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THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO GMAIL / HOW-TO GEEK SCHOOL

How-To Geek

Lesson 2: The Mobile App, Composing Mail, and Conversations

Gmail Guide 2

In this lesson, we’ll continue our tour of Gmail interface by covering the Gmail app, specifically the Android version. Then we’ll finally get to the good stuff by showing you how to compose messages and how you can easily follow your messages with Gmail’s unique conversation view.

The Gmail Interface is easy to use and provides many useful and easily accessible features. You can check your Gmail almost anywhere (as long as you have a good data connection) using your mobile phone or tablet.

Let’s get to it by continuing with our tour of Gmail. Since Android is the most popular mobile phone operating system in the world, we will show you the Gmail interface on an Android phone.

A Tour of the Mobile App

By default, the Gmail app opens to your inbox.

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Change Accounts and Select Tabs and Labels

The “Gmail” menu, available by touching the Gmail icon in the upper, left corner of the screen, allows you to view your Gmail accounts, access the different tabs in your inbox, and view messages by label.

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Change Settings, Refresh Your Inbox, and Get Help

Pressing the menu button on your phone allows you to change general and label settings, refresh your inbox to make sure you get new messages, send feedback, and get help.

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The “Settings” screen allows you to change general settings for Gmail and settings specific to each account you have setup on your phone.

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Touch “General settings” to open a screen that allows you to specify various settings that apply to all Gmail accounts.

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Once you make your changes, press the “Back” button on your phone to return to the “Settings” screen. To return to the inbox, press the “Back” button again.

To change settings for a specific Gmail account, touch the email address for the desired account on the main “Settings” screen. On the settings screen for the selected Gmail account, you can change settings such as the “Inbox type”, the “Signature”, and the “Vacation responder”.

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Touch the “Label settings” option on the menu accessed from the “Menu” button on your phone to change settings for the currently selected label. Labels are selected using the “Gmail” menu, discussed earlier.

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Compose Email in Gmail Mobile

Composing email in Gmail on your Android phone is easy. Simply touch the envelope button with the plus sign at the top of the screen.

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Then enter the “To” email address, the subject line, and the body of your email, just like you would in a browser.

If you’ve setup a signature (covered in Lesson 5), it’s automatically inserted into the body of your message. Touch the arrow in the upper, right corner of the screen to send the email.

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Easily Search Through Your Gmail Messages

While you can organize your emails using labels and filters (discussed in Lesson 3 and Lesson 4) to make it easy to find email messages, if you need to quickly find a specific email you can search through all your Gmail messages using keywords. Simply touch the magnifying glass icon in the upper-right corner of the screen.

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Enter your search term and touch the magnifying glass on the on-screen keyboard to perform the search. Suggestions display as you type.

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That should give you a pretty good idea of the app interface. It’s actually very easy to use (as it should be) and if you’re familiar with Gmail and Android, then you should have little trouble to using it daily.

Let’s continue now by introducing you to actually composing an email message and then move on to the conversation view in Gmail, and how it is different from more traditional email interfaces.

Compose an Email Message in Gmail

Of course, one of the main purposes of email is to send people messages and we don’t want to go any further without covering it. The “Compose” feature in Gmail in a browser is easy to use and has many useful options.

To compose a new email message in Gmail in a browser, click the red “Compose” button in the upper-left corner of the Gmail screen.

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The “New Message” window displays at the bottom of the browser window. While this window is open, you can access your messages in your inbox behind the window, so you can refer to other messages while writing the new one.

To add a recipient, click in the “To” field. If the recipient is in your address book, start typing the name of the recipient to display matching contacts. Click on a contact in the list of the results to insert that person as a recipient. If you are sending the email to someone not in your contact list, type the full email address in the “To” field. You can add multiple recipients in the “To” field.

Click “Cc” and “Bcc” to add recipients you want to “carbon copy” or “blind carbon copy”.

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Click in the “Subject” line and enter a short description for your email. Then, enter the main text for your email in the body of the message below the subject.

Gmail allows you to apply some basic formatting to the text in the body of your email, such as different fonts and sizes, bold, italic, text color, and bulleted and numbered lists. To access the formatting toolbar, click the “Formatting options” button at the bottom of the “Compose” window.

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Another toolbar displays above the bottom toolbar with options for formatting and aligning your text.

To hide the formatting toolbar, click the “Formatting options” button again.

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You can also easily undo formatting you have applied. Highlight the text for which you want to remove the formatting. Click the “More formatting options” down arrow on the right side of the formatting toolbar.

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The “Remove formatting” button displays. Click it to remove the formatting from the selected text.

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The plus sign at the bottom of the “Compose” window provides options for inserting files, photos, links, emoticons, and invitations.

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Move your mouse over the plus sign to expand the toolbar and gain access to these additional features. Hover over each button for a description of what each one does.

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The “Attach files” (paperclip) button at the bottom of the “Compose” window allows you to add attachments to your message. If you forget to add your attachment, then Gmail will likely remind you (we will cover attachments in Lesson 5).

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There are additional options available by clicking the “More options” down arrow on the right side of the main toolbar.

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Using the “More options” menu, you can apply labels to the current message, switch to “Plain text mode”, “Print” the message, and “Check spelling” in the body of your message. You can also choose the “Default to full-screen” option that will open the “Compose” window full-screen every time (starting the next time you compose a new email).

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If you need to refer to another email before finishing your message, you can minimize the “Compose” window and access the messages in your inbox and other labels. To minimize the “Compose” window click on the title bar of the window.

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The window shrinks to only display the title bar at the bottom of the Gmail screen. Click the title bar again to open the “Compose” window to the normal size again.

NOTE: Gmail allows you to compose more than one email at a time. Simply click the “Compose” button again to open another “Compose” window. Depending on the size of your monitor, Gmail may place multiple “Compose” windows on top of each other. This is when minimizing “Compose” windows can come in useful. The title bar shrinks when minimized, so more “Compose” windows can fit across the screen. The subject line displays in the title bar of each window, so you can tell which message is which.

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The “Minimize” button in the upper-right corner of the “Compose” window does the same thing as clicking on the title bar. When the window is minimized, the “Minimize” button becomes the “Maximize” button, allowing you to return the window to the normal size.

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If you have not chosen to default to full-screen, you can choose to do so for the current message you are composing. To expand the “Compose” window to full-screen, click the “Full-screen” button in the upper-right corner of the “Compose” window.

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The “Compose” window expands. To return it to normal size, click the “Exit full-screen” button, which replaced the “Full-screen” button.

NOTE: You can also use the same button (“Full-screen” or “Exit full-screen”) to “pop-out” the “Compose” window, or make it a separate window. To do this, press and hold the “Shift” key and then click the “Full-screen” or “Exit full-screen” button.

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A separate window like the following displays. To return the “Compose” window to the normal window attached to the browser window, click the “Pop-in” button on the right side of the subject line on the popped out window.

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If you want to abandon your message at any time, you can click the “Discard draft” button (trash can) in the bottom-right corner of the compose window.

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As you write a message, Gmail automatically saves a draft of it. If you want to close the draft and come back to it later, click the “Save & Close” (“X”) button in the upper-right corner of the “Compose” window.

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Drafts are stored under the “Drafts” label. A number in parenthesis next to the label indicates how many drafts you currently have.

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Click the “Drafts” label to view your email drafts. You can discard drafts from within the “Drafts” label. To clean out unwanted or old drafts, use the check boxes to the left of the messages or the “Select” button on the left side of the toolbar (see Lesson 1) to select all or certain drafts and click “Discard drafts”. You can also move drafts to the inbox, assign labels to drafts, and perform other actions from the “More” menu.

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Finally, when your message is ready to send, simply click the “Send” button.

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Reply to and Forward Messages

Replying to messages received in Gmail is easy. Simply select “Reply” from the arrow button menu in the upper-right corner of an open message.

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You can also reply by clicking the “Reply” link at the end of the message.

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Forwarding messages can be accomplished in the same manner as replying to messages.

Gmail allows you to change the subject line when replying to or forwarding a message. To do this, click the arrow button next to the recipient’s name and select “Edit subject” from drop-down menu.

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Easily Follow Replies to Emails with Conversation View

As you send and receive messages, emails are grouped automatically according to their subject line. This creates conversations or threads. Replies to a message are grouped and displayed with the original message.

When you receive a reply to a message, all previous related messages are displayed for your reference in a collapsible thread. This allows you to quickly refer to what has been discussed before, rather than spending time searching through previous messages for what you wrote weeks, months, or even years ago. This is invaluable if you communicate with many people through email and need to keep track of the details of each conversation.

A conversation in your inbox is indicated with a number in parentheses, which tells you how many messages are currently in that conversation.

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View All Messages in a Conversations at Once

When you open a conversation, all the related messages are stacked, with the latest reply in front. To see the original message and all replies at once, click “Expand all” at the top of the messages.

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NOTE: A conversation breaks off into a new thread if it reaches over 100 messages or if the subject line of the conversation is changed.

Enable and Disable Conversation View

If you don’t like the conversation view, you can turn it off. To do this, click the “Settings” gear button and select “Settings” from the drop-down menu.

NOTE: Throughout this lesson and subsequent lessons in this series, we will refer to the “Settings” screen. This is the method used to access the “Settings” screen in all cases.

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On the “General” tab on the “Settings” screen, scroll down to the “Conversation View” section. Select the “Conversation view off” option to turn off the feature.

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Scroll down to the bottom of the “Settings” screen and click “Save Changes”.

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With conversation view off, replies to messages will display as individual messages in your inbox.

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Delete a Single Message in a Conversation

You can delete a specific message in a conversation, even with “Conversation View” on.

To do this, open the conversation and click on the message in the stacked list that you want to delete. Then, click on the arrow on the “Reply” button and select “Delete this message” from the drop-down menu. The remaining messages in the conversation are unaffected.

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That should give you a full appreciation of Gmail’s default conversation view, how to disable it, and delete a single message.

Coming up Next …

That concludes our second lesson in this How-To Geek School series. You should have a broad appreciation for the Gmail interface, both the browser and mobile app. You should also feel comfortable now jumping in and composing, replying, and forwarding messages. And, we hope you feel comfortable using Gmail’s conversation view but at least you now know how to turn it off!

In the next lesson, we’re going to pore over inbox management such as how to categorize your inbox using configurable tabs, organize your inbox using styles and settings, and finally, we begin a lengthy exploration of labels, specifically how to create, apply and filter messages using them.

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 02/25/14

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