Need a Q&A Email Workflow

I get a lot of emails with multiple questions placed throughout, and I want an efficient way to parse my response message into:

[their question here] as plain text

[my response here] in bold, indented, and maybe with another color

Nothing is really off the table. Willing to switch email clients if necessary. Tired of doing it all manually. Interested in making a CSS file that allows paragraph styles I can apply (i.e. “question,” “answer,” “signature”). Also willing to use Keyboard Maestro, BetterTouchTool, markdown syntax, just about anything to make the process less time consuming. Some manual work will be needed but all that clicking and selecting text and using multiple keyboard shortcuts seem like they could be automated or simplified.

I don’t like the idea of copying the original text into Word, applying custom paragraph styles for each section, then copying everything back as RTF into the email client. What does everyone else do with Q&A type email messages?

–I know this was addressed in an episode of MPU some time ago, but I can’t remember the options because it wasn’t so much of an issue for me then. I do remember someone saying they couldn’t stand a particular email client because it didn’t allow in-line replies (maybe it was Merlin?). I imagine @RosemaryOrchard and @MacSparky have a system for this?

Welcome!

⌘-B is probably the simplest way to make text bold and works in most email clients. There is also ⌘-I for italic, etc.
The default mail client has settings for indenting and coloring quoted text. This is pretty standard for email clients and has been around since The Old Days™.

or did you want more razzle-dazzle?

Thanks @JohnAtl. I know the regular keyboard shortcuts; I was looking for something to automate the formatting process. My latest idea is to take the original message into a markdown editor, then make a custom CSS file to reinterpret double-asterisks as “bold, indented, blue, beginning with right angle brackets” etc. That way I just mark my comments with **asterisks** and it always comes out rendered in the special style. Then output everything through Marked 2 as RTF, then copy and paste into the email client. A lot of steps, but maybe Keyboard Maestro can trim it down a bit.

So yes, more razzle-dazzle. Partly because I want to make the process easier and save time, partly because I’m a student of Mac automation and it’s becoming an obsession. By the way, I spent all day yesterday (on and off, of course) camped out on this thread you pinned. Really got me thinking. Great discussion, thanks for making it a wiki page. :+1:

Ah, you’re welcome.

re: ⌘-B
It’s hard to tell what people know already, especially on their first post, so I usually start with the basics. Sometimes that doesn’t go over so well, as I was admonished on Twitter and told not to assume people were ignorant. Well, sometimes that shoe fits, and no ill-will intended :slight_smile:

re:project
Interesting project you have. The asterisks to set off your replies don’t feel right. I suppose because they are for inline adornment. I assume lines of text copied out of an email program would be prefixed with > , so perhaps styling quoted text as something plain, and body text as something that stands out would work?

Have you looked at Drafts, or on iOS maybe Pythonista?

No worries, I did tech support for 11 years. I’m very familiar with the start with the basics doctrine. I once spent about half an hour troubleshooting a customer’s printer only to find out it wasn’t plugged in. From then on I started every call with, “I apologize, but I’ve got to start with the basics…”

Funny you should mention Drafts. I used it years ago on my iOS devices and got it working pretty well. Now I’ve been playing with it on the Mac and I feel like a toddler with a graphing calculator. Just not there yet I suppose.

Also a big fan of PopClip and Brett Terpstra’s PopClip plugin generator. I may be able to just select text and choose a plugin to automatically apply a particular style, if I can just configure it correctly. If it can take HTML and convert it to markdown, or vice-versa, this should be* no sweat.

I am curious how others haven’t encountered this before, though. I’ve always wanted a dichotomous writing format, even for my own Q&A reference notes, such as a note-to-self along the lines of the “quick question” documentation technique, but with multiple questions per file. Question in one format, response/answer in another. Whatever would work for that would work for the email issue.

At the end of the day I’m probably just being lazy. But the Mac nerd in me really wants a solution to this puzzle: take a file, style the paragraphs with two options: plain and razzle-dazzle.


*should is a favorite phrase for tech support, in my experience, as in:
“Will that fix my problem?”
"Well, it should

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