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When I create a standard alert, where does the format for that alert email come from? How can I change it?

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Here you can find basics:

Customizing Alert Templates in SharePoint Foundation 2010

SharePoint Foundation includes Pre-defined alert templates for e-mail and SMS messages Pre-defined Alert Template Location: %ProgramFiles%\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\web server extensions\14\TEMPLATE\XML Email Template: AlertTemplates.xml SMS Template: AlertTemplates_SMS.xml Template includes information such as the format, contents and properties for the alert email and SMS messages.

Here you can find more details:

Customizing Alert Notifications and Alert Templates in Windows SharePoint Services 3.0

And here you can find how to deploy custom alert templates by using VS 2010

Creating custom list alert templates in SharePoint 2010

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