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THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO GMAIL / HOW-TO GEEK SCHOOL

How-To Geek

Lesson 4: Mail Filters and the Star System

Gmail Guide 4

Today’s Geek School lesson will broaden our discussion of labels in Gmail to include filters, and then move onto tracking important emails with stars.

Labels are great but they can be used much more effectively by incorporating filters, so that messages that arrive meeting certain criteria automatically have a label or labels applied. This helps greatly with organization and can greatly reduce inbox chaos.

Create a New Filter Using the Search Box

To create a new filter, we will specify search options in the “Search” box and create a filter from the search. To do this, click the down arrow on the “Search” box.

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Enter your search criteria in the search options box. You can choose to search for messages from a specific person or an entire domain (@example.com), with certain words in the subject, as well as other conditions.

To create a filter based on this search, click the “Create filter with this search” link.

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The filter options display. Select the check boxes that indicate what you want to do with messages that match the search criteria.

For example, we selected to always mark messages that come in from the specified email address with the “HTG School” label and to always mark those messages as “important”. We also decided to apply the filter to all existing emails from this person.

NOTE: If you want to have your labels act like folders, you can select “Skip the Inbox (Archive it)” to automatically move emails into labels as they arrive. This keeps your emails more organized, though you may risk missing an important message because it won’t appear automatically in your inbox.

Once you have specified your filter criteria, click “Create filter”.

NOTE: When you choose to forward a message as an action in a filter, only new messages will be affected. Any existing messages to which the filter applies will not be forwarded.

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A message displays saying that your filter was created. Notice in that screenshot, all messages from that person are labeled with the “HTG School” label.

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The messages were also marked as important automatically (the tag icons to the left of the senders are filled in with yellow).

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Create a New Filter Using the Settings Screen

You can also create a filter in the “Settings”.

Access the “Settings” screen as previously described and click the “Filters” link at the top.

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Click the “Create a new filter” link.

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Specify your search and filter criteria the same way mentioned in the previous method and click “Create filter” on the filter options dialog.

Instead of ending up back in your inbox, you are returned to the “Filters” screen and your new filter is listed. You can edit, delete, or select it to be exported (exporting filters will be discussed later in this lesson).

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Click the “Inbox” label to return to your inbox.

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Use a Specific Message to Create a New Filter

You can also create a filter based on an existing message. To do this, select a message in your message list or in a label.

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Click the “More” action button and select “Filter messages like these” from the drop-down menu.

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Notice that the “From” field on the “Filter” dialog is automatically filled in. Enter any other filter criteria you want and click “Create filter with this search”.

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Specify your filter criteria by selecting filter options on the next dialog as described earlier.

NOTE: You can use this method to set up filters to automatically delete unwanted emails as you receive them.

Apply the Same Filter to Many Senders

You can use one filter to manage messages from a number of different email addresses. For example, we can specify to label messages from multiple people with the “HTG School” label. To do this, open the search options dialog using the down arrow on the “Search” box.

Add each email address in the “From” field, separated with the word “OR”, and click “Create filter with this search”.

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To apply the same label to messages from either of these email addresses, select the “Apply the label” check box and select the desired label from the popup list. Apply any other actions for this filter and click “Create filter”.

NOTE: Remember to select “Also apply filter to matching conversations” check box if you want to apply this filter to messages you’ve already received from these two email addresses.

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Export and Import Filters

Now that you’ve learned how to set up filters, you’ve probably created some very useful filters that you may want to use in other Gmail accounts. You can export filters from one account and import them into another.

Export a Filter

To export a filter, first access the “Filters” screen on the “Settings” screen (using the “Settings” gear button). Then, select the filter you want to export in the list and click “Export”.

NOTE: You can select multiple filters to export at once.

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On the “Save As” dialog box, navigate where you want to save the filter. The filter is saved as an XML file with a default name that you can change if you want, just be sure to leave the extension as .xml and click “Save”.

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Now you have a file you can backup, transfer to another computer, share with a friend, or import into another Gmail account.

Import a Filter

To import a filter into your Gmail account, access the “Filters” on the “Settings” screen, and click the “Import filters” link.

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Under “Import Filters”, click “Choose File”.

NOTE: If you change your mind about importing the filter, click the “Cancel import” link.

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On the “Open” dialog box, navigate to the location where you saved your exported filter. Select the file and click “Open”.

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The file name is listed next to the “Choose File” button. Click “Open File” to open the file and import the filters in it.

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A message displays under the “Search” box while the filter file is being opened. This may take a while, depending on how many filters are in the file.

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All filters in the selected file are listed under “Import Filters”. Select the filters you want to import. If you want to apply the imported filters to existing email messages (just like you would when creating a new filter), select the “Apply new filters to existing mail” checkbox, and click “Create filters”.

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A dialog box displays showing progress of the filter creation process. You can cancel the creation of the filters by clicking “Stop”.

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When the filters have been created, they display in your list on the “Filters” screen.

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Keep Track of Important Emails Using the Star System

Gmail’s star system allows you to mark your most important emails so you can easily find them later. By default, starred messages are labeled with a yellow star, but you can add other color and types of stars.

Stars display to the left of the sender’s name in your inbox.

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Add a Star to a Message

To add a star to a message in your inbox, click the star icon next to the sender’s name, as pictured above.

You can also add a star to a message while it’s open. To do this, click the star icon in the upper-right corner of the message to the right of the date. In conversations, it will be to the right of the first message at the top of the conversation.

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To add a star to a message you are composing, click the “More options” arrow in the lower-right corner of the “Compose” window.

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Move your mouse over the “Label” option and then select “Add star” from the submenu.

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In your “Sent Mail” label, the message you sent is starred.

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Use Multiple Star Designs on Your Messages

Gmail allows you to use multiple colors and types of “stars” to differentiate messages from one another.

This feature is useful if you want to mark multiple messages with varying levels of importance. For example, you might use a purple star for messages you want to read again and a red exclamation point for messages you need to follow up on.

Click the “Settings” button and select “Settings” from the drop-down menu. On the “General” tab, scroll down to the “Stars” section. Drag icons from the “Not in use” section to the “In use” section to add different types of stars. If you have more than one type of star in use, clicking the star icon next to an email message cycles through all the stars in use. If you star a message while it’s open, only the first star type is applied.

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Find Starred Messages

To see all your starred messages, click the “Starred” label on the left side of the main Gmail window. You can also search for starred messages by typing “is:starred” in the “Search” box.

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Find Messages with a Particular Type of Star

If you’ve used several different types of stars to mark your messages, you can search for a particular type of star. To do this, search using “has:” with the star’s name (e.g., “has:red-bang”).

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To find out the name of a particular star, access the “General” tab on the “Settings” screen and hover your mouse over the desired star type. The name of the star displays in a popup.

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There is also a list of star names in the Advanced search help topic in Gmail’s help.

Keep Starred Messages Out of the Primary Tab

If you organize your inbox using the configurable tabs mentioned earlier in this lesson, messages from other tabs that are marked with a star are also included in the “Primary” tab. If you don’t want to see starred messages from the other tabs on the “Primary” tab, you can turn this off.

Click the “+” icon to the right of the tabs.

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On the “Select tabs to enable” dialog box, deselect the “Include starred in Primary” checkbox, and click “Save”.

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Coming up Next …

We’re here now at the end of the Lesson 4 but already you’re well on your way to being a Gmail pro! In just four short days, you now know as much as you need to know to really make your inbox shine, and messages will now automatically find their way to their designated labels without filling up your inbox.

In the next lesson we’re going to talk about signatures and how to keep your profile secure and data backed up.

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 02/27/14

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