How-To Geek

Sort Your Emails by Conversation in Outlook

Do you prefer the way Gmail sorts your emails by conversation?  Here’s how you can use this handy feature in Outlook too.

One cool feature in Outlook is the ability to sort and link your emails by conversation.  This makes it easier to know what has been discussed in emails, and helps you keep your inbox more tidy.  Some users don’t like their emails linked into conversations, and in the final release of Outlook it is turned off by default.  Since this is a new feature, new users may overlook it and never know it’s available.  Here’s how you can enable conversation view and keep your email conversations accessible and streamlined.

Activate Conversation View

By default, your inbox in Outlook will look much like it always has in Outlook…a list of individual emails.


To view your emails by conversation, select the View tab and check the Show as Conversations box on the top left.


Alternately, click on the Arrange By tab above your emails, and select Show as Conversations.


Outlook will ask if you want to activate conversation view in only this folder or all folders.  Choose All folders to view all emails in Outlook in conversations.


Outlook will now resort your inbox, linking emails in the same conversation together.  Individual emails that don’t belong to a conversation will look the same as before, while conversations will have a white triangle carrot on the top left of the message title.  Select the message to read the latest email in the conversation.


Or, click the triangle to see all of the messages in the conversation.  Now you can select and read any one of them.


Most email programs and services include the previous email in the body of an email when you reply.  Outlook can recognize these previous messages as well.  You can navigate between older and newer messages from popup Next and Previous buttons that appear when you hover over the older email’s header.  This works both in the standard Outlook preview pane and when you open an email in its own window.


Edit Conversation View Settings

Back in the Outlook View tab, you can tweak your conversation view to work the way you want.  You can choose to have Outlook Always Expand Conversations, Show Senders Above the Subject, and to Use Classic Indented View.  By default, Outlook will show messages from other folders in the conversation, which is generally helpful; however, if you don’t like this, you can uncheck it here.  All of these settings will stay the same across all of your Outlook accounts.


If you choose Indented View, it will show the title on the top and then an indented message entry underneath showing the name of the sender.


The Show Senders Above the Subject view makes it more obvious who the email is from and who else is active in the conversation.  This is especially useful if you usually only email certain people about certain topics, making the subject lines less relevant.


Or, if you decide you don’t care for conversation view, you can turn it off by unchecking the box in the View tab as above.


Although it may take new users some time to get used to, conversation view can be very helpful in keeping your inbox organized and letting important emails stay together.  If you’re a Gmail user syncing your email account with Outlook, you may find this useful as it makes Outlook work more like Gmail, even when offline.

If you’d like to sync your Gmail account with Outlook, check out our article on syncing it with IMAP.

Matthew digs up tasty bytes about Windows, Virtualization, and the cloud, and serves them up for all to enjoy!

  • Published 05/26/10

Comments (19)

  1. Robert

    There is definitely more benefits to conversation view than the article shows. For example, you can delete all of the emails in the conversation at once. A nice fast way to clean up your email!

  2. Matthew Guay

    @Robert – Very true – in fact, that’s one of the things I like most about conversation view, I just forgot to mention it :)

  3. blink4blog

    How do Outlook 2007 achieve the same view as this article? I believe not everyone can afford Outlook 2010 :P

  4. Matthew Guay

    @blink4blog – One option is to install the Xobni Free plugin, which lets you view your emails by conversation in the Xobni sidebar. Check out our review at

  5. Mike

    I’ve noticed that for some reason, some messages are orphaned from the conversation. I have not figured out why, but is there a way you know of to add a message into a conversation?

  6. tomax7

    Another bug, Outlook 2010 will not sort or sometimes needs to close and reopen to do a sort.

  7. jack

    “Outlook 2010 can recognize these previous messages as well. You can navigate between older and newer messages from popup Next and Previous buttons that appear when you hover over the older email’s header.”


    How do you get rid of it!!!!!!????

  8. Liz Woy

    I’ve had Outlook 2010 for about four weeks and adjusting to it from Express is really difficult. For instance, all I want to do is find an email in my inbox. I don’t know from beans about conversations, etc. What would be a way to carry out a plain and simple “Find”?

    A real problem is that I don’t even know the new lingo enough to type a question in the Help box. I need a glossary so I know the right words to use.

    I’m a genuine know-nothing. I like the challenge but it seems mostly hopeless. Do you think being 74-years-old is the problem? Hope not!

  9. marek.

    blink4blog > you can use search folders in previous versions of outlook. Create a search folder including Inbox and Sent, then create custom view. I am sure you will figure out the details (sorting and grouping settings of the View of the search folder)

  10. Sarath

    Very helpful view so to organize especially working in a corporate environment. Thank you very much for making it clear & concise

  11. Andrew

    Does anyone know how to make Outlook *correctly* follow conversations? Unfortunately, its habit of liking messages by subject is worthless. It routinely links unrelated messages because we have several clients who like to give their messages titles like “Update” or “Question”. We also have clients who like to change the subject mid-conversation. Email messages have headers in them specifically designed to link them into conversations (for the geeks among us, they are called “Message-ID”, “In-Reply-To”, and “References”). These headers are not new; they have been used for decades. *Every* other email client that supports conversations does so using these fields, not subject. Outlook correctly fills these headers, so why doesn’t it use them?!

  12. Petros

    Andrew you’re absolutely right! This is an Outlook’s failure! GMAIL is far better concerning conversation threading

  13. Indirection

    Thanks for pointing that out Andrew.

    Thanks for writing the article Matthew, the issue that Andrew is annoying and now I know I’m not crazy (I think).

  14. Ruben

    The mails you can’t see, are they in RTF or HTML format?

    Please let me know

  15. Troubled

    Funny that the most obvious possible pitfall of this Conversation grouping function was not addressed by Outlook:


    This has happened to me and is wreaking havoc in my inbox at work. I’m in need of a fix – quick!
    Is there any way to adjust the SETTINGS/RULES whereby Outlook (i’m using Outlook 2011 for Mac) groups Conversations – like adding the extra sorting parameter of the “to” and “from” fields WHEN two conversations share the same contents in their Subject field?

    Alternatively: Can I rename all the subjects in a given Conversation in my inbox?
    Then, supposing this is somehow magically possible, could I configure Outlook to add all new messages from senders still using the old subject line to the renamed Conversation?

  16. Victor

    Thank you so much this has helped me out so much iw as stuck on coversation and didnt know how to get rid of it.
    Thanks again


  17. Martin Meadows

    My own problem with cleaning up conversations is that the feature only seems to work with current email. If the conversation occurred today … it works. If I try to clean up conversations from any other day it fails … with no error message for feedback. Is there some setting I can change to correct this?

  18. H

    When I set this up on my outlook, my messages that are from others are no longing saying “re:” in the subject line-any fixes for this? Thanks!

  19. Tod

    How do you turn off the conversations when using the advanced find. I don’t like it. I have turned off the conversations in all of my folders, but it keeps defaulting in the Advanced Find. Help!

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