is one of the most common online tasks. Most of us have one, or in some
cases, more than one email address. Your email address is used to
receive messages from an online server and to send messages to that
server for delivery across the Internet. You have a password that is
used to connect to that server - make
sure you know what your password is!
(Your computer probably enters the password automatically after the
first time it connected, so it's easy to forget your password - but
you'll need it if you connect on another computer or get a new phone.
And if your email account gets compromised - either on your end or on
the email server's end - your first line of defense is to change your
password. And you need to know the current password to do that!)
You may have an email address provided by your Internet service
provider - addresses ending in '@shaw.ca' and '@telus.net' are popular
in Vancouver, for instance. You may an email address from a large,
international email service: '@gmail.com', '@hotmail.com', '@yahoo.com'
(or .ca). Or you may have an email address from work or a university:
'@sfu.ca', @vsb.bc.ca', etc. Having
an address with a service like Gmail lets you keep the same email even
if you change Internet service providers or move to a different job,
school, or location.
Two ways to
work with email
There are two main ways to work with email. Many people access their
email using an email program (app) on their computer/tablet/smartphone
- Many Mac users use Apple Mail
many Windows users use Windows Mail
(or Windows Live Mail or Outlook Express depending on their Windows
version). Microsoft Outlook
included with Microsoft Office and many users - particularly at work -
use that. There are other email programs as well: Mozilla Thunderbird
and lots more. All of these programs store email messages - both
received and sent messages - on your local computer, sending copies to
the email server online.
This has some advantages - you can work with these messages even if you
don't have an Internet connection, for instance. If you have multiple
devices - a computer, a tablet, a smartphone, or a laptop and a desktop
for instance, you may run into situations where the stored email is
different on each device, which can cause confusion. (Ideally, each
device 'syncs' with your online email server, giving you the same set
of messages everywhere).
don't use a program on your computer and don't store any email messages
on your computer. Instead, you connect to the email stored on an online
server by entering an address into your web browser. (More on web
browsers below). Because of this, the same email is available on your
computer at home and at work, on a public computer (like a library or
community centre), on your phone or tablet - secured by your email
address and password. Backup and security is the responsibility of your
You can use both - setting up an email program on your computer to
access your email when you're at home, while using webmail when you're
using a different device or travelling. All major email programs can
work with services like Gmail, while most Internet service providers
and many employers, universities, etc now offer optional webmail
services. Know the name of the
email program and/or webmail service that you use
... this piece
of information will be important to know if you are having problems!
I use Google's Gmail webmail and will be using it to illustrate this
workshop; if you use a different webmail service or an email program
you will be able to do all the same things, but what you'll see on your
computer will be somewhat different.
Look at your email
program or webmail:
Every car's dashboard and controls are a bit different, but all have
standard pieces and work in more or less the same way. Similarly, all
email programs are similar. On the left there will be a narrow column
listing different mail boxes - you'll probably see an Inbox
for received messages, Sent
(messages that you started
writing but haven't finished and sent on their way), Deleted
messages (or Trash
), and Spam
You may see the names of folders that you've created to store messages
according to your custom categories. If you've set up your email
software for multiple users or multiple email accounts, you may see
inboxes (and the rest) for each user or email account.
(Note: Gmail doesn't let you create folders to organize your email.
Instead, it encourages users to apply 'labels' which optionally tags
messages with different colours. Despite the different terminology,
labels can work similarly to folders.)
When you open up your email software or webmail, typically on the right
it will show a list of messages in your Inbox - received messages, with
the most recent on the top; often the subject lines of unread messages
will be in boldface
messages you've already looked at will be in normal type. For each
message, you'll see the Name
of the sender, the message's Subject
the date or time when it was received. Double-click on a message to
Many email programs divide the large area on the right in two - the one
section shows the list of messages, the other section shows the content
of one message, which is highlighted in the list. You should be able to
adjust the space taken up by these two sections - to show more or less
of each as you prefer, or optionally to close the message preview
section, in order to see more messages in the list at a time.
Along the top you may see some icons for common actions - these icons
may appear or disappear depending on what you're doing. For instance,
in Gmail, if I select a message in the list, icons - such as a trash
can - appear that aren't visible if no messages are selected. (If
nothing is selected, there's nothing to delete). If I'm writing a
message, I need different tools than if I'm just reading one.
Here's my email account loaded into Apple's Mail app on a Mac, a
dedicated email program -
Here's the same account in Gmail in a web browser with one message
selected but not opened - you
can do that by clicking the little box beside the message in the list:
Focusing on the webmail Gmail - Some things to note in the column on
-- there's a little down-arrow beside the red Gmail v
If you click it you can switch to viewing your contacts - if you have
an Android phone, these are also available. You can make your contacts
much more useful by spending some time organizing them - adding first
and last names, addresses and phone numbers, merging contacts for
people who have multiple email addresses, setting up groups so you can
easily send a single email to multiple people, etc.
-- the red COMPOSE
box is what you click on to create a new email message. As you work on
an unsent message, it is automatically saved into the Drafts
folder so you can resume
working on it later if you've been interrupted before sending.
-- there's a list of mailboxes, starting with the Inbox
is in red because its the one currently being viewed. More mailboxes
are visible below including
the important All Mail
mailboxes. (More about them
Some things to note in the set of icons running along the top -
clicking one of these applies its action to whichever messages have
been selected. (These have checkmarks in the box beside the message
-- hover your mouse pointer over any of these icons and its name pops
up - useful if you don't know what they do!
-- the little [ - ]
on the triangle beside it and you get options to select all, none, and
more. You can select multiple messages by clicking on the box beside
them; this lets you (for instance) delete multiple messages at once.
-- the next icon shows a little
folder with a down arrow
on it. Click it and all selected messages are 'archived' - they
disappear from your Inbox (or whatever mailbox you're viewing) but are
still saved in your Gmail account. You can find them again either by
searching for them (note the search bar on the top) or by clicking All Mail
in the mailboxes list on the left (currently hidden). If you do this by
mistake you'll get a message that appears for several seconds giving
you an option to undo
-- the stopsign icon
exclamation point on it moves all selected messages to the Spam
mailbox. Again, if you do this
by mistake you'll get a message that appears for several seconds giving
you an option to undo
-- not surprisingly, the trashcan icon
moves the selected messages to the Trash
mailbox. (Again, you can undo this move). Note that messages in both
the Spam and Trash mailboxes are automatically deleted after 30 days.
-- the Folder
selected messages to the label (i.e. Folder) of your choice - you can
create new labels as desired. Most other email programs use the term
'folder' for this. Next to it, there's a Label
icon with similar
-- the More
box lets you
choose a few more actions. Of these, the most important might be Filter
which lets, among other
things, automatically mark all messages from a particular sender as
spam or as 'not spam'.
-- towards the top right are a pair of arrows [ <
and [ > ]
you move to another page of messages - Gmail displays 50 messages on a
page and you may have far more than that in a mailbox. (Try to not
store vast amounts of messages in your Inbox, though - it's probably
unneccesary and just slows you down when you need to find something.
last is an icon showing a little
, widely used as a
symbol for settings
. You can
play around with the Display density
settings to find what looks best on your screen. Themes
let you change the colour scheme used in Gmail, choosing a background
image (some less tacky than others) or different sets of colours.
The Configure Inbox
you turn off one of Gmail's new quirks - creating a set of tabs for
your Inbox and automatically trying to guess which message belong in
which tab: Social, Promotions, Forums, etc. Maybe you like it - I don't
and uncheck all of them except Primary
(which can't be unchecked) to put everything back into a single Inbox.
More: see - How to Get the Old,
Non-Tabbed Gmail Inbox Back
opens up a
screen full of Gmail settings, with multiple pages accessed by labels
running along the top - I'm not going to go through these in detail,
but you may want to know about a few:
-- on the General
can add an image for yourself, turn notifications on or off when you
receive a new email, add a custom 'signature
- a short bit of text that will appear at the bottom of all your sent
messages, and turn an automatic Vacation
on or off (with a custom message). At the very bottom you can see how
much of your 15 GB of cloud storage you're currently using.
-- on the Accounts & Import
page you can change your password or other Google Account settings, add
another mail account, and set a default 'send as
-- on the Forwarding
can automatically send everything that arrives to this email address to
another email address - handy if you set up an email account for a
group you're involved with, for instance.
-- the Offline
page lets you
set up to use Gmail even when you're not connected to the Internet -
for instance, when you're on a plane. When you do this, message replies
or new messages wait patiently and are automatically sent when you're
online again. More - see: Gmail offline: A
(though it's a bit dated - you no longer need to
go through the 'experimental' steps to enable offline access).
When you're done fiddling with Settings, scroll down to Save any
changes you've made, then click on Inbox
on the left to get back to your email.
Another Gmail quirk - message threads
Gmail groups messages in so-called threads - note that the top three
messages in this list include multiple names with a number in
parentheses beside the names. That indicates that multiple people have
taken part in a back and forth conversation, and there are that many
messages bundled together. This can be very handy, much more convenient
than having to scan your inbox or sent message mailbox for older
messages in a conversation.
If I open one of these messages, I see the most recent message in the
Clicking the little white arrow on a
icon (in the top-right icon set) opens up the
thread so I can view older messages in the conversation. Clicking the
icon lets me
print the messages - in webmail programs, always use the printer icon in a
message window to print an email message (or conversation)
you'll get a better printout than if you use the mail File/Print menu
: Email messages can include attachments
- files included along with the text (and optional photos) of an email
message. Most email programs show you that a message has an attachment
before you open the message - often, using a paperclip
icon to symbolize the
attachment. Here's how it looks in the Gmail message list:
Note the paperclips near the right end of two of these messages.
Some attachments may be unwanted, malicious files that have the
potential of infecting your computer. Because of this, some people are
suspicious of all attachments and refuse to open any email with
attachments. That's probably overkill. The spam filters built-into
today's email systems catch most (but not all!) malicious attachments A
couple of rules of thumb:
-- Be suspicious of attachments
that come with messages from people you don't know.
-- Even from people you do know,
be suspicious of attachments (and links!) in vague email messages. In a
pinch, if you get a suspicious-seeming email from someone you know,
send them a message asking if they meant to send this to you.
a suspicious message that I received claiming to be from my friend
Note a few things:
- Gmail automatically put it in my Spam
folder, not letting it appear in my Inbox.
- While the name appeared to be my friend David, the email address
beside it was definitely not David's address!
- The text was generic and vague - why should I think I might
- The link gives no indication of what the website is - though the
'.ru' in the address indicates it's somewhere in Russia!
- If there was an attachment, I wouldn't download or open it - and
I don't want to click on the link!
Attachments can be useful - people can send a long PDF document or a
set of photos that would be too much to include in the body of an
email. You might be sent a form, with the request that you fill in some
information and then save and send it back. (I do this with Brock House
when we're confirming a set of workshops like this one). So while it's
important to be wary of unexpected attachments - especially from
strangers, know that attachments can be useful or valuable to you.
When you open and view an email message that includes an attachment,
you'll see some indication of the attachment below the body of the
email - perhaps an icon with the file name, perhaps a miniature view of
the file as in this example of an email message with a PDF poster
Clicking on the attachment typically downloads it - but where? By
default, it's probably to your Download
folder on a Mac or Windows computer or an Android phone. On an iPhone
or iPad you have no control of location so it doesn't matter. Depending
on your settings, it may open up automatically when it's finished
downloading - if it's a file that your computer knows that to do with
and considers safe.
You can change the download location - I prefer to download stuff to my
so I can easily find
it, deal with it, then throw it in the Trash
or Recycle Bin
(You can change it in the settings for your email program if you're
using a dedicated email program or in your web browser settings if
you're using webmail like I am).
Note my suggestion to throw it away when you're done with it - how much
of this stuff do you need to keep forever? The same with messages in
your Inbox. File away the
minority you have a reason to keep and throw away the rest!
There's no reason to have hundreds or thousands of files in your
Downloads folder or messages in your Inbox!
attach a file - or several files - to an email message. Note however,
that there are size limits to how much you can send - they vary
depending on the email program you're using, but your recipient's
Internet provider may also put limits on what they can receive in their
Inbox. As a result, attachments totally more than 5-10 MB can be
If you want to send something larger than that, a better way may be to upload it to a
cloud storage service
etc. and share it from there - sharing a file in a cloud service
typically sends your recipient an email with a link to view and
optionally download the file. This is especially useful if you want to
share a folder full of photos. (Note that if you have a Gmail account
or an Android phone or tablet, you already have a Google account which
includes free storage on Google Drive
and Google Photos
- even if
you've never used these services up until now).
But if you do
include an attachment with an email message, start a new message to
someone, enter their address, any text you want to include as usual.
Before clicking Send
, look for
a paperclip icon - in the Gmail Compose window, it's near the bottom,
to the right of the Send
button. Clicking it will get you a view of the folders on your
computer's hard drive - you need to navigate to wherever your
attachment is located - perhaps your Desktop
folder. Locate the file,
click the button to attach. You may have to wait a few moments while
the file is uploaded, then click Send
Note that if you send a photo or photos this way, the photos won't be
visible in the body of your letter - they'll be attachments that your
recipient will need to download to view. You may prefer:
photos in your messages:
You've probably received email messages with photos embedded in with
the text. To do that in Gmail, start your new message and compose your
text as usual. Place your cursor where you'd like a photo (or photos)
to appear - this probably should be on a line all by themselves - it
can get messy if you try to mix text and photos on the same line.
Look down on the bottom of the Compose
window - in the lower-left corner you'll see the Send
button. Several icons to the
right is a little icon of a camera. Click it! You'll see (if you're
||f your images are handy (perhaps
on the Desktop) you can drag their
icons and drop them anywhere in the large dotted rectangle.
Alternatively, click the blue button labled: Choose photos to upload.
That will again give you a standard view of the folders on your
computer - navigate to wherever your photos are located - perhaps in
the Photos or Pictures folder, maybe in a
sub-folder labelled with the name of your recent trip. Or??? You do have your photos and other files
on your computer organized in a logical way into folders, don't you?
You can select more than one photo at a time in this way - use
Control+Click (Windows) or Command+Click (Mac) to select multiple
photos in the same folder.
When your photos are selected, click Insert
and wait for them to appear in the body of your message.
Note that if you're a Windows user using an application like Picasa or Windows 10 Photos
to work with photos, you don't have to anything special - your photos
are not in some secret Picasa or Windows Photos location, they're
simply files, most often in your Pictures
If you're a Mac user using Apple's iPhoto
however, your photos have been magically sucked into the iPhoto or
Photos 'library' and you can't easily view the individual photos. You
can open iPhoto/Photos, select your desired photos, and click
File/Export, fiddle with the options, and select a location for your
exported photo(s). I generally export them to the Desktop, then follow
the above procedure to insert the photo into my email message. When
I've sent the email message, I delete the photo file from my Desktop -
it's still in my iPhoto/Photos library.
|Gmail automatically shrinks how
photos appear as many photos taken by
cameras are too large to display at full-size. If you want, you can
change the size your photo appears in your message - in the email
message (before you send it!) click on the embedded photo -
Under the photo, you'll get some options: Small, Best fit, Original size, Remove. Feel free to experiment and
pick what you think looks best.
If your recipent wants to save a photo they've received embedded in an
email message they can - but they'll need to know the trick.
One of my standard computer tricks, is when you're not sure how to do
something that you ought to be able to do, right-click. (On a Mac, hold
the Control key down and click). Often, a menu will pop up with things
you're allowed to do.
Doing that on an image in a Gmail message on my Mac, for instance, I
get a long list of options, including Save
Image to Desktop and Save
Image As... (to save it to another location).
: Some things to know about the messages you
Add a meaningful
- There are three places you can put your recipient's email address
- they're labelled: To:, Cc: and Bcc:Cc:
standards for 'carbon copy', a relic of the days of typewritten
letters where additional recipients would get carbon copies of the
original letter. Effectively, To: and Cc: work identically - both can
include multiple recipients. (If you're typing in multiple email
addresses, typing a comma tells the software that you're starting a new
- Each recipient listed in the To: and CC: fields sees the names
and email addresses of everyone else listed in these fields. Maybe
that's okay, but some people are not comfortable having you share their
email address with people whom they may or may not know.
- Bcc: stands for 'Blind
Carbon Copy' - the email addresses listed here are not shown to any
recipients. Use this if you are sending a message to multiple people
and you're not sure they want you to share their names and email
addresses. When in doubt, use Bcc!
Gmail, the CC: and BCC: fields aren't
usable until you click one or the other on the upper-right of the
compose new message window.
can copy and paste email addresses from another source, but your email
program probably works together with your address or contacts list - if
you start to type a name that's in your contacts, it's smart enough to
offer to complete your typing with the appropriate name's email
- You've taken the time to add names to contacts
who are only listed by their email addresses
your email and contact list are able to work together. On a Mac, your
Apple Contacts app works hand in hand with your Apple Mail app, but not
with Gmail or Shaw webmail (or whatever) in a web browser window. (It
can work with Gmail or Shaw webmail (etc) if you've set them up in
Apple Mail. Similarly, Gmail and the Google Contacts list work
together, Yahoo Mail and the Yahoo Address Book, etc. You can import
and export contacts between various lists and in some cases, set them
up to sync automatically (Gmail Contacts and Apple Contacts, for
instance), but that's more than I can cover here!
can start in your contacts, select names/emails, and click on an icon
to send an email message to all of them. That will put all those
addresses in the To: field. I would suggest selecting them all (in the
To: field) - Control-A (or Command-A on a Mac) selects all. Then
right-click (Control-click on a Mac) and pick Cut from the popup menu. Open Bcc:, right-click and pick Paste. Bingo! All those addresses
are in the hidden Bcc: field.
- If your
contact list has got groups or lists organized, you may be able to
simply type the name of a group into To:, Cc:, or Bcc: and send an
email to all the addresses in that group or list. I belong to an
18-piece big band - having a contact list named 'Deep Cove Big Band' is
a real time saver for me.
Your email software shows a list of all the received messages, showing
who it was sent by (if your address is connected to a name in the
contact list), the brief subject, and maybe part of the first sentence
of the body. Have a meaningful subject to let the recipient know what
to expect. 'New photos of my
is meaningful. 'Message from Alan'
since they already know who the sender is. 'I think you'll be interested in this
sounds like a spam come-on. Don't leave this field blank - If I've
gotten 35 new messages overnight, I may just skip yours or delete it
without reading it.
the body of your message: type
what you want to say. You may see word-processor style icons letting
you do some fancy formatting, though you won't have as many options as
you would in Microsoft Word or some other word processor. Here's the
icon bar that appears at the bottom of a Gmail compose new message
You get a limited set of fonts, the ability to make your text
small/normal/large/huge, bold, italic, underlined, change the text and
background colour, align text to the right, in the center, or on the
left, create a numbered or bulleted list, indent a body of text in or
out and indent a paragraph as a quotation. I don't know what the Tx
These can be useful and maybe fun - but don't go wild and crazy! Email
is a method of basic communication, not an artform or a medium for
personal expression. And remember that tone of voice and facial
expression aren't easily expressed in email - things that you may have
meant in jest can be read as insulting or hurtful.
|Replying, Replying to All, Forwarding: When
you've read someone's email, you can ignore it, delete it, or
optionally reply to it, 'reply to all', or forward it. These options
may be visible or hidden depending on your email software. In Gmail,
you can get the most-used option: Reply by click on the left-pointing
arrow icon near the top-right. This will open a window letting you type
above the text of the previous message.
(Alternately, you can just start typing in the rectangle below the
Clicking the little down-arrow beside that arrow opens up a long menu
- Reply to all lets
you send a message to everyone Kate wrote to - in this case, Linda and
Alan (and Kate). It won't include anyone who might have been in a Bcc:
field when Kate wrote the message.
- Forward lets you
send it to someone else entirely.
- Lots of other options, including Block Kate - so you'll no
longer see email from her. (Useful sometimes!), Report spam, Report
phishing, and more
|If you're forwarding someone
else's message, their subject line may not
be what you want to use... if nothing else, you may want to take off
FWD: that's automatically added to forwarded messages to make it look
like it's your own original thought! In Gmail the option to do this is
hidden - click the arrow to the left of the word To: and you'll get the option.
Spam and Trash
Every email program has a trash mailbox and most now have a spam
mailbox (or folder). In some programs, you have to 'empty' the trash
manually, otherwise mail that you think you've deleted stick around
more or less forever. Gmail removes messages automatically from these
two mailboxes after 30 days, though you can delete messages from them
manually if you wish).
(Note - even if you've deleted a message, copies of it may still exist
- in the email of people you've shared it with or who shared it with
you, for instance. But even if all those copies are deleted, your email
provider is required to make backups of their servers - and to keep
those backups. They may be subpoened to gather evidence of a crime).
Spam - unwanted email - used to be a major problem - a decade or so, it
was estimated that a growing majority of email messages were spam. It's
been reduced to a relatively minor irritant, mainly because spam
filtering has become much better. Spam filters are now being used to
filter out both 'traditional' spam - porn come-ons, offers to sell
unwanted commercial products, etc. - and various sorts of malicious
email, messages that are trying to steal your bank account or other
logins and passwords or infect your computer with malware. In most
cases, you simply don't see any of those messages since they don't
reach your Inbox.
While surprisingly good, these filters aren't perfect, however. They
can make two kinds of errors:
something shows up in your Inbox that should have been labelled spam or
malware. In that case, it's easily dealt with - just click on the
message (with or without opening it) and click the icon to identify it
as spam. In Gmail, that's the one that looks like a black stop sign
with a white exclamation mark. One click and it's whisked away to the
Spam mailbox. (And Google gets a note that you considered it spam).
Don't do this for email from
commercial lists that you signed onto.
Most will have a link (sometimes in tiny print) near the bottom
offering an option to 'unsubscribe' - to remove yourself from the list.
Use this! Most times it will actually work... though it make take a few
days to take effect.
messages have been labelled spam when - as far as you're concerned -
they aren't. They may be commercial emails from lists that you signed
up for and actually want to see. They may be from legitimate news
services - and sometimes even from friends - that included ads that
triggered the spam filter. To fix this, you need to take a peek into
your spam mailbox, select anything that you think is there by mistake,
and identify it as Not Spam
The identified messages will be moved from the Spam mailbox to your
Don't be scared! If you open a message in the Spam-box to look at its
contents, Gmail (for instance) protects you from possibly malicious
content. It disables all links so you can't accidentally click on a
link to a website that will try to get your login information and
doesn't let you download attachments from messages in the Spam mailbox.
(I can't guarantee that other email programs will offer the same level
of protection, however!). Here's a peek in my spam-box:
Several of them are probably there by mistake - the messages from Air
Canada, BestBuy, and Cunard Line are probably legitimate commercial
email from lists I'd signed up for. I really should select them and
click the Not Spam
if you expected to receive an email message and it hasn't arrived,
check your Spam mailbox - you just might find it there!
If messages from a sender repeatedly shows up in the Spam mailbox by
mistake, you can create a filter to mark anything you receive from that
email address as not spam
easier than it sounds - but the details will vary for each different
email program. Here are the steps for Gmail:
- Open your Spam mailbox, find and select an example of the
incorrectly identified message - in this case, the one from Air Canada
Vacations, and click the Not Spam
button to send it to your Inbox.
- Find that message in the Inbox and double-click to open it. Click
on the down-arrow in the top-right corner of the message window
(pictured above) to open the menu and click on Filter Messages Like This.
You should see something like this - with the address used to send the
message in the top line. (If the address doesn't appear, close the
dialogue box, copy the sender's address, click on Filter Messages... again and paste
the address into the top line):
- Click Create filter with this
search (in the lower-right corner). You'll see:
- Click Never send it to Spam
and then click Create filter.
From then on, messages from that sender's email address will not be
sent to your spam mailbox.