Learn How to Use Gmail

Last updated: April 29, 2016 - 7:06pm EDT

If you have followed our tutorials (especially the last one) so far, you now have a brand new shiny Gmail account. Great! So now the question is: how do you get Gmail to work for you? In this tutorial, besides showing you how to log into Gmail, we'll also go over some of the basic features of Gmail's interface. You don't need to remember them all; we're going to be looking at quite a few of them in more detail in our later tutorials, so you might just want to use this tutorial as a reference.

Logging into Gmail

Go to www.gmail.com in your web browser. You will be redirected to a screen like the one below. Click in the box marked "Email" and type in your Gmail email address. Then click in the box marked "Password" and type in your password (it will appear as a series of bullet points; this is normal and is meant to protect your password from prying eyes). When you have filled in both boxes, click Sign In.

If you're using a shared computer or have more than one Gmail address, sometimes you or someone else will log into Gmail (or another service run by Google), but forget to log out.  When this happens, Gmail may automatically log you into that person's account.  To get back to the screen like the one above, click on their email address or profile picture in the top-right corner, and then click Sign Out.

Welcome to Gmail

If you successfully logged in, you will see a screen similar to the one below (though it probably won't be as crowded, if you're logging in for the first time). Congratulations! You are now at your main "Inbox" screen. Let's take a look at some of the different areas and buttons that you should be familiar with. 

Click the  buttons in the screenshot below for a quick explanation of what each item does.

How to use gmail inbox screenshot

Search Bar

Click here and type something in, then press the “Enter” key on your keyboard or click the blue magnifying glass (or one of the options that appears from the drop-down menu) to search for it. You can find emails based on their sender, recipient, label, subject, and more. You can even search for something on Google Search from here.


Function Selector

You’ll mainly click here to switch between your emails and your contacts. We’ll have a full tutorial on how to use contacts, so don’t worry about this too much for now.



A really important button. When you want to write a new email from scratch (as opposed to forwarding or replying to one), this is where you’ll click first.


Labels (folders)

This shows you some of the different ways that Gmail has organized the emails that you have sent or received, or are planning on sending. Click on one to see the emails associated with that label. Some of them, such as “Inbox”, “Starred”, “Important”, “Sent Mail”, “Drafts”, “Spam”, and “Trash” come as defaults. Others you can create for yourself.

See our Gmail Labels tutorial for more information.


Quick Contacts

If you have someone in your contacts list, you can click their name here to quickly start a new email with them as a recipient. Or you can click in the box labelled “Search people…” and type in a person’s name to find them in your contacts list if they don’t immediately appear here.


Quick Selector

Clicking here (but not inside the small box; this automatically selects or deselects all emails) allows you to quickly select groups of emails. In addition to deselecting any emails that are already selected, you can select:

- all of your emails (clicking inside the small box when you have no emails selected will do this too)

- just ones that you’ve read

- just ones that you haven’t read

- just ones that you have marked with a star
- just ones that you haven’t marked with a star



If you’re expecting an email and it hasn’t shown up in your inbox yet, click this button to tell Gmail to prioritize looking for any new mail that’s coming your way.


List Skip

By default, Gmail will only display 50 emails in a list at any given time (you can change this in the settings – see our Gmail Settings article).

Click the left or right arrows to display to the previous 50 emails or next 50 emails (in reverse chronological order), respectively. Additionally, you can also click the current vs. total emails indicator next to these arrows and then choose to skip to either your oldest or your newest emails.



Another important button. Click here to select options on what your main “Inbox” screen looks like, ask for additional help, let Google know what you think of Gmail, and access advanced options.



Clicking here allows you to select options for viewing and changing the details about your Gmail account, including what your profile picture looks like. You can also switch to another account (if you have more than one), or you can log out of Gmail.


Category Tabs

More ways in which Gmail sorts your emails. Click on each tab to see the emails that Gmail has sorted into those tabs, or click the “+” button at the edge of the list to add or remove category tabs to your liking.



This is a list of all of your emails with a certain label or within a certain category, based on what you are choosing to view right now. Click on one anywhere in the right side of the screen (i.e. not on one of the three buttons at the far left) to open it.

About Gmail Conversations

"Conversations" is a unique feature of Gmail that automatically groups together emails with the same subject that are sent back and forth between the same people over and over. So even if you get new emails that have different subjects, you'll always know when you have a new message on a particular topic, and be able to review what has already been said about that topic.

Let's have a detailed look at how one appears in a message list. We've selected it to show you additional options; these options appear whenever you select one or more conversations or emails. 

Click the yellow buttons () in the screenshot below for an explanation of what each option does.

Gmail Inbox Header Settings

People and Email Count

Shows you a few of the people (besides you) who have sent or received emails in this conversation, and how many emails are part of this conversation (if there is more than one).


Subject and Preview

Shows you the original subject of the conversation, as well as a short preview of the most recent email received as part of that conversation.


Date Received / Attachment

The date which you received the most recent email in this conversation. There will be a little paperclip icon beside the date if an email in the conversation has an attachment.



Click here to select or deselect a conversation (it’s selected here). Selecting a conversation opens up additional options in the menu across the top. You can also select multiple conversations at once.



Click here to mark or unmark a conversation with a star. This is your own personal way of telling yourself which conversations you want to pay special attention to.



Click here to mark or unmark a conversation as important. Gmail may automatically do this based on the conversation’s subject, senders/recipients, or number of emails. Some advanced settings may allow you to change Gmail’s behaviour in this regard.



While you have a conversation selected, click here to archive it. This removes all category designations from it, and removes it from most of your message lists so it won’t clutter them up. This won’t delete it, though, so you can still find it if you need it again for some reason. This also won’t remove any labels from it, so it will still show up in lists of messages that are marked with a particular label. If you’ve selected multiple conversations at once, you can archive them all at once.

See our Gmail Archiving tutorial for more information.


Report Spam

Think someone’s sending you an email just to advertise something or try to run a scam? Select it, and click here to send it to your “Spam” folder. This will also alert Gmail, so if they see this email getting reported enough times, they will automatically send it to the “Spam” folder of anyone who receives it. They may even send all messages from that sender to people’s “Spam” folders. So you’ll not only be protecting yourself, but you’ll also be helping to protect everyone who used Gmail!

If you send a conversation here by mistake, don’t worry. It will stay in your “Spam” folder for at least 30 days, so you can find it and move it back to your “Inbox” folder.



If you don’t need a conversation anymore, but don’t consider it to be junk mail, select it and then click this button to send it to your “Trash” folder. If you send a conversation here by mistake, don’t worry. It will stay in your “Trash” folder for at least 30 days, so you can find it and move it back to your “Inbox” folder.


Move to Folder

When you have a conversation selected, click here, and then click where you want it to go. This will apply the label that you select to that conversation, while at the same time removing all other labels. This means that you will have to search for conversations with that specific label if you want to find it again. But at least it won’t be cluttering up places where you don’t want it to be.


Apply Label

When you have a conversation selected click here, and then click which label you want to apply or remove from it. This won’t remove any other labels from it, so you can still find it in places like your “Inbox” folder, as well as when you search for any messages with that label. Use this feature to help remind yourself what your conversations are about, while still keeping them in places where you can get at them. 

See our Gmail Labels tutorial for more information.



Clicking here while you’ve got a conversation selected will give you additional options. Besides marking or unmarking a conversation with a star or importance sticker, you can do things like mark the conversation as being read or unread, create an email filter based on the conversation, or stop yourself from getting any more emails in this conversation.

Now, let's take a look at what a conversation looks like when you open it.  We just went over some of the features here, so we'll just point out the new ones for you. 

Again, click the  buttons in the screenshot below to learn what each feature does.

Gmail Email Screenshot

Back to Inbox

When you’re done looking at a conversation, click this button to go back to your main “Inbox” screen, right where you left off.



You can click the “Importance” sticker icon here to either add it to tell Gmail that this conversation is important, or remove it to tell Gmail that this conversation is unimportant. You can also click on the name of any label that this conversation has to search for all conversations with that label, or click the “X” beside a label to remove it from this conversation.


Expand All / Collapse All

Click here to open up all emails in this conversation so that you can read them, or shrink them all back to previews so that you can pick which ones you want open at any one time.


Print All

Click here to print all emails in a conversation. Make sure that your printer is on and connected to your computer, and that you’ve set it up correctly.


Open in New Window

Click to move this conversation to its own little window so that you can do something else in your main window.



Here you can see some information on the people who have sent or received emails in this conversation.


Collapsed Email

This is a previous email in the conversation that has been shrunk to a preview, in order to let you concentrate on other emails in this conversation (or at least the most recent one). Click on the sender’s name or the date it was sent to open it up so that you can see its full contents. Click in either of these places again to collapse it again.


Multiple Collapsed Emails

If there are several emails within a conversation, some may be collapsed like this, so that you can’t even see their previews. Simply click here to expand these emails into their preview forms. You can expand them further from there.


Message Details

Click here to see details about an email, like the addresses of who sent it, received it, or received a carbon copy of it; when it was sent, its subject, and why Gmail thinks it’s important or unimportant.



Notice that you can click here to mark or unmark individual emails with a star, as opposed to the entire conversation.


Email Options

Click the arrow here to bring up a list of options for an individual email. You can reply to it, forward it, print it, create a filter based on it, add its sender to your list of contacts, delete it, report it as junk mail, or try to translate it or unscramble it if you can’t read it.


Show/Hide Trimmed Text

If there’s a part of the conversation that gets repeated over and over, like an email that’s being replied to or someone’s signature, Gmail may hide it just to make emails easier to read. You can click this button to display or hide any of this content.


Reply Box

You can click one of the options here to reply to an email, forward it, or send a reply to it to every member of the conversation. Note that by default, this action will be applied to the most recently received email in the conversation. You can respond to a specific email by using the “Email Options” button mentioned above.

And that's a quick tour of what Gmail can do.  If you want to learn more, check out some of our other in-depth tutorials for Gmail here at Techboomers!


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