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THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO GMAIL / HOW-TO GEEK SCHOOL

How-To Geek

Lesson 1: Getting to Know Gmail

Gmail Guide 1

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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A dialog box drops down allowing you to search for email messages based on “From,”, “To,” “Subject,” message content, attachments, and more.

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Access Other Gmail Features Using the Mail Menu

Click the “Mail” menu to access other Gmail features like Google Contacts and Google Tasks.

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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.

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clip_image013The “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.

clip_image014The “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.

clip_image015If 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.

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Remember, the more spam messages you report, the better Google gets at filtering out these unwanted messages.

clip_image018Use 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.

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Gmail allows you to delete specific messages within a conversation thread. We will discuss this further in a later section.

clip_image020The “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.

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clip_image022The “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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Lori Kaufman is a freelance technical writer who likes to write geeky how-to articles to help make people's lives easier through the use of technology. She loves watching and reading mysteries and is an avid Doctor Who fan.

  • Published 02/24/14

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