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Are there any typographic or formatting conventions for making plain text (a simple *.txt file in ASCII or UTF-8) more readable?

Specific details that I'm considering:

  • when to use hard line breaks
  • how wide should a line be
  • is ALL CAPS OK? when?
  • commonly understood conventions (such as using * for bullets)
  • common mistakes
  • things you might think are OK but can cause issues for specific users

I know there are text only "mark up" languages like Asciidoc and the ubiquitous Markdown. However, these are languages and try to standardize conventions (readability may be accidental in some cases, with preference given to parse-ability). What I'm looking for are things that make a plain text file more readable, which may not necessarily coincide with a mark up language.

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2 Answers 2

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I couldn't find anything myself. So better than nothing is to share my conventions, stolen from the best and retained only after scrutiny (you're welcome to challenge my rationales).

Headings

=== Productivity ===

Rationale: Mediawiki headings are more distinct than Markdown prefix headings which look like commented code, or underline headings which are harder to process with scripts.

Bullets

(-) Red
(-) Green
(-) Blue

Rationale: asterisks are not always vertically-centered so are not distinct enough.

Code or quotation

I just discovered the true meaning of conflate:

    con·flate
    /kənˈflāt/
    Learn to pronounce
    verb
    combine (two or more texts, ideas, etc.) into one.

Datestamps

2022-05-31

Rationale:

Categories

#productivity
#business
#science

Emphasis

It is better NOT to use rich-text if you care about longevity.
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When writing plain text, its pretty hard to specify what is acceptable for line breaks and length. Whoever is reading the text in vim, notepad or browser or whatever may or may not wrap lines.

Typography: There is no bold italic or font choice or size. The font will again depend on whatever is rendering the 'plain text'.

Use * for bullets. They are well recocgnized.

Use ALLCAPS with discretion like everywhere.

Look at how man pages are formatted:

See How to format man pages

As pointed out in the question asciidoc is a markup language. That said it can be converted to beautiful html, pdf, epub, docbook, and yes back to plain text with tools available including pandoc.

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