Archiving e-mail messages as text files

Today's Best Tech Deals

Picked by Macworld's Editors

Top Deals On Great Products

Picked by Techconnect's Editors

Reader Lloyd Hanson would like to more easily move text between applications. He writes:

I have a number of e-mail messages I have written that I need to export, individually, into a word processor document (Microsoft Word or Pages). Short of using cut and paste, is there a method or script that will do this automatically?

There are a few options for doing this. One of the easiest is to open a new word processing document, move to Mail, select the text that you’d like to copy in an e-mail message, and drag the text to the open word processing document.


While hanging out around our virtual water cooler I tossed this question to my colleague Dan Frakes who suggested that another avenue could be a multi-clipboard utility. Using that utility, you’d copy-copy-copy-copy the messages you want into the multi-entry clipboard, move to your word processor, and paste-paste-paste-paste from the clipboard into your word processing document.


If you’d like to automate the process, Snow Leopard’s Automator can do that. We’ll start with a Mail-to-Pages workflow.

Launch Automator and, in the Template sheet that appears, select Service and click Choose. In the window that appears add these actions: Copy to Clipboard and Launch Application. Configure the top of the window to read Service Receives Selected Text in Mail. In the Launch Application action choose Pages from the pop-up menu. (If you don’t see a Pages listing choose Other at the bottom of the menu and navigate to the Pages application, which is likely in the iWork ’09 folder in your Applications folder).

Launch Pages and open a new blank document. Return to Automator and click the Record button. An Automator Record window will appear, complete with a Stop Recording button. Return to Pages and press the Return key twice. Click the Stop Recording button. A Watch Me Do action will appear in your Automator workflow. Delete everything in the action except the Type command.

Click Automator’s Record button yet again, switch to Pages, and press Command-V. Click the Stop Recording button and return to your Automator workflow. In the new Watch Me Do action delete everything except Press Command-V. In the Timeout area of this action enter 5 seconds. Save your workflow and enter a name for it when prompted.

The Mail-to-Pages workflow

What did we do? The first action asks Automator to copy the selected text in the e-mail message. The second action switches to Pages. (Even though the action is called Launch Application, it will switch to an application if that application is already open.) The third action inserts two blank lines—necessary when you want to easily separate one bit of pasted text from the next bit. And the last action pastes the text from the Clipboard into the Pages document (Automator doesn’t include a Paste Text action of its own, which is why we had to use Watch Me Do).

If you like, launch System Preferences, select the Keyboard preference, click Keyboard Shortcuts, choose Services, locate the service you just created (it will appear under the Text heading), click to the right of the service, and assign a keyboard shortcut to it. This makes the service easier to invoke later. You can also choose it from the Services menu if you want.

If you prefer a Mail-to-Word workflow, you can skip the Watch Me Do actions. Begin this workflow similarly—with the Copy to Clipboard and Launch Application actions. In the second action make Microsoft Word the application to launch. Now add the Paste Clipboard Content into Word Documents action. From the Location pop-up within this action you can decide how you want the clipboard contents to be pasted—Top of Document, Bottom of Document, or Bottom of Document in New Section, for example. I like this New Section option as it separates the text snippets, making them easier to find.

Again, for the workflow to work you’ll need to have a Word document open. And, also again, you’ll find the service easier to implement if you assign a keyboard shortcut to it.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.
At a Glance
Shop Tech Products at Amazon