Plain Text ASCII


Let’s begin with the problem. Most resumes and cover letters are first produced using a program (like Microsoft Word) that makes it look striking.  You will see different sized text, bold facing, indentation, and other fancy work that makes it stand out.  This means there is a lot of underlying computer formatting that you don’t see. If you try to copy and paste it into the body of an email, your work may be received as gibberish when it is received on the other end.  Email programs recognize little formatting.  You have the same problem when you try to copy and paste your cover letter, resume, or information into a company’s website. Their website’s software, called Automatic Applicant Tracking Systems, may not recognize some of the formatting used for your material.  The end result is that your application never gets through the system to a person who might want to hire you.

What do you do to get around this? You must strip your resume of most of its formatting.  You need to get it into a very specific, much simpler format known as plain text or ASCII.  If you’re curious, ASCII stands for American Standard Code for Information Exchange.  It is pronounced asskey, but is often referred to as ASC2, since the final II looks like a Roman numeral II. It is the basis or platform for most of the more intricate formatting used in popular computer typing programs and is therefore more universally recognized by a broad range of software.

Before we begin, a short explanation: These steps are based on the use of Microsoft Word 2003 in the Windows XP program. Every time you need to do something like change margins, I explain how I do it.  I’ve noticed in classes that I teach, people are either very computer savvy or at a total loss.  Since I have never seen directions that spell out each step, I am presenting them here for people who may not know how to do some, or all of the steps listed below. I will be working with a resume, but you can naturally do this with any document you create.

I originally had an extensive list of steps here explaining how to create a plain text resume.  I have discovered that this does not work nearly so well as actually seeing an example of each page (screen shot) combined with the instructions telling you what to do.   I am now providing a link to my class handout on creating a plain text resume.  It includes instructions that are each illustrated by screenshots . Click here for “Class Materials and Other Resources.” You will see “Handout 7 – Saving a Resume to Plain Text.”  It may take a minute to download and the screenshots themselves may be a tad slower.  But this will give you the entire set of illustrations and directions that is used for the class.  Feel free to print them out.

vea/revised 28 February 2011/updated 15 March 2011
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass.


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