Gmail is great, but it can also be a little confusing if you've never really used it before. If you're just getting started with Gmail, we're here to help you out.Note: Just in case it isn't obvious, this guide is intended for beginners who are new to Gmail or just switched (like my mum — hi mum!). If you're looking for a more advanced guide, check this out.
While Gmail has its differences, it's pretty similar to most email interfaces you've used before. Many things that might seem confusing are often just organised in a new way and have names you may not recognise. Let's take a look at the most common things you'll use.
To get a full demonstration of everything you're about to read, be sure to watch the video above.
Understanding Your New Inbox
To the left, you'll see what the Gmail inbox looks like. (Click the image to enlarge it and get a closer look.) You have a row of messages and there are a few important elements to the left of each one. First, you'll see a stack of grey dots. When you click and hold down on those dots, you can drag those messages into the left column (which we'll talk about in the next section) to sort them. Next you have a checkbox. You can check many messages and use the toolbar above to sort those messages in bulk. (We'll talk about the toolbar later, as it pertains to single messages, but it works the same here as well.) After that you have stars. Clicking a star will star your message so it stands out in your inbox. When you click on a person's name or the title of the message in your inbox, Gmail will show you that specific message. (We'll talk more about specific messages later.)
Finding Emails Using the Left Column
The image to the right is your Gmail sidebar. This is where you can access the different sections of your Gmail account. Inbox is where you can always find your new email, just like anything else, but you'll also see some more options. Starred is a section that contains emails you give a star. You'll notice that to the right of this column you have a gray star beside each message. Clicking that gray star will mark a message as starred and it will show up in the Starred section. The Important section is also for important messages, but these are messages Gmail will determine are important as it gets to know you better. If Gmail notices you read and reply to lots of messages from a certain person, it'll assume that person is important and put emails from them in the important section. Just as with starred messages, they'll still show up in your inbox. If you want to tell Gmail a message is important, you can click the checkbox next to the message in your inbox and then click the gold plus sign on the toolbar up top. (We'll talk about the toolbar more in a little bit.)
Towards the bottom of this column you can see there are categories, such as "Personal" and "Travel". These categories are called Labels in Gmail and you can use them to sort your mail. You can always find any messages you add to a label in this section. (We'll talk about what labels are a bit later.)
Lastly, you'll see an option that says "6 More". The number may vary (it could say "12 More", for example), but this is where you click to see more labels and other mailbox viewing options. For example, if you want to see your Spam email you'd find that option here. You'll also find an option called "All Mail" which is where messages can be found after you archive them. (We'll discuss archiving in a minute.)
Interacting with Individual Messages
That's basically how the left column is structured and where you can find your messages, but in order to find any messages in those sections you're going to have to know how to put them there. Let's take a look at what you can do with individual messages.
Above you can see a Gmail message with all the options. Up top you can see your message toolbar, which is a row of buttons that perform actions you'll commonly perform. First let's talk about Archive, Spam and Delete.
Archiving a message is kind of like deleting it, but without getting rid of it forever. It'll move that message out of your inbox so you won't really see it, but you can still find it by going to the All Mail section (as we discussed previously) or by finding it in search. Because Gmail gives you so much space for your email messages, archiving is what you'll probably want to do instead of delete so you can always find that message if you need to some day.
Spam is what you click if you've received a spam message. This will put it in your spam folder. What's really great about Gmail is that when you mark it as spam, Google takes note. It keeps track of spam senders and it'll automatically mark messages from them as spam next time one is sent to you. It also remembers what other uses have marked as spam and uses that information to help you as well. When you mark messages as spam you're not just cleaning up your inbox, but helping to clean up the inboxes of all the other Gmail users out there as well.
Delete will delete a message permanently — sort of. When you delete a message it'll end up in your trash, which can be accessed via the "X More..." option in the left column. Eventually messages in the trash will get deleted forever, but not immediately. If you accidentally delete something you can just go rummaging through the trash and move it back to your inbox.
Speaking of moving, you'll notice a "Move to" option up top as well. Clicking on that will let you select a label (Gmail's name for message categories, as previously discussed) so you can label your message. In addition to adding that label, this action will also archive your message. While it won't show up in your inbox anymore, it will show up when you click on the label's name in the left column. This makes it easy to organise your messages by type.
If you just want to add a label but leave the message in your inbox, the "Labels" option will do that for you. It looks just the same as the Move to option but doesn't archive messages.
For an in-depth look at labels, how they work, and how to add new ones, be sure to watch the video at the top of this guide.
The "More" option will let you perform various tasks with your message. For example, this is where you can mark it as unread, add a star, forward it, and — of course — more. You'll find some more complex options in this menu, but you can avoid them for now if you don't know what they do.
In the upper-right corner of your message you'll see a "Reply" button and a downward facing arrow, which brings up the reply menu. If you just click reply, it'll reply to the sender of the message. Clicking the reply menu arrow will let you reply all, forward the message, print the message, add the sender to your contacts, report a phishing scam, delete the message, and a couple of other things.
That's all you really need to know to get started with the basics. There are a few more things covered in the video if you want to learn a little more.