Lori Kaufman is a technology expert with 25 years of experience. She”s been a senior technical writer, worked as a programmer, and has even run her own multi-location business. Read more…
Watching: Add names to the confusing gmail icons?
About How-To Geek
This series is intended to help you master the important and useful features of Google’s Gmail and its simple but smart interface. By the end of these lessons, we’ll take you from a rookie to a power user.
Gmail is one of the most popular webmail services out there. Gmail began in 2004 as what would turn out to be an extended 5-year beta and didn’t become open to the public until 2007.
Gmail was one of the first web-based email products to offer a gigabyte of initial storage, trumping many of the other popular webmail services at the time, who typically offered 2 to 4 megabytes. Over time, Google has continued to increase storage capacity and now offers 15 gigabytes of initial storage when you sign up for a new account!
Google also broke with tradition by offering an interface that organizes messages into threads, and while you can still break these threads into individual messages (we’ll talk about this later), it immediately made for a much cleaner inbox.
Also, Gmail tread new ground by completely doing away with old school folders. Instead, users could now apply “labels,” as many as they needed, and thus filter their messages without ever filing it away in a folder. While the labels appear to do the same thing as folders, they’re actually far more versatile as we’ll find out later in Lesson 3.
Why Should You Use Gmail?
Let’s talk a bit more about Gmail’s best features and why, if you’re not already using Gmail, you might consider starting.
Gmail Provides Plenty of Storage
Gmail provides over 15 GB of free storage, which allows you to save all your messages for future reference. NOTE: This 15 GB is shared with Google Drive and Google+ Photos.
Best of all, Google is always increasing your account’s storage capacity, so you don’t need to worry about running out of space, and if you do, you can always purchase more!
Conversations in Emails are Organized into Threads
Emails are automatically grouped according to subject line. When you receive a reply to a message, all previous related messages are displayed in a collapsible vertical thread, making it easy to see the entire conversation and review what has been discussed previously.
We will discuss the conversation view thoroughly, later in Lesson 2.
Thorough Malware and Virus-Checking Features
Gmail constantly updates its anti-malware and anti-virus scanners to give you the most up-to-date protection possible.
File attachments are saved on Google’s servers, but if malware or a virus makes it through in a message, Gmail displays a warning and immediately quarantines the offending message.
You cannot turn the virus filtering off, and it does prevent you from sending an executable (.exe) file as an attachment. If you really need to send anything like an .exe file, you will first need to place it in a container such as a .zip or .rar file.
Excellent Spam Filtering
Gmail has some pretty excellent spam filtering, stray messages do get through occasionally but for the most part, you’re unlikely to see messages you don’t want to see.
Gmail in a Browser
We want to begin by touring the Gmail interfaces you will encounter. We’ll start with the web browser, which most Gmail users will be immediately familiar with. You can access Gmail in any web browser, however, How-To Geek recommends Google Chrome, and that is the browser we use in this series.
In Lesson 2, we’ll continue by focusing on the mobile Android app.
Quickly and Easily Find Messages Using the Search Box
You can quickly find email messages using the power of Google Search, which is tied into your Gmail allowing for instant results. Simply enter your search criteria in the search field and click the blue button or hit “enter.”
Advanced search operators are query words or symbols that help you refine your search. They perform special actions that allow you to quickly and easily track down what you’re looking for (see Google’s Advanced Search help page for a list of the most useful operators).
For more search options, click the arrow on the search box.
A dialog box drops down allowing you to search for email messages based on “From,”, “To,” “Subject,” message content, attachments, and more.
Access Other Gmail Features Using the Mail Menu
Click the “Mail” menu to access other Gmail features like Google Contacts and Google Tasks.
Perform Common Actions on Your Messages Using the Action Buttons
Action buttons let you take actions on your messages. For example, you can use the buttons to label, delete, or mark one or more messages as spam. The action buttons are located under the search box and above your messages.
Some buttons like “Archive,” “Report spam,” and “Labels” are only available if you’ve selected one or more messages or opened a message.
The “Select” button allows you to quickly and easily select all or none of your messages, all read or unread messages, or all starred or unstarred messages. Click the arrow on the “Select” button to access the various options for selecting your messages.
To quickly select all your messages, click the empty check box on the “Select” button. When the check box on the “Select” button has a check in it, all your messages are selected. Clicking the check box on the “Select” button when it contains a check mark, quickly de-selects all your messages.
The “Archive” button allows you to remove messages from your inbox, but keep them in your Gmail account, for later reference. You can think of archiving like moving an important file on your desk into your filing cabinet rather than into the trash can.
If you have received any messages that seem to be spam, use the “Report spam” button to report this to Google. While Gmail’s spam filters works very well, they’re not perfect and errant messages do get through every now and then. This feature helps them get better at filtering out annoying, unwanted messages. To report a message as spam, select the check box next to the message in your inbox or open the message, then click the “Report spam” button on the toolbar.
If you (or Google) has accidentally marked a message as spam, you can recover it. Simply, click the “Spam” label in the list of labels on the left. Select the message that is not spam and click the “Not spam” button on the toolbar.
Remember, the more spam messages you report, the better Google gets at filtering out these unwanted messages.
Use the “Delete” button to move messages to the “Trash.” Messages in the “Trash” are permanently deleted automatically after 30 days. Once a message has been permanently deleted from “Trash,” it cannot be recovered.
To “undelete” a message, move the message, drag it to the “Inbox,” or another label. You can manually delete all the messages in the “Trash” by clicking the “Empty Trash now” link at the top of the list.
Gmail allows you to delete specific messages within a conversation thread. We will discuss this further in a later section.
The “Move to” button accesses a menu very similar to the “Labels” button discussed below. However, when you select one or more messages, click “Move to” and then select a label from the “Move to” menu. The selected message or messages are moved out of the “Inbox” into that label, like a folder.
The “Labels” button allows you to organize your messages into categories. They’re similar to folders, but they add an additional feature not available with folders: you can add more than one label to a message.
To add a label to a message, select the message, click the “Labels” button, and select a label from the list. The list does not close after you make a selection, so you can easily apply more than one label to a message.
Only you can see labels you apply to messages. So, you can mark a message with whatever label you want, such as “Read later,” and the sender of the message will never know.
Take Action on All Messages or Quickly Check Email
If you have no message selected or open, there are only three Action buttons available: “Select,” “Refresh,” and “More.”
The “Select” button (with the empty check box) offers the same options that it does when one or more messages are selected or a message is open.
Use the “Refresh” button (with the circular arrow) to check for new email.
When no messages are selected or open, the “More” button only allows you to mark all messages as read.
Display Text on Buttons Rather than Pictures
If you prefer to have text instead of icons on the “Action” buttons, you can change a setting to accomplish this.
Click the “Settings” gear button and select “Settings” from the drop-down menu. Scroll down to the “Button labels” section and select the “Text” option.
Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click “Save Changes.” All the “Action” buttons, except the “Select” button, change to display text instead of icons.
Quickly Move Through Your Messages Using the Newer and Older Buttons
If you have a lot of email messages in your inbox, you can use the “Newer” and “Older” buttons to move through your messages. These buttons are only active if you have a message open.
Communicate Internationally Using the Input Tools Button
Gmail provides many different virtual keyboards and IMEs (input method editors) you must turn on to use, allowing you to communicate in different languages using different keyboard layouts for improved international communication. IMEs allow you to use a Latin alphabet keyboard to convert your keystrokes to characters in another language.
The Transliteration input tool allows you to type languages phonetically in English letters, and they’ll display in their correct alphabet.
A Handwriting input tool is available that allows you to write words using your mouse or trackpad.
NOTE: Transliteration is different from translation. When using transliteration, you are only converting the sound of the words from one alphabet to the other, not the meaning.
Click the keyboard button to turn the Input tools on or off. Note that you can also press “Ctrl + Shift + K” to do this.
Clicking the down arrow on the right side of the keyboard button displays the input options, such as selecting a different keyboard layout, enabling a personal dictionary, and accessing the “Input Tools Settings.”
In Lesson 10, we will discuss the different types of input tools, show you how to turn the “Input Tools” on and off, and select specific input tools to be available on the menu.
Customize Gmail Using the Settings Button
Use the “Settings” gear button to define your display density setting (the space between messages and objects in Gmail), access other settings or themes, and get Gmail help.
We will discuss useful Gmail settings in Lesson 3.
Write and Send Emails Using the Compose Button
Use the Compose button in the upper, left corner of the main Gmail screen to write and send new emails. You can format your text, add images and links, and attach files. We will show you all the Compose features in Lesson 2.
Organize Your Inbox Using Default and Custom Labels
To the left of the Inbox is a list of labels. This list is similar to the list available from the “Labels” button, and just like the “Labels” button, it allows you to organize the messages in your inbox into categories.
Gmail comes with several default labels and you can add custom labels. The number in parentheses next to a label indicates the number of unread messages associated or tagged, with that label. Click a label link to display all messages associated with that label.
When you drag a message to a label, it’s similar to using the “Move to” button. The message is moved to that label and is removed from the inbox. However, you can also drag a label from the list to a message to associate it with that label. This allows you to drag multiple labels to a single message, unlike folders.
The “All Mail” label is your archive. Use this label to help reduce clutter in your inbox. Move messages you’ve read (but don’t want to delete) in your inbox to the “All Mail” label to archive the message. Messages in the “All Mail” label are never deleted (unless you delete them) and are always available by clicking the “All Mail” label link. When you use the “Search” box to find messages, the messages in the “All Mail” label are included in the search.
You can also assign different colors to your labels to quickly find messages at a glance in your inbox. Clicking the arrow to the right of a label allows you to access options for that label, such as changing the color. Use this menu to show or hide the label in the labels list or in the message list, to edit or remove a label, or add a sub-label to the label.
We’ll cover labels at great length in Lesson 3.
Read and Organize Your Messages in Your Inbox
Your inbox displays all email messages you’ve received and haven’t yet moved to a label or archived. By default, unread messages in your inbox have a white background and display in bold lettering while read messages have a gray background and normal type.
Everyone has their own distinct way of viewing and dealing with email. Gmail allows you to change your inbox style. Simply, click the arrow to the right of the Inbox label and select a different style from the drop-down menu.
The currently selected style is indicated with a check mark. Each style is described to the right of the menu as you move your mouse over the options.
Switching from one style to another does not affect the messages in your inbox, it only changes the order in which the messages are listed.
Indicate Important Messages Using Stars
Use stars in your inbox to mark certain messages as “Important.” For example, you can star messages that you need to reply to later. To star a message, simply click the star to the left of the sender’s name.
If you already have the message open, you can click the “More” button and select “Add star.”
You can add other types of stars, such as an exclamation point or a check mark by modifying the preference in settings. We will show you how to do this in Lesson 4.
Easily Spot Messages with Attachments or Calendar Invitations
Gmail informs you visually when a message contains an attachment or an invitation with an icon to the right of the subject line.
In the image below, we have an invitation to lunch (calendar icon) in one message, and an attachment (paperclip icon) on another.
Stay Connected with Hangouts
Google Hangouts allows you to send messages, photos, and make video calls with your friends and family. It’s available in Gmail below the list of labels on the left.
We will briefly discuss Hangouts much later in Lesson 8.
Overview of the Course
For the remainder of this series, we will concentrate on nine key areas:
Lesson 2: The Mobile App, Composing Mail, and Conversations
We finish our tour of the Gmail interface by going into the mobile app. Then we cover how to compose emails including replying to and forwarding. Finally, we will introduce you to the conversation view, how to disable it, and how to delete a single message from a conversation.
Lesson 3 – Inbox Management and Labels
In Lesson 3 we move on to inbox management such as how to automatically categorize you inbox message and organize your messages with different inbox styles. Afterward, we dig into mail labels.
Lesson 4 – Mail Filters and the Star System
Lesson 4 begins with a discussion on how to filter your labeled mail, including how to easily import and export existing filters into other Gmail accounts. We wind up the lesson by focusing on the star systems, which allows you to mark various email messages with different color stars, making messages easier to find and group.
Lesson 5 – Attachments, Signatures, and Security
If you’ve ever wanted to include a signature at the end of each message, then you’ll find out how to do that in Lesson 5. We also touch briefly on Gmail’s attachment functionality and we’ll wrap the lesson up with coverage on how to change your password, add two-level security, and back up your data.
Lesson 6 – Invitations and Vacation Responders
In Lesson 6, we cover invitations – how to find, respond, and insert them into Gmail messages. Wrapping up, we explain how vacation responders work and how to use them effectively when you’re away from the office.
Lesson 7 – Use Gmail as a Task List
Lesson 7 is devoted solely to using Gmail as a task list – adding, creating, renaming, and just about anything else task list related.
Lesson 8 – Multiple Accounts, Keyboard Shortcuts, Hangouts
Here we cover Google Hangouts (formally Gtalk), which will allow you to easily chat with any other Gmail user, or create a group chat (Hangout), with multiple users. Then we jump into using and managing multiple accounts, how to sign out of Gmail remotely, and finally a brief introduction to using Gmail with a keyboard.
Lesson 9 – Use Your Gmail Account to Access Other Accounts and Working Offline
If you have other email accounts, you can access them through your Gmail, allowing you to consolidate all your accounts into one. You can also use Gmail offline in case you don’t have reliable Internet access, such as if you’re traveling or in a remote area.
Lesson 10 – Power Tips and Gmail Labs
We close the series out by taking you through some various remaining power tips and introducing you to Gmail Labs, which will let you extend the power and functionality of Gmail far beyond the basic, default user interface.
Lori KaufmanLori Kaufman is a technology expert with 25 years of experience. She”s been a senior technical writer, worked as a programmer, and has even run her own multi-location business. Read Full Bio »