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Use these five tips to help control how Outlook 2003 displays e-mail

Outlook 2003 users have a number of new ways to control how to view e-mail. These five tips can help new Outlook 2003 users organize views more efficiently.

With all of the spam that's mixed with regular e-mail, chances are that many of your end users have a slight inbox problem: They're buried under an avalanche of e-mail. Rather than apply complex customized folders and filters, help them dig themselves out with the vast array of view options in Microsoft Outlook 2003.

Tip 1: Teach Outlook 2003's View menu

If you haven't had much time to explore Outlook 2003's new features, you'll be delighted to find that many of the views you need are already set up in the View menu.

Show your users how to expand menus so they can see the full View menu, as shown in Figure A. Because Office displays only recently used items on truncated menus, some of your users never see the full choices anymore and have forgotten what they are.

Figure A

Go over the (expanded) Outlook 2003 View menu; it's a gateway to helpful built-in features.

Tip 2: Show how to set Reading Pane options

As you know, the View menu has several submenus. Let's start our lesson with View | Reading Pane. In this version of Outlook, three layouts are possible for viewing the contents of highlighted e-mails: Reading Pane on the Right, Bottom, and Off. You may prefer the right-side arrangement (Figure B). This layout gives you that popular "endless mineshaft" view. The Inbox tunnels as deep in the earth as the deepest oil well, but this view actually makes possible a shortcut I'll mention later.

Figure B

Choosing the Reading Pane on the right side gives the "endless mineshaft" view.

As with previous versions of Outlook, selecting View | AutoPreview displays three lines of e-mail below the subject line.

Tip 3: Set e-mail to show in groups

A helpful and often overlooked feature available in the View | Arrange By submenu is called Show In Groups (Figure C). This option divides each view into sections that are collapsible. For instance, when Arrange By | Date is selected, the Groups are Today, Yesterday, Last Week, Two Weeks Ago, Three Weeks Ago, Last Month, and Older.

Figure C

Show In Groups is one of the options in the View | Arrange By menu.
When Arrange By | Conversation is selected, the items are grouped by subject line. This Conversation view starts out collapsed, showing only the first message in the group, but you can click the arrow to expand the entire conversation thread (Figure D). The messages are indented like messages in a newsgroup.

Figure D

This is Conversation view, expanded to show the thread.

Tip 4: Teach the Arrange By submenu

Outlook is essentially a large database, and its views are quickly rearranged by fields. The most helpful fields with which your users can arrange a large group of e-mails are listed in the Arrange By submenu.

The arrangements that can be most useful to your users' job include:

  • Date
  • Conversation
  • From
  • Flag
  • Importance
  • Attachments

I find that Arrange By | Subject, being identical to Conversation but without the threaded view, is not as handy. If you have end users who work with several e-mail accounts, the Arrange By | E-mail Account view is a definite asset.

When the Reading Pane is set to the right-side layout, you can simply click the top of your Inbox to pop up a list of views (Figure E). This shortcut does not appear when the Reading Pane is on the bottom or is off.

Figure E

Users will appreciate the shortcut access to the Arrange By submenu.

Tip 5: Show how to quickly fine-tune views with the Current View submenu

My final tip shows how to reduce Inbox clutter using the View | Arrange By | Current View submenu (Figure F).

Figure F

You have to drill down a bit to get to the Current View submenu, but it's an important aid to temporarily reducing e-mail clutter.

Current View lets you quickly modify the current arrangement to show:

  • Messages
  • Messages With Auto Preview
  • Last Seven Days
  • Unread Messages In This Folder
  • Sent To
  • Message Timeline

There's only one problem with using Current View: Folks tend to forget they've modified their display and wonder what happened to their old or read e-mails. It's a good idea to warn them that if their Inbox seems to be missing too many items, they should check their Current View settings. With Outlook's comprehensive view settings, your enterprise's employees, from the CEO right down the ladder, may not need any customizations other than what they can achieve with a few point-and-clicks.

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