How to Prepare a Plain Text Resume

In my last article I gave several reasons why you need a plain text resume to apply for jobs online. This post is a short guide to preparing your resume in plain text.

1. Choose a text editor

Your options are really limitless here. A popular choice on Windows is Notepad. In Linux I usually use emacs or vi. You can also use a web based editor such as EditPad. As long as the program lets you save your file in plain text or ASCII it should be fine.

2. Page width

In most editors there is a text wrap option, but it is better to manually insert line returns in text resumes and keep each line to 80 characters. The reason is that different programs text wrap differently, and some do not text wrap at all so it is possible that your paragraphs come out looking like one single line. The standard page width of 80 characters is a good rule of thumb to follow for formatting text files.

3. Spacing and alignment

In addition to keeping each line to 80 characters, it is best to indent and align paragraphs with spaces instead of tabs because tabs do not necessarily show up correctly in different text readers. Keep your paragraphs short and separated by blank lines so it is more readable.

4. Emphasis on text

Since there is no bold or italics formatting, capitalize headers such as "EDUCATION" or "WORK EXPERIENCE" to emphasize them. Additionally, if you need to have bullet points in your resume, use asterisks instead.

5. Run spellcheck

Always use a spellcheck program on the body of your resume to catch any typos and mistakes. This applies to any resume regardless of the format, but when you are using a plain text editor it is easy to forget this step.

6. Test your resume

A good way to test out your resume is to copy and paste it into an email and send it to yourself. Try several email clients just to see how your resume looks on the receiving end. If possible also try looking at your email message in several different computing platforms.

Finally, online communications are generally brief so a good resume is a resume that gets to the point quickly. While you should definitely have a nicely formatted print version of your resume to bring to an interview, a clean and substantial plain text resume may be the key to getting that interview.  

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Guest's picture

emacs OR vi? Way to not take sides! (8

Guest's picture
Roger Whitaker

I have a downloaded version of Editpad (version 3.5.3) which I have used for several years for most of my text editing when I'm on a Windows machine, including writing source code. On my Ubuntu systems, rather than either vi or emacs I use gedit since it's less esoteric. I'm a Linux user more than a Linux guru and didn't come into computing via the Unix route. I did use Edlin for a short while very early in my DOS 2.1 days.

Guest's picture
Patti C.

What a great article!

I worked in newspaper classified advertising for years, a world in which my customers paid for their space. I know how to space and format attractively.

The average resume is chock full and does not have enough "white space." Employers are busy and are more likely to read clean, well-spaced resumes.

You don't need fancy stationery and graphics. It's a business communication, not an art contest. Use all caps for headings, but never put a paragraph in all caps.

I have a rule for resumes and any business communication to never us a character not available on a regular typewriter. Make it the kind of document a business person is used to ready. I will list features like this with asteriks or dashes.

*Internet savvy
*Customer service specialist
*Sales background

-Internet savvy
-Customer service specialist
-Sales background

GEE, I hope it all shows up properly formatted here.