Computing Skills Archive

Email Essentials- 2 Tasks and Tips

In the first article of this series, I talked about the two different classes of email interface – the client-based interface and the Webmail which is the Web-based interface.

Then I talked about the different folders and views that are part of an email user interface such as the Inbox, Outbox and the Sent Items folder and the Unread Items and Starred Items / Flagged Items view.

Now I will be talking about the basic tasks associated with using email such as reading new email and sending out email. This will also include extra tips to get the most of your email.


Sending a new email

  1. If you are sending a new email, you just click on “Compose”, “New Message” or “New Email”. It may be a button with an envelope and a + symbol on it. This gives you a blank form to work with.

    Compose Email or New Email form

    Compose Email or New Email form

  2. You enter the email address of the correspondent or, in most cases, their name if you have the correspondent in your Contacts list, in to the “To” area.
  3. You can add extra email correspondents if you intend to send it to other people. As well, you can add other email correspondents in to the “Cc” field which stands for “Courtesy Copy” or “Carbon Copy”. There is also a “Bcc” field where you can enter a correspondent’s email address or name but the correspondents who are in the “To” or “Cc” fields don’t see the fact that you sent a copy to the “Bcc” correspondents.
  4. Then you enter the subject of the email in the “Subject” field. It is a good practice to use this so that the correspondent can know what the email they are receiving is all about.
  5. Subsequently you write the text of your message in the large “Message” field.
    In most email user-interfaces, you have the ability to vary the way your text looks using the formatting buttons typically located above the message form. Here, you could do this before you type the message or select the text you want to modify and use these buttons to modify the look.
    As you work, the email will be held in the Drafts folder and, with some email interfaces, you may be required to expressly save or delete the email if you close it.
  6. When you are satisfied with the message you are to send, click the “Send” button. The message will appear in the Outbox as it is being sent, then will appear in the Sent Items folder once it is sent.

Reading an email

This task is the simplest to do in that you just visit your Inbox and click on emails that you want to read.

New emails that haven’t been read will typically appear in bold and some email user interfaces will provide a view or filter that shows only the new emails.

You can mark important emails as “starred” or “flagged” as a way of bookmarking them for later reference. When you need to come back to them again, you select the “Starred Items” or “Flagged Items” view to see just these emails in your Inbox,

Replying to an email or sending the email to someone else

  1. When you read an email and want to reply to it, you just click the “Reply” button. On the other hand, if you just need to send it to someone else, you just click the “Forward” button. The “Reply All” inserts the addresses that a multi-destination email was sent to in to the “To” line and is best used if you really intended the contents of your reply to be seen by the other correspondents.

    Reply and Forward buttons

    Reply and Forward buttons

  2. You will see a “new-email” form with the text of the original message set in a manner to identify it as that. The Subject will be the same but with “Re:” in the case of a reply or “Fw:” in the case of a forwarded message. The cursor will be position in a blank space above this text.
    As well, the name or email of the sender will be placed in the “To: field” of this message if you are replying to the email.
  3. Here, you write the text of your reply or explanatory text for the forwarded email. The process for sending this email will be the same as for a new email.

Deleting emails

When you delete an email in most email user interfaces, it will be moved to a “Deleted Items” or “Trash” folder and won’t appear in your Inbox. You can come back to that email or move it back to your Inbox.

But when you delete emails from the “Deleted Items” folder, they will be gone for good. Similarly, if you click on an option to “Empty Deleted Items”, all the emails in this folder will be gone for good.

Similarly, there is an option to permanently delete an email from the system when you see it in the inbox. This may be in the form of selecting the email and choosing the “Delete permanently” option or, with most desktop email clients, selecting the email and then pressing Shift and Delete on the keyboard at the same time.

Printing out an email

If you want hard copy of your email, there are different ways to go about it depending on the email user-interface you are using.

If you are using a client-based email interface, you just simply view the email then select the print option in your email client. This typically would be done by clicking “File-Print” or by pressing CtrlP / CommandP on your keyboard; then selecting the printer you normally use then clicking the “Print” button.

For Webmail users, they just look for a “Print” option on their Web-based user interface which will provide the email in a printable form without any extra display clutter such as columns, banner ads, etc. Then, depending on the interface, you will start the print process by clicking a “Print” option on the printable view.

Some Webmail interfaces may immediately cause the browser to show the printout user interface so you can start the print process. But there are some other Webmail user interfaces that work properly with modern Web browsers by properly setting out the email for printing when you start printing using the Web browser’s print command.

Junk-mail filtering

Most Web and desktop email interfaces use a “junk-mail” filter function which keeps junk email a.k.a. spam out of your inbox. Typically they use one of varying algorithms to determine if the email is junk or not and, if it is junk, the interface will direct the email to a “junk-mail” folder.

Here, you can override this setting for particular contacts that you deal with by using a method specific to the interface. In most client-based interfaces, this may require you to right-click /Ctrl+click the email address and select “mark as safe”, “mark as trusted” or a similar option for that address.

As well, it may be worth checking this Junk Mail folder if you find that the business email you were expecting had not shown up in your Inbox when you were expecting it.


Using email in conjunction with instant-messaging, mobile-phone texting or social networks

Some of you may catch on to instant-messaging programs, social-network messaging functions or mobile-phone texting services and forget that email does exist. Here you may become tempted to write longer messages fit for email services using these services; and I have covered this topic on this site previously as I have had to help users who were wanting to take material in their conversations further such as to prepare legal release documents.

But the email still has its role even if you use these services as your online communications tool. Most of the instant-messaging systems and social networks don’t have a way of taking the text of a message further than the conversation you have with your correspondent. This may be important if you want the message to be printed or used as part of a document for example.

Here, you need to make sure that you know the latest email address of your regular correspondents that you talk to on Skype, Facebook or Windows Live Messenger; and have these addresses in your email interface’s Contacts List / address book. Then, if you want to pass information that is to be taken further than the conversation you have in this application, you send that information using email.

Then your chat / messaging session on Facebook or your texting session on your mobile phone can just exist for conversation-style text communication.

Cleaning out your email inbox

If you have to clean out your email inbox, delete the newsletters and any automatically-generated confirmation and notification emails first. Then empty the “Deleted Items” folder.

If there are receipts that were generated as part of an e-commerce transaction, print these out or make PDFs of them using a “print-to-PDF” program so you can reconcile them with your credit-card statements. Then you can delete them. This is important with businesses and others who need to retain transactions over a significant number of years for the taxman.


These articles, which are written to work for most Web-based and client-based email interfaces in current use, will help you to understand how to get the hang of your email system.

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Email Essentials–1 User Interface Types and Features

A very common task that I help computer novices with is how to work with email, which is an essential part of the Internet. This article will appear as part of a three-part series with the first part talking about the user interface.

Email interface classes

Webmail (Web-based email)

Webmail interface - GMail

GMail - an example of a popular Webmail interface

A webmail service is based around you using a Web browser pointed to a particular Web server to read and send your email. It is as though your Web browser is effectively a “terminal” for your email service.

Typical examples of these services are Hotmail, GMail and Rocketmail but if your ISP or company sets up your mailboxes, they may set up a Webmail front-end for your inbox. This option may be set up primarily as a portable client-independent email option for travellers or nomadic users.

The main advantage of these setups is their portability and the reduced need for software to be configured. On the other hand, you are limited by a user-interface speed that can be affected by the number of users using your service and the Internet connection that you have.

A trap I often see with email novices who use this interface type is that they will work on an email but start to browse around the Web for other material. This would then cause the email that they are working on to be “effectively” lost and better-designed Webmail interfaces warn users that they could be losing their email if they navigate away from the page. Here, they would have an opportunity to save their work-in-progress as a draft.

But if you are intending to browse around the Web, including other emails in your Webmail user interface, open up a new browser window (CtrlN / CommandN) or tab (CtrlK / CommandK) and do this browsing from there. Then come back to the email by switching windows or tabs in the browser.

Client-based email

Windows Live Mail client-based email interface

Windows Live Mail - an example of a client-based email interface

The client-based email service requires that the device you are using to view your emails uses an email client program to manage your emails. The typical clients that you may use are the email software integrated in your iOS, Android or other mobile device; or Apple Mail, Windows Live Mail, Microsoft Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird on your regular computer.

The email service will typically be provided by your ISP, Web host or your employer as a mailbox. On the other hand, some companies who run Webmail services do provide a client-based email option for these services and there are some companies who simply provide client-based mailbox services for Internet users. These setups will use one or more of these protocols: POP3/SMTP, IMAP4 or Microsoft Exchange.

The main advantage here is that you have quick response for your email tasks and you use an interface that is native to your computer operating environment.

Key folders in your email user interface

Folder list in an email interface

List of folders and views in a typical email user interface

In your email user interface, you will see a few folders that are very important to your email use. The folders and views are typically listed in a column on the left of your email interface’s screen if you are using a Webmail or desktop email client.


This folder is where all incoming email messages, henceforth known as emails, first land. It is like your mail box where all your postal mail will land, waiting for you to collect it. Typically, the new unread emails will he highlighted in a bold font so you know what has been read.

Unread Mail view

Most email user interfaces will have an “Unread mail” view which only shows the messages that you haven’t read. As well, a lot of client-based email software will flash up a notification icon and sound an audio prompt when new email arrives. The notification icon will disappear when you visit your inbox.

Starred or Flagged Messages view

An increasing number of email interfaces have a “starred” or “flagged” view where you can mark a message with a star or flag as you go through your Inbox. This feature works more like a bookmark system for your Inbox. Here, you select a “starred messages” or “flagged messages” view which only shows those messages so you can focus on them easily.

Messages From Contacts view

Another feature that is part of many desktop email clients is a “messages from contacts” view which only shows those messages that have come in from your contacts that are in your interface’s Contacts List / Address Book.

This feature allows you to separate the email that comes from your contacts form the newsletters and similar material that end up in your Inbox.


In a typical email user environment, the Drafts folder is where any email that you are working on is saved. This will happen if you close an email message that you are working on without you sending it, and some email user interfaces will automatically save emails that you are working on in this folder regularly until you actually send them.


The Outbox folder is where all of the messages you have composed and sent will land before they are despatched over the Internet to your correspondents.

Typically, the messages will appear there for a short time but there are a few circumstances that may cause your messages to be here for longer. One is if the email server is not functioning as it should or you are offline. This may be the case if you operate your client-based email system in an offline mode and click “Send / Receive” to check for email.

Another is if there is a large attachment such as a batch of photos and the email is taking a long time to send with some consumer email servers.

Sent Items

Once an email is actually sent out over the Internet, it will appear in your “Sent Items” folder so you know what has actually been sent

Deleted Items / Trash

When you delete an email, it will end up in this folder as a safeguard against you making a regrettable mistake. But if you delete an email from this folder, it is gone for good.

Conversation View

Most email user interfaces provide a “conversation view” which shows all emails with the same subject name and between you and the same correspondent. They will typically ignore the “Re:” or “Fw:” prefixes that are used to indicate a reply or a forwarded message; as well as showing the messages in reverse chronological order with the latest message first.

Contact List (Address Book)

The Contact List or Address Book is where you keep your regularly-used email addresses. You can add a contact to this list using the “Add New Contact” option in the Contact List view or you can add an email address for a sent or received email to the Contact List by clicking on an “Add this to my Contacts” option.

Here, you may have the opportunity to add further details or amend the details about the contact so you have better information for that contact.

Next, I will be talking about how to perform the various tasks that you need to do when you use your email facility as well as writing some useful tips for this facility.

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Retirement–no need to leave your computer skills at the office


A common situation I have observed with some retirees and older people who have left the workforce is that they leave their computer skills at the office door. Here, they severely reduce their use of the computer because they associate it with their work life.

This situation can be dangerous when it comes to using the computer for personal use because it can be easy to fall out of practice with the various computing and IT skills.that will come in handy over the life that you spend in this new “free” situation.

Computer activities in this new situation

The computer as a communications tool

If you are deciding to reduce your computing activity after your retirement, it would be a good idea to keep those skills associated with Internet-based communication such as email or Skype alive. This would be important where you have relatives or friends who are located a long distance apart or you consider a move to the country or a nice outer-urban area as part of your retirement plans.

For example, a good practice would be to check email once a day and reply to messages or compose and send messages at least a few times over the week. Similarly using Skype or a similar service at least weekly, if not fortnightly, would work well in saving international or other long-distance telephone costs while being able to see whom you are talking to. Think of situations like seeing and hearing your excited new grandson or granddaughter on your computer or TV screen or celebrating a birthday “across the wire”.

In some cases, the Social Web can be a valuable communications tool through creation and management of online photo albums and online diaries where applicable. As well, most of the Social Web platforms like Facebook have integrated instant-messaging functions so you can use this as an adjunct to email and / or Skype.

The Web as a research and shopping tool

The Web can be used as part of your business, shopping and travel life, whether to find the best prices for particular goods and services or simply to know more about a particular item of interest.

For example, you could use Google as a starting point for research on a topic or item. On the other hand, you could visit online merchants to buy goods or organise services like travel. You can even use this online method of shopping as an adjunct to visiting your local or favourite shops.

Using office applications at home or as part of your hobbies and interests

The office applications like Microsoft Office or Apple iLife can be used beyond the office door. Here, they can come in handy for your personal lifestyle efforts.

For example, a word processor can cone in handy in writing something like a memoir or other “magnum opus”; or documenting that special trip you had done. Similarly a spreadsheet can come in handy for having information in an organised form, for example managing a guest list for that special party. Even that dreaded Microsoft PowerPoint application could be used for creating “title slides” that are to be part of screen-shows or home-video projects.

The computer as a multimedia tool

A common task you will end up doing is to store and manage music, photos and video on your computer. This will be more so as you use your digital camera and / or smartphone to take photos and videos of family events and your travel. Similarly, you may “dump” your CD collection to your computer’s hard drive so you can play it over your home network or create “mixtapes” on to USB thumbdrives or memory cards for the car.

Here, you can still use your computer and associated programs to organise, edit and curate you digital media so you have it how you want it. This can be done using a mix of the popular tools like iTunes, Windows Live Photo Gallery, iPhoto, Audacity or Picasa.

The goal is to engage in the other non-work activities like family, hobbies and travel first but use the computer as a supporting tool for these activities.

Choosing the equipment

Toshiba Satellite L730 ultraportable on coffee bar

Toshiba Satellite L730 full-function ultraportable

If you don’t have computer equipment to use at home after your retirement, you may be in a position to buy new equipment for this period in your life.

When you choose the equipment, you could offer to buy out your company-supplied computer from your previous employer for use at home if you can do so. A possible advantage of this may be that your employer can turn this asset of theirs in to cash that they can use towards a newer more up-to-date computer.

On the other hand, you could buy a decent consumer laptop or all-in-one / low-profile desktop with consumer-priced software. You may also want to consider a “2-in-1” computer which can be a laptop or a tablet. This is important as an more of these “fold-over” convertible or detachable-keyboard computers are appearing at a lesser price premium compared to a traditional “clamshell” laptop. As well, the advantage here may be to “free up” the iPad that one is normally using to watch video content personally or simply have one device for all of your computing activities. This can help you start afresh on new equipment that you fully own. Have a look through the Product Reviews, especially the laptop reviews so you can get a fair idea of what you want to purchase.

Acer Iconia Tab A500 tablet computer

Acer Iconia Tab A500 tablet computer

In some cases, if you just want to work with email and Web browsing, you may find that you could get by with just a tablet computer like an iPad, an ASUS Transformer Prime or an Acer Iconia Tab. These can even just work as a secondary computer that you use around the house. Even if you do have a 2-in-1 computer, you may find that a tablet may come in handy as a “spare” secondary computing device for children when they play games for example.

HP Photosmart 7510 multifunction inkjet printer

HP Photosmart 7510 multifunction inkjet printer

Similarly, a network-capable consumer inkjet multifunction printer could suit your needs as a hard-copy device. Here, I have reviewed many of these printers on this site, but would recommend those units that use separate ink cartridges for each colour and can print on both sides of the paper if you value a machine that isn’t costly to run.

It is also worth reading my article about equipping the “family house” for broadband as extra guidance on this topic. This has guidance regarding the right broadband plans to choose, especially when you want to take advantage of packages that integrate this service along with telephony and/or multi-channel pay TV.

Seeking assistance from others

You may need to seek assistance with newer computing situations or find that you have trouble remembering a particular procedure that you have started to fall out of practice on. Here, there are many avenues to benefit from this assistance.

Firstly, there will be younger relatives and friends who would be able to help you with these skills and / or keep your equipment in proper shape. Similarly, if you do maintain contact with your former employer and they have an on-site or contract IT team, this team may also help you with these skills or your equipment.

As well, there are plenty of computer-skills courses offered by community organisations like U3A in Australia that are targeted at retirees and similar people. The best place to ask about this is through your local council who will put you in the loop with these organisations.

This is especially if you have to face newer computing environments and practices or simply find it hard to keep certain skills alive within the context of your new life.


The main essence of this article is that those computing skills you acquire through your working life are still valid even as you leave the office for good. Here, they can be used to augment your communications with relatives and friends or sustain your hobbies and interests that you have more time to nurture.

Update – 31 January 2017: I have added to this article a mention about the recent crop of convertible or detachable “2-in-1” laptop computers that can become a tablet with them being at a very low price premium compared to standard laptops.

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