Gmail: Responding to Email

Lesson 4: Responding to Email



In addition to sending emails, you'll be receiving emails from others. After you read an email, there are a few actions you can take, including opening an attachment (if there is one), replying to the message, forwarding it to someone else, or—if you don't have time to deal with the email—adding a star to remind yourself to read it later. If you'll be out of town for several days or more, you can also create an automatic vacation reply so people know you're unable to check your email.

Watch the video below to learn more about reading emails, replying, forwarding, and creating a vacation reply.

Reading email

By default, any email you receive will go to your inbox. You'll be able to tell which emails are unread because they'll be bold. You can also see the name of the sender, the subject of the email, and the first few words of the email body. This means even before you select an email, you can tell quite a few things about it.

Reading email in Gmail

To read an email:

  1. From your inbox, click the email you want to read.
    Clicking on an email
  2. The email will open in the same window.
    Reading an email

Reading options

In addition to reading the email, you have several reading options.

  • You can click show details to see the email addresses of the sender and any other recipients, as well as the date the email was sent.
    Viewing message details
  • You can click the Star next to the name of the sender to remind yourself to read the email later.
    Adding a star
  • You can also click the More button and select Add star from the drop-down menu.
    Select and star an email from the More Options drop-down menu
  • You can Reply, Reply to all, or Forward the email to someone else.
    Reply options
  • You can click Newer or Older on the right side of the window to view the next email (or previous one).
    Navigating between newer and older messages
  • You can go Back to Inbox.
    Returning to the inbox from an open email

Opening attachments

Sometimes you'll receive emails that contain attachments. Generally, you will need to download an attachment to view it. However, many common file types, like Word documents and images, can be viewed within a browser window. If the attachment is an image, you'll also see a smaller copy of the image—called a thumbnail—inside the body of the email. You can tell which emails contain attachments because they will have a paper clip icon to the right of the subject.

To open an attachment:

  1. Open the email message that contains the attachment.
    Opening an email that has an attachment
  2. Click the Download icon to save the attachment to your computer. If your computer asks whether you want to Open or Save it, choose Save. You can then locate the file on your computer and double-click it to open it.

    Downloading an attachment

You should generally only open an attachment if it's from a trusted source. Some attachments can contain viruses, especially .exe files. If you don't recognize the sender—or if you don't know why someone is sending you the attachment—it's safest not to open it. For more information, read our lesson on avoiding spam and phishing from our Internet Safety tutorial.

Replying to emails

Most of the time, you will be replying to an email someone else sends you instead of composing a new message. When you reply, the recipient's email address will automatically appear in the To: field, so you won't need to worry about choosing the recipient.

Replying only to the sender

Sometimes you'll receive emails where you're not the only recipient, and you'll need to decide whether you want to reply just to the person who sent the message or reply to all (the sender and all recipients). For example, if you're collaborating with a group of people via email, you'll probably want to use the Reply to all option so everyone gets the message. However, if you want to send a more private message to the sender, you'll need to select the Reply option so the message stays between the two of you.

Replying to all

To reply to an email message:

  1. While viewing the message, click Reply at the bottom of the message. If the message was sent to multiple recipients, you will also have the option to Reply to all. You can also click the Reply arrow to respond to the message.
    Replying to an email
  2. You may want to double-check the To: and Cc: fields to make sure you're sending your message to the correct people. If you are replying to all recipients, the additional recipients will appear in the Cc: field.
  3. Type your message in the Body field, then click Send.
    Sending a reply

To see the text of the original email while you're replying, click the gray button in the lower-left corner of the window, right above the Send button.

Viewing a trimmed conversation

Forwarding emails

You can also choose to forward an email. This basically works the same as replying, but it's used to send the email to someone who wasn't one of the original recipients. Just like a reply, the original message will appear as a quote. It's usually a good idea to include a brief message of your own to explain why you're forwarding the email.

To forward an email message:

  1. While viewing the message, click Forward at the bottom of the message. You can also select Forward from the More drop-down menu next to the Reply arrow.
    Forwarding an email
  2. Type the recipient's email address in the To: field, or click To to choose a recipient from your contacts. If the person is in your contacts, you can start typing his or her name and that contact's email address should appear.
    Adding a recipient
  3. Type your message in the Body field, then click Send.
    Forwarding a message


Sometimes when you view an email, you'll notice that it's grouped with several other related emails. This is called a conversation. Gmail groups related emails into conversations to help keep your inbox as neat and organized as possible. Instead of selecting a single email from your inbox, you're actually selecting the entire conversation, and you can then choose to view or minimize individual emails.

When you're viewing your inbox, you can tell how many messages there are in each conversation by finding the number next to the name of the sender.

The number indicates how many emails are in a conversation

To view or minimize individual emails:

  1. From your inbox, select a conversation.
  2. All of the messages in the conversation will appear to be stacked on top of one another. Click a message to expand it.
    Expanding a message
  3. Click the top part of the message again to minimize the message.
    Minimizing a message

Adding a vacation reply

When you go on vacation, you may be unwilling or unable to check your email for several days or more. The email will still be in your inbox when you get back, so it may not be a problem. However, if someone sends you an urgent message that needs a response the same day, this person may not realize that you won't receive the message in time.

You can prevent this by creating a vacation reply, which will automatically send a reply to anyone who emails you. Your vacation reply can contain any message you want, but usually it will include the date you plan to return and your contact information while you are out of town (or possibly the contact information of a coworker who can handle questions while you're gone).

To add a vacation reply:

  1. Click the gear icon in the top-right corner, then select Settings.
    Clicking settings
  2. Scroll down until you see the Vacation responder section. Click the First day field to choose the date you want the vacation reply to start. If you want, you can also choose a Last day, but it's not required.
  3. Type the desired subject and message.
    Typing a vacation reply
  4. You may want to select Only send a response to people in my Contacts to avoid giving your whereabouts and contact information to strangers. However, if you think you might receive an urgent message from someone who is not in your contacts, you can leave it unchecked. When you're finished, scroll down to the bottom of the page and click Save Changes.
    Saving a vacation reply

When your vacation reply is active, there will be a bar at the top of the Gmail window showing your message. To end the vacation reply, click End now.

Ending a vacation reply


For this challenge, you can use an email in your inbox. If you don't have one, you can complete the challenge from our previous lesson and use it.

  1. Open the email.
  2. If your email has an attachment, try opening it.
  3. Forward the email to yourself by using your email address as the recipient.
  4. Star an email in your inbox.
  5. Add a vacation reply, then send yourself an email. You can put anything in the subject and body of the email.
  6. When you're finished, you should see both your email and your vacation reply in your inbox. Don't forget to turn off your vacation reply!