Gmail for Beginners, Part 2 – Finding and Reading emails

If you missed Part 1, Getting Started, you can find it here.

Finding your emails

In the past, when you received emails they would all be lumped into one place – the Inbox. From there, you, the user, would have to sort through all kinds of unwanted emails to find the few gems, i.e. the  ones from friends, family, work or personal interests. Then spam filters came along, whisking away the most obvious ‘junk’, but this still left your inbox full of things that were not quite junk – like newsletters that you might read once in a blue moon, or notifications from online retailers confirming things you had bought, or advertising material from websites you once visited – but not high priority either. And you still had to sort through it all yourself.

Now, Gmail has attempted to change all that by automating the sorting process. Instead of lumping everything into the one Inbox, it automatically sorts incoming email into preset categories which are then displayed in separate pages called ‘tabs’.

But what are tabs?

gmail cardboard tabsLike the cardboard dividers in a physical folder, Gmail tabs organize information into logical groups, but unlike ordinary dividers, you do not have to lift a finger.

In the example shown below, the three welcome emails from the Gmail Team are located in a tab called ‘Primary’. The other two tabs shown are Social and Promotions respectively:

gmail the middle bit

Unfortunately, the tabs are not that easy to see when you do not know what you are looking at. To make them stand out a bit more, I have outlined the Primary and Social tabs as shown:

gmail tab appearance 1

gmail social tab

To move from tab to tab, simply click on the name.

What is in each tab?

Although only three tabs are shown, there are in fact five Gmail tabs – Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates and Forum.

Forum contains emails from online groups, discussion boards and mailing lists.

Updates contains emails that may include confirmations, receipts, bills and statements.

Promotions contains emails from commercial websites you have visited. It can also include paid advertisements.

Social contains email notifications from social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter etc.

Primary contains emails from friends and family etc., as well as anything that does not belong to any of the other tabs.

How can I see the other tabs?

By default, only the Primary, Social and Promotions tabs are displayed when you first start using Gmail, but it is very easy to change which tabs you see. You can even choose to see all of them at once.

To change which tabs you see, click on the small + sign to the right of the last tab:

gmail tabs display moreYou should now see the pop-up window shown below:

gmail tabs display more B

Customising the Gmail tabs

As you can see, only three of the five tabs have been ticked, but you could have all five displayed at once. If you did, Gmail would automatically sort all incoming emails into those five categories, and you would not see those emails unless you opened the relevant tab.

This level of automation would certainly make your Primary tab less cluttered, but it would also mean that bills and other important notifications would be hidden away in the Updates tab – out of sight and out of mind. If you forgot to check that tab regularly, you could easily miss paying an important bill. Of course, having all your bills grouped in the one location might also make them easier to pay.

At the other end of the scale, if you de-selected every tab except Primary [which cannot be de-selected], Gmail would stop sorting your emails entirely. Instead, every incoming email would be displayed in the Primary tab. Now, this might not sound too bad when you receive only a few emails each day, but when the flood of promotional material finally begins, important emails could easily get lost, hidden in full view like a needle in a haystack.

Luckily, the Gmail tabs do not have to be all or nothing. You could, for example, select only the Promotions tab. This would mean that all advertising material would be taken out of the Primary tab and placed in the Promotions tab where you could read it or ignore it with impunity. Everything else would be displayed in your Primary tab.

This solution would be perfect for those who know they are likely to forget to check the other tabs, or those who prefer to remain in control of their emails. Given the amount of promotional material that I receive every day, I would strongly recommend keeping the Promotions tab at the very least.

How to select or de-select a tab

To de-select one of the existing tabs, simply click inside the tickbox next to its name.

To select one of the other tabs, again, simply click inside the tickbox next to its name. The tickboxes toggle on and off like a light switch.

[Note: Starred emails are emails that you have manually marked as important in some way. There are no starred emails as yet, however if there were, they would appear in the Primary tab.]

Once you have selected which tabs to use, click the ‘Save’ button.

Reading emails

Now that you know where to find your emails, you can finally read them! gmail mouse pointer HANDPoint the mouse at the first email from the Gmail Team.When the mouse pointer changes to a ‘hand’, click the left mouse button. The email will open up as shown:

gmail email body all

The body of the email, i.e. the actual content, is in the middle of the screen. You can scroll up and down to read the entire email. But now what?

The two most important things you need to know after you read an email are:

– how to reply to it [detailed in Part 3], and

– how to get out of it so you can read the rest of your emails

How do I get out of an email?

gmail email body 2The easiest way of getting out of an email is to click the Inbox option on the navigation pane [shown with a big blue arrow next to it].

Or…you could click on the ‘Back to Inbox’ button [circled in red].

Either method will return you to the Primary tab where the email you have just read will be shown as grey. The remaining unread emails will still show as white.

Once all the emails have been read, they will look like this:

gmail emails all read

Despite showing as grey, all the emails are still active. They can be replied to and, amongst other things, they can be ‘starred’ to show they are important in some way. Starring also makes them more visible.

To mark an email with a star, simply click the small, empty star shape next to the entry for that email:

gmail email unstarred

The first screenshot below shows the same email after it has been starred. The second shows all the emails in the Primary tab, including the starred one:

gmail starred

gmail read and starred

Another way of looking at your starred emails [and only your starred emails] is to click the Starred option in the navigation pane to the left of your screen:

gmail starred only

The Starred option changes colour to red [to show it is the active option] and the tabs disappear. In their place you will see only a list of emails that have been starred. In this example there is only one starred email on display because we only marked one with a star. If we marked all three emails with stars, this is what the Starred list would look like:

gmail all starred only

To return to the normal, tabbed display, click on the Inbox option in the navigation pane.

In Part 3 we will look at:

  1. how to Reply to emails,
  2. how to save email addresses to Contacts, and
  3. how to do some very basic housekeeping.

You can find Part 3 here.



About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

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