How to Create an ASCII Text Ezine

INTRODUCTION
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Have you ever viewed the source of a Web page? When you click “View Source,” the code that pops up in a box is in your computer system’s default text editor. For most PCs, the default is NotePad or WordPad.

What’s the difference between text ezines and all others? A true text ezine is created in text editors like Notepad, NoteTab, WordPad and UltraEdit. Such documents are often called Full Text Documents. Each byte represents one character. What you create is exactly what the reader sees, fonts included. Most of the time. No hidden codes or macros.

If you have any coding that doesn’t use a fixed-width font like Courier new, creates colored backgrounds, etc., it’s not considered an ASCII (plain text) publication.

Most word processors (Word, Works, WordPerfect, etc.) have the CAPACITY to create plain text documents, but often the automatic formatting processes get in the way. This is why many people use a plain text editor for creating ezines.

TEXT EDITORS

The easiest route is to use text editing software that creates simple ASCII text, like Notepad, NoteTab, WordPad, and UltraEdit. These programs use a monospace (fixed width) font like Courier that looks the same in email readers regardless of platforms or operating systems.

NO FORMATTING, BULLETING, UNDERLINING, BOLDING, ITALICS

  • No formatting.
  • No bullets.
  • No underlining.
  • No bolding.
  • No italics.

Everything is done by typing and the space bar. You want bullets? Use the asterisk key. You want to tab? Use the space bar. Because the text is in ASCII, there are no macros or hidden codes.

CHARACTER WIDTH GUIDELINES

Choose the number of characters per line you’ll use. A good rule of thumb is 65. Most plain text programs have a ruler to help.

If you use a program like Word, choose Courier or Courier New for your font and make sure to hit “Enter” when you’re close to 65 characters.

Use a hard return (enter key) at the end of each line.

If your program doesn’t have a ruler, here are a couple of ways to figure out line width: use the numbers, where each “x” stands for 10, 20, etc., or use the “equal” sign 65 times:

123456789x123456789x123456789x123456789x123456789x123456789x12345

Why the fuss about 65 characters per line? Everything depends on the recipient’s email program, and many email programs are set (automatically or by the user) to wrap incoming messages at a maximum of 65-70 characters per line. If you have no character limit, but have just typed away, you can bet that some recipients will have jagged sentences within paragraphs, like this:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consetetur sadipscing elitr, sed diam nonumy eirmod tempor.
Invidunt ut labore et dolore magna aliquyam erat, sed diam voluptua.At vero eos et accusam.
Et justo duo dolores et ea rebum. Stet cl whatever. Ugly. Unreadable. Forgettable.

WORD WRAP

I create my ezines in NoteTab, and wrapping it at 65 characters, but I do it with Word Wrap turned off. That’s because I can CREATE it with Word Wrap, but it won’t read that way on all email programs.

So: because automatic Word Wrap only works on some email programs, be safe where all email readers are concerned, use the Enter key at the end of every line.

Because you don’t want one line to go on forever, and because you also will edit, set your Word Wrap to something like 85. Then, when your paragraph is the way you want it, go back and make sure every line ends on or near 65. Of course, you may be one of those enviable people who writes well the first time. Just hit Enter as you go along.

VISUAL BEAUTY? CHOOSE YOUR PRIORITIES

Do you think a text ezine is unattractive? Perhaps so. But it can’t transmit viruses, worms, or Trojan Horses, takes very little bandwidth, and looks the same in every email program. Use your creativity to make it as clean and crisp as possible.

WRITING THE EZINE

I strongly recommend you use a template. If you don’t have one, get mine (http://www.ossweb.com/ez-ezine-template.html), and once you’ve downloaded it, modify it to suit your needs.

I also suggest that you take a few minutes and create a brief style guide for your ezine. If you have someone proof it, s/he can refer to it. Decide issues like spacing, punctuation, headers, capitalization, dates, abbreviations, line spacing, etc.

Here’s an example:

Any grouping that has a series of numbers will be punctuated like this:

1. TITLE, CAPITALIZED AND FOLLOWED BY COLON: Leave two spaces before getting to the description of site/item.

PROOFING THE EZINE

Read every word and punctuation mark out loud. Use spellcheck. If I’m in doubt, I usually copy and paste my ezine into Word to see if it will catch any errors in spelling or usage. I leave the document open in NoteTab and make changes as needed.

Before you send it out, email yourself a copy and see how it looks when you get it back. I find that sometimes word wrap didn’t work (especially if I was cutting and pasting), and this quick test helped correct the situation.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Make sure you have your email address at the beginning and the end of your ezine. If, anywhere in your publication, you want to have readers contact you on a specific subject, try using this format, which works in most email programs:

mailto:you@yourdomain.com?subject=ezine_survey

If you have more than one word in the subject area, use a hyphen or underscore character to keep everything connected.

SENDING IT OUT

Some people send text ezines using email programs like Outlook, Outlook Express, The Bat, Eudora, Netscape, etc. Others use CGI programs like SubscribeMe. I’ve used SubscribeMePro, but SubscribeMe Lite is free. All you need is a CGI programmer like Will Bontrager.

Using a CGI program like SubscribeMe means that first, you have a website, with your own domain. You will then have backup copies of all your subscribers’ email addresses in your domain directory.

Others use free Web resources like SubscribeMeLite, Yahoo Groups etc., while yet others hire a third-party Web businesses like Constant Contact to manage subscriptions and send out the ezines. At this rewrite in October 2009, I’m using my host’s software program. It’s free, and while there are a few things I’m not comfortable with, it is an excellent program and also means that when my host gets a notification that I’ve sent spam, they know I didn’t and take care of things for me.

You can read many articles about the right day to send out ezines. I try to send mine late Monday evening, Arizona time, or early Tuesday morning.

SUMMARY

** HTML ezines have formatting commands written in HTML. The best are created using tables. If you want to see how it works, create a brief HTML page with a few variations in color, font size, etc., then save it, go to your email program, and mail it to yourself as an attachment.

Most recipients get HTML ezines right in the body of their email programs. A few email programs can receive HTML messages as attachments. It all depends on the email program. But there is no guarantee that your HTML ezine will look the same in every recipient’s email program.

** TEXT ezines use one standard. For the most effective look, hit the Enter key on or before going beyond 65 or so characters.

If I’ve missed anything that could be helpful, let me know, at this email address.

RESOURCES

1. ASCII TABLE
http://www.asciitable.com/

2. ASCII TABLE 7 BIT:
http://www.neurophys.wisc.edu/www/comp/docs/ascii.html

3. ASCII: WEBOPEDIA
http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/A/ASCII.html

4. A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO EZINE PUBLISHING
http://www.epdigest.com/beginner/

5. TEXT EDITORS
http://www.tucows.com
On home page, click on Windows, and when the next screen opens, type “text editors” in the search window. It has both HTML and text editors, but you’ll find all the good text editors there. Most are freeware; some are shareware.

I highly recommend that you begin with NoteTabLite. If you like it, you can upgrade later to NoteTabPro for $19.95. Tremendous range of functions. Example:

I went to the Tools/Text Statistics section and it shows the following:

Different words/items counted: 601
Total Words: 1449
Total Punctuation: 280
Total Other Text: 39
Total Characters: 8940
Total Paragraphs: 241

It shows every word and character used in the document, how many times they were used, and gives the percentage. Once you’ve saved your document, you can click Document/Disk File Properties and see the size in kilobytes. This document is 9.18 KB (9,410 bytes). Experts suggest the maximum one should send in one email is 40kb. Larger than this may be rejected by email program or ISP.

I write my Twitter Grammar Tips in NoteTabPro because I can quickly select the text, click an icon, and see how many characters I’ve used.

6. JUDY’S FREE EZ-EZINE TEMPLATE
http://www.ossweb.com/ez-ezine-template.html

7. SUBSCRIBEME SHAREWARE
http://www.siteinteractive.com/subscribe/

8. NOTETAB SHAREWARE
http://www.notetab.com/features.php

For more information, contact Judy Vorfeld.

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