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My Answers Are in Blue

Today I received an email in which a business writing class participant answered the prework questions for an upcoming writing class. She wrote at the top of her email, "My answers are in blue."

As often happens with such messages, her answers were in black–not blue–so they did not stand out among the questions, as she had intended. Her entire email was in black.

Sometimes people tell me their answers are in red or green. But no, their answers are in black on my computer screen.

I am not sure what is happening to block people's efforts to send their inline replies in color. Perhaps they are sending plain text messages when they think they are sending emails in rich text or HTML. Could it be that they click Send on a rich text or HTML message, but the email goes out as plain text?

I am certain the problem is not the way I receive email, since my messages from many people do include answers in various colors.

Of course, people can send test messages to themselves to confirm the color of their fonts. What else can they do?

Can you shed light on this font color problem? If you have ideas or explanations, please share them.

Syntax Training




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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

13 comments on “My Answers Are in Blue”

  • One possible answer to this (I don’t know for sure but have heard similar issues along these lines) is that the author is composing in Microsoft Outlook. Outlook, as I understand it, doesn’t use standard HTML or RTF formatting as Gmail, Apple Mail, Eudora, etc. do. For similar reasons, ‘smilies’ inserted in Outlook often come out as a capital ‘J’ when the email is received by non-Microsoft users.

    It would be good if someone can verify this, or put me in my place!

  • i had this problem once ,i replied an important email with my comments in Red ,and they replied ” We are still waiting your answers”!! and i was saying Are they blindes or what???then i realized that it was my fault and they might get my emails with thier own settings. So, I decided to use this way with my fellows or coworkers but in formal emails JUST WRITE AS A MAN .

  • As far as I’m concerned, some e-mail servers are incompatible and they end up transforming the HTML format to plain text. I believe this is mainly for internet security reasons, since HTML is not the safest form to send e-mail. So basically your server doesn’t trust the recipient and changes the e-mail format to plain text, avoiding viruses and spam.
    More explanation can be found on the following address:

  • Rather than identify the color, I write, “My answers are embedded below.” Then I insert my answers with my initials and a colon in front of them. That way they know what my comments are whether the color shows up or not.

  • That last comment from Anne is the best method for ensuring your answers are obvious to the recipient.

    One tenet of software design is not to rely on color for meaning, chiefly out of consideration for those with red/green color-blindness. But on top of that, you never know for certain how things will look on any given computer monitor. Lynn’s observation is another good example–you can’t be sure what effect the transmission of your message from one computer program to another will have on what the recipient sees.

    Good discussion–thanks for the post, Lynn!

  • I appreciate your input, David, Hatem, Imran, Laura, Anne, and JJ.

    I believe we can agree on using a method other than color to flag our inline answers. Hatem, I like your idea of ALL CAPS, at least for short answers. Anne, your method–that is, including your initials followed by a colon–sounds workable too. Also, it has the advantage of providing the ability to attribute comments to the correct person in an email thread. I would insert a blank line between items so that your initials and colon stand out for the reader.

    From all your comments and our experiences, it appears that HTML will not have a consistent appearance between servers or programs. If that is the case, my idea of sending a test message to oneself won’t work, at least not reliably.

    Thanks for thinking about this subject with me.


  • Lyn, what an interesting post, and set of comments. I have been replying in color to messages for years and was not aware of any problem, though I admit there were times when I did wonder why on earth the recipients had not understood my answer.
    The techies in my house agree with David, that Outlook is a major culprit in that it doesn’t use any of the standards.

  • Hi, Lesley. It may be that your readers were able to see your distinct colors, but we can’t be sure.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting.


  • HTML emails still reside in the dark ages of internet technology.

    There is no W3C (World Wide Web Consortium – the main internet standards organisation) approved standard for them and their appearance can vary depending upon which web browser or email client you view them on. Commercial companies may also have internal IT security settings which will distort their appearance as well.

    The safest option is simply not to use them and send plain text emails instead. What’s lost in visual impact should be made up for by writing in an engaging manner.

  • I am going to say something that I just read in a previous post. “Not enough information.”

    The first thing needed to diagnose the issue is the type of email system you use. Outlook, Lotus Notes, Gmail, et cetera.

    There isn’t a good reason why any modern email program can’t read font color.

    There are only two possible reasons. Either the sender didn’t color their font (perhaps they intended to and forgot), or there is an issue with your settings.

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