How do you prefer your Gmail view: Standard or Conversation? If that question confounded you, you’re not alone. A lot of everyday users have no idea what the difference is and how they could benefit from one or the other.

I’m here to help those very users out. If you’re an IT admin, you probably already understand the difference and have had to explain it to many end users. Fortunately, with this handy guide, you can pass the knowledge buck off and save yourself some time.

First, let me explain what Conversation view is.

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What is Conversation view?

If you’ve never made any changes to the View option, when you open Gmail you’ll be greeted by the Standard viewing mode. What is that? It lists your email in the left pane, in order of most recently received, with each email having its own entry (Figure A).

Figure A

The Standard viewing mode is what most people use.

In the Standard view mode, when you click on an email, you read that email and that email alone.

What if you have a number of back and forth emails, with the same person, centered around a single topic? Say you sent an email with the subject, “Project X.” The recipient replied which set off a chain of replies between the two of you for a few hours or even days–that’s a conversation.

In Standard mode, you’d have to scroll through the entire contents of the last email to read everything in the conversation. Reading through a long thread of nested, quoted text can get very confusing, on top of which, that method relies on the recipient not cutting out quoted text, which often happens to save space and clutter. When that’s the case, you would then have to scroll through your inbox to locate all of the emails in that chain, which is a serious waste of time–especially if the conversation went on for days or weeks.

Another option is enabling Conversation mode, which has been around for some time. What this mode does is combine all emails from a single conversation together. Instead of having to scroll through your inbox to locate those individual emails, they are grouped together. Click on one email in that conversation and you’ll be able to view them all in the preview pane. When a new email, associated with that conversation arrives, the entire conversation will bubble to the top of your inbox. This way you can open the entire conversation by only clicking that newest email, without having to go on a search and rescue mission for all associated emails.

Effectively, Conversation mode makes it much easier for you to keep track of an email conversation, without having to waste time scrolling through your inbox.

How to enable Conversation mode

Once upon a time, enabling Conversation mode was a bit hidden. Now, it’s a fairly obvious affair. To enable Conversation mode, open Gmail and click on the gear icon in the upper-right corner (near your profile image). When the popup menu appears, scroll all the way to the bottom until you see Email Threading. In that section, you should see a checkbox associated with Conversation view (Figure B). Click that checkbox and, when prompted, click Reload.

Figure B

Enabling Conversation view in Gmail.

Once Gmail reloads, you’ll be presented with the more efficient Conversation view (Figure C).

Figure C

Gmail Conversation view is now enabled and ready to make your experience a bit more efficient.

When you click on any email in your inbox, it will include all entries in that conversation. It doesn’t matter if that conversation was between two, three, four, or 12 people, the entire thread will appear in the preview pane.

This isn’t one of these tasks that should be challenging for any user of Gmail. But for those looking to make the experience a bit more efficient and productive, Conversation view should be considered a must-use. You’ll spend less time searching and more time reading.

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Image: Google