At best, it is annoying to get an email containing unreadable characters. At worst, it can prevent you from reading the record at all. Sometimes the coding in Outlook shows the missed characters and lets you read the message. Here's how.
What is character encoding?
If you are not sure what "character encoding" is, we have a comprehensive explanation for you. The less extensive explanation is that a character is a glyph that appears on the screen when you write something. So every letter in this article is a glyph that represents a letter a, b, c and so on. Behind the scenes, your computer represents these glyphs using a code that is interpreted by a program as a web browser or word processor, and then makes them on the screen as a character.
RELATED: What are character encodings Like ANSI and Unicode, and how do they differ?
So far, so simple, especially if you think there are only 26 characters in the alphabet, ten digits and some grammar marks like! or @.
However, there are also 26 capital letters and much more grammatical marks you may realize (your keyboard shows only a small subset of possible grammatical marks, even for English). And this only covers one language, English, which is in an alphabet, Latin (also known as the Roman alphabet). The Latin alphabet contains most Western European languages and has a large number of diacritic symbols that are not used in English. Diacritic symbols are things like accents, umlauts, cedillas and other marks that change the pronunciation of a letter or word.
Then there are many other alphabets, such as Cyrillic (most commonly known to contain Russian language), Greek, Kanji (Japanese) and Chinese, many of which contain more than one language.
Now you can begin to see the scale of characters that must be encoded as glyphs. There are over 70,000 Chinese glyphs alone. A character encoding contains a number of code points each of which can encode a character. ASCII, which you have probably heard of, was an early Latin alphabet encoding that had 128 code points, nothing close enough to cover all sorts of characters people use.
W3's recommended HTML encoding is UTF-8, which has 1,112,064 code points. This is sufficient to cover virtually all characters in all languages in all alphabets (but not all) and is used in 93% of all websites. UTF-8 is also the coding recommended by the Internet Mail Consortium.
Why would I disturb it?
Outlook, along with all other modern email clients, encodes and decodes UTF-8.
But if Outlook supports UTF-8 and UTF-8 is the recommended encoding, why would you see an unreadable character? This can happen for several reasons, but the main thing is that you look at the record in plain text (either because you explicitly wanted to do it or a virus scanner had converted it to plain text before it came to you) or the encoding you use is set to something other than UTF-8.
The encoding of an incoming mail is determined by the sender, so if, for example, they use ASCII, Outlook will make the entry with the ASCII encoding. If your word settings are set to replace "straight quotes" with "smart quotes" (those pointing at an angle to show if they open or close quotes) then you will see "unreadable" characters in the entry instead of smart quotes, because ASCII does not contain appropriate characters for smart quotes.
So if you change the encoding of a message, you can let you see the distorted characters as they should be displayed.
Okay, how do I change it?
Fortunately, coding of a message changes quite easily in Outlook. Double-click the message to open it. On the Home tab of the message window, click Actions> Other Actions> Coding to see which encoding is used.
This is an e-mail from Microsoft if Clutter moves things from my inbox. As you can see, Microsoft uses Western European to encode its mail. To change it, click "More" and then select the encoding you want, such as UTF-8.
It is all there is to now be able to read the email message.
To find out how your outgoing emails are encoded, go to File> Options> Advanced and scroll down to the international options. You are looking for the "Preferred encoding for outgoing messages" option.
The default setting is Western European and the obvious one with you may wonder why this is when, as mentioned above, the recommendation for email format is UTF-8 . The answer is that Western Europe is a subset of UTF-8, and as such can be read with UTF-8. If you buy a copy of Outlook designed for Greece, the default encoding is Windows-1253, which is also a subset of UTF-8.
You can change the default outgoing encoding to anything you want. If you want people to be able to read your messages, you should keep it as Western European or change to a globally used encoding like UTF-8.