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Plain Text Overview: Definition, Examples, Creation & More

Updated on Friday, June 14, 2024

iBoysoft author Connie Yang

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Connie Yang
Professional tech editor

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Jessica Shee

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Summary: This article is an overview of plain text. It introduces what plain text is, plain text examples, differences between plain text and rich text, and the way to create plain text on your Mac. - From iBoysoft

what is plain text

Text files take up most of your work, study, and life. If you've just come across the term - plain text and want to get deep learning about it, follow this post.

What is plain text?

What is plain text? In computing, plain text refers to a file that only contains characters of readable material, no non-text characters like images and file format are included. In other words, plain text only consists of unformatted, unstyled, and unprocessed forms of textual data.

Usually, it consists of characters from a character encoding system, such as ASCII, UTF-8, or UTF-16, and does not have any additional information for formatting, font styles, colors, or other visual elements.

But you may find some plain texts that include some "whitespace" characters, such as the space, line breaks, etc. That is normal. These "whitespace" characters only work to help organize the arrangement and typography of the texts.

Plain text is often used in various contexts that emphasize simplicity, compatibility, and portability, such as email messages, programming codes, configuration files, and some unusual data storage.

It's also the raw form of text that computers can recognize and process directly without any interpretation or conversion.

plain text

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What are plain text file examples?

Plain text is the simplest and most basic representation of written language, containing only the actual text content without any markup, metadata, or additional structure.

However, some other definitions of plain text describe that as long as the markup or metadata in a text is in a directly human-readable form, this kind of text can also be regarded as plain text.

Therefore, the SGML, HTML, XML, wiki markup, TeX, SVG, and TXT are all plain text examples.

How to create plain text on a Mac?

It is simple to create a plain text file on your Mac. You barely need to use the macOS built-in plain text editor - TextEdit.

Here's how to create a plain text on your Mac:

  1. Open Launchpad > Other > TextEdit. An untitled rich .txt file will show up.
    open TextEdit on Mac 
  2. Click "Format" on the top TextEdit menu bar and choose "Make Plain Text." 
    create plain text on Mac with TextEdit

Then, you'll get a plain text - .txt file. You can find that there are no style elements available for your use.

What is the difference between plain text and rich text?

In format, the plain text format is simply made of characters, numbers, and punctuation marks. But Rich Text Format (also called formatted text or RTF) contains various types of markups, formatting features, and styling elements, such as font sizes, font colors, underlines, etc.

plain text vs rich text

The Rich Text Format has additional information to show how the text should be displayed visually, which gives you a more appealing structured file compared to boring plain text.

Here are the common elements that Rich Text Format always contains while plain text is impossible to use:

  • Font styles
  • Font colors
  • Font sizes
  • Images
  • Tables
  • Links
  • Bold
  • Italics
  • Bullets and numbering

plain text vs rich text

Moreover, the usage of plain text vs. rich text is also greatly different. Plain text is primarily used in the command-line interface (like Terminal), web browsers, programs that require self-design or changing configurations, etc.

Rich Text Format is commonly used in word processing software (like Microsoft Office), email sharing, blogging platforms, work reports, etc.

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