Gmail For Beginners
Aside from their search engine, Gmail was the first Google product I became enamored with and has become a fundamental part of my daily workflow. It’s convenient, fast, flexible and powerful, and after years of use, it is painful to even think about relying on another application for my email needs.
While it has millions of users, there are many people that are still content with comparable offerings from Microsoft, AOL (yikes!!) and Yahoo. As Google continually expands their offerings and branches out into new areas (i.e., Google+), more people may wish to try something different.
If you think you may be one of these people, this post is for you.
Online email solutions have much more in common than they do apart. The differences, while initially disorienting, are often due to the fact that the same elements are organized in a new way and may be implemented with unfamiliar names.
Upon first inspection, the Gmail inbox appears like any other inbox. There is a row of messages with obligatory information (e.g., sender, subject line, date received). Then, things get interesting. Towards the left of each message, there are several elements you should be aware of.
First, there is a stack of gray dots. When you click and hold these dots with your input device, you can drag your messages into the left column. Why would you want to do that? Patience.
Next, there is the checkbox. This is used when you wish to perform an action on a message(s) using the toolbar at the top of your inbox. Then, there are the stars. When you click a star, the message becomes more conspicuous and is added to your Starred list in the left column.
To view a message, simply click anywhere on the message line starting from the Subject towards the right side of your window.
Utilizing The Left Column
The left side of your window contains the Gmail sidebar. This area divides your emails into useful sections. Inbox is where you can find your new mail messages. Starred, as previously mentioned, contains all the messages you deemed important enough to highlight. Important is a new section that contains messages that Google automatically categorizes (based on your usage) as priority. The more you use Gmail, the better this functionality should become. To facilitate this automated process, you can manually mark a message as important/unimportant by clicking the checkbox next to a message(s) and selecting the gold plus sign/white minus sign on the top toolbar.
Towards the bottom of the Gmail sidebar, you will see categories, which, in Gmail, are referred to as Labels. These are extremely useful, can be created/modified at will, and are used to organize your messages. A proper discussion of Labels is beyond the scope of an introductory article, and will be elaborated upon in future Gmail posts.
Tip: Labels = Folders
Below your Labels, you may see an item that has a number followed by more. This indicates that you have more Labels and that you can make them visible by clicking the drop-down arrow. If you want to see which messages got caught in Gmail’s Spam filter, or you need to access archived messages through All Mail, this is the place to go.
Manipulating Individual Messages
Once you click on a message, there are a variety of tasks you can perform. First, let’s focus on the toolbar at the top of your message.
Archiving is a way for you to put attended to messages away for safe keeping. Once you archive an item, it is removed from your inbox, but NOT deleted. If you ever run a search query, and the message contains relevant terms, it will show up in your search results. Alternatively, if you’d like to browse your old messages, you can access them through the All Mail Label, as previously described.
Caveat: Although you may be tempted to delete an email once you’re done with it, it is really best to archive it. You never know if the message contains information that may be useful in the future, so, since Google is giving you a voluminous amount of storage space (which is increasing all the time), it might be best to hold onto your messages for safekeeping.
Spam is pretty self-explanatory. If a message gets caught in Gmail’s spam filter, it will be placed in your spam folder. Furthermore, if the filter misses an item, you can manually mark a message as spam with this button. If you find a legitimate message that is not spam while perusing your spam folder, you also have the option to declare it as valid, via a little drop-down link below the Gmail toolbar.
Delete is analogous to when you delete a file on your computer. Once you click this button, the message(s) you selected will be moved to the Trash, which can be accessed via the “X more…” option in the left column. Eventually, the trash will be emptied and these messages will be permanently removed.
The Move to button in the Gmail toolbar is a substantive feature of Gmail and is most likely something you will become familiar with. Simultaneously, this button performs two important functions for a message: (1) assigns a label and (2) archives it. Once these functions are performed, you have a variety of ways of accessing these messages in the future, including:
- Clicking on the Label you assigned to the message
- Going to All Mail
- Running a search
To add a label to a message without removing it from your inbox, use the contiguous Label button, instead.
The More button allows you to perform a variety of actions, including marking an item as unread, forwarding it and adding a star.
In the upper-right hand corner of your message, you will see the Reply button and an adjacent downward arrow, which brings up the Reply menu. If you just click Reply, you can immediately reply to the sender. If you select the downward arrow, you will be presented with additional options, e.g., reply all, forwarding or printing the message, as well as add the sender to your contacts.
Not bad, right? Although it may seem a little much, at first, for an email client, I promise that after a few weeks of use, you’ll be on your way towards being a Gmail pro. Give it a try, today.