formatting Gets Messed Up

Email formatting can get messed up when default line breaks are inserted by email programs and the email is then forwarded.

Most modern email applications can automatically wrap full paragraphs of text to match the current window size, just like a word processing document, so the word wrap option should be turned off if your application uses it. However, some older email programs and Internet mailing list software do not have this ability, and can only handle lines up to a maximum length, usually something less than 80 characters. In order to help these older programs, some email programs automatically cut paragraphs into a series of individual lines by inserting carriage returns (line breaks), sometimes at 80 characters, some at 76 characters, some at 71 characters, and sometimes at even shorter lengths.

This usually works fine the first time an email is sent and produces fairly normal looking text. But if the email is forwarded, and goes through a second trimming at a lower character count, then it can get messed up and end up looking like the following, or worse, like the example below.

>>>This works fine the first time it is done. But if the email
is forwarded to someone else and
>>>goes through a second trimming at a lower character
count, especially if it has been through
>>>a few forwards and has been lengthened with “>”
characters, you get something that
>>>looks like this, or worse.

The section on fixing messed up formatting describes how to repair these types of messages if you wish.