Quick Tip: Change the conversation view in Gmail

Some people love it, some people hate it, but everyone should know how to change the conversation view in their Google mail account settings.

One of the Gmail features many people like is the conversation view. This is the inbox view where various emails are embedded with each other to show the "conversation" of related emails. Some users love it and some, like me, don't like it at all. While the change is a subtle one, I find the conversation view confusing so I turn it off.

This quick tip was originally published in June 2011.

Change the conversation

Notice Figure A, it shows a sample inbox in the conversation view. The single email entry shown actually contains several emails as you can see in Figure B. The emails are embedded to form a conversation.

Figure A

Inbox in conversation view

Figure B

An embedded conversation
Click on the Options icon (gear) in the upper right corner and click on the Mail Settings menu item. You'll be taken to the Settings screen (Figure C) where you can make a multitude of changes to your Gmail account. We are interested in the Conversation View area - change the default on-view to the off-view and then scroll down to the bottom of the page to Save Changes.

Figure C

Gmail settings screen
Now, when you look at our example Gmail inbox (Figure D) you see the embedded emails are now listed separately. And when you click one of the emails in that inbox (Figure E), you see only that email - not the embedded view from before.

Figure D

Separate emails in the inbox

Figure E

No embedded view

It's your choice

There is no right view in this case; either view is perfectly legitimate. It really depends on your preferences. I find the conversation view confusing, especially when there are twenty emails and not everyone is included on every single message - it's difficult to know who knows what. But it is nice to know that we all have a choice. What's your preference?


Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to,, and TechRepublic.



The conversation view (although I didn't know that was what it was) was driving me nuts. Quite often (like yesterday for example) it wouldn't let me find messages I knew were there. Now it all makes sense!


If you use basic html view, you will need to switch to "Standard View"** in order for the "gear" to show up, and go into the settings menu there. Clicking "Settings" while in basic html view mode gives a different set of (and more sparse) options, and the option for conversation view is not in there. This would not be *quite* so objectionable, but now you face the challenge of trying to get back to basic html view... (a moment to digress...) IMO gmail is one of the worst web experiences out there, and the difficulty in finding out how to change options and the inconsistencies involved with it is one example of that. And now the user faces another example of that; the challenge of trying to get it back to basic html view (I hate all the noise in Standard View). The only ways of which I know of is either to refresh the page, and be quick enough with the mouse to click the "basic view" link, which only appears for less than a second while the page is loading, or pasting into the location bar*** (I've also read works too, but haven't tried it). Nice user interface, huh? But back to the subject, what would be really nice would be a button on the page to toggle back and forth between the two. Each view has its advantages and disadvantages depending on the situation at hand. But if I had to be stuck with one or the other, it definitely would NOT be "conversation view". ** note 1: switching to "Standard View" from "Basic HTML View" is not as hard as going the other way -- just find the link at the bottom of the page. *** note 2: after changing views, a link appears at the top of the page giving you the option to select one or the other as your default view. Do this now, as it won't appear again


Thanks a lot--I've been assuming I just needed to take the time to "understand" how it was supposed to be better! That's been...a couple years at least. Now I will actually know what the *bleep* is going on in my e-mails!!:)


We recently converted to Google Apps and it took a little while to get use to it but I enjoy the "conversation view". Now instead of having to determine who replied, when, and in what order it is basically shown as a thread. It comes in very handy when you are out of the office for awhile. Now when I return I have the entire conversation for a topic that someone might have sent to multiple people. It saves me from replying to messages that others have handled while I was out so I no longer get, "Joe handled while you were out, see his reply on ......" or "Mary already replied for the group, see her reply from ......" Conversation view is the way to go.


Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou! I hated conversation view but didn't realise it was a changeable setting. Found this article browsing through my items in Google Reader and jumped on it. I can see why it would be good for some people but it drove me nuts - there'd often be responses to emails I wouldn't see because they were so far down the list they didn't show up. Isn't it great when small things can bring such one such joy?!

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

I don't like the conversation view in Gmail, so I turn it off. But some users really like it. Which camp do you fall into ??? are you into the conversation view?

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