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How to Use the Gmail Preview Pane: To Check Emails Quickly

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This post is part of a series called Your Ultimate Guide to the Best Gmail Tips and Tricks.
The Best Gmail Labs Features (To Improve Your Workflow Now)
How to Quickly Recall (Undo/Unsend) an Email in Gmail

Sometimes you can tell what an email message is about from the subject line, but often you have to open the message to be sure. Did you ever wish you could read email messages without opening them?

With the Gmail Preview Pane from Gmail Labs you can quickly preview your email messages without opening them. This tool opens a pane next to your inbox that displays the text of incoming messages.

How to use the Gmail Preview Pane to quickly check email messages
Use the Gmail Preview Pane to check your email messages quickly.

At a glance, you can tell how you should handle each new Gmail message. In many cases, you may not even have to open the message to process it.

Best of all, the Preview Pane in Gmail is not difficult to use. In this tutorial, we'll explain what the Gmail Preview Pane is, then show you how to set it up and start using it. We'll also include a helpful screencast that walks you through the Gmail Preview Pane installation process.

What is the Gmail Preview Pane? (And Why You Should Use It)

An email preview pane lets you view some of the contents of an email before you open it. When the preview pane in Gmail is enabled in Gmail, it can appear to the right of inbox messages or beneath your messages.

As you probably already realize, an email message's subject line isn't always helpful. While it's a good idea to use descriptive subject lines for email messages, not everyone who sends you a message realizes this or puts it into practice.

With Gmail, you can choose to use a preview pane. Other email packages such as MS Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird also make use of a preview pane (sometimes called a reading pane). If you are used to using an email tool with a preview pane, enabling the Gmail preview pane option may help you become more comfortable with using Gmail.

The main benefit of using a preview pane is that is saves time. You don't have to click on each message to see the contents inside. If you process lots of email messages each day, the extra time it takes to click on and open each message adds up. Eliminating those extra clicks can make a difference if you process a lot of email messages each day.

How to Start Using the Gmail Preview Pane (Quick Video)

To install the Gmail Preview Pane and start using it to quickly check your email messages, refer to the screencast video:

 

For more detailed information on how to use Preview Pane in Gmail, review the step-by-step instructions below. Discover how to check your Gmail messages with quick email previews.

How to Set Up and Use the Gmail Preview Pane

This section provides instructions on how to install, use, and uninstall the Gmail Preview Pane tool.

Step 1. Setting Up the Gmail Preview Pane

The first step in setting up the Gmail Preview Pane is accessing Google Labs. To access Gmail Labs, start from your Gmail inbox screen and click the Settings icon in the upper left corner. A drop-down menu appears:

Gmail Settings Menu
Select the Settings option from the Settings drop-down menu.

From the drop-down menu, click the Settings option. The Settings screen displays. Click the Labs option at the top of the Settings screen:

Gmail Settings screen with Labs tab selected
Select the Labs option from the Settings screen.

From the Labs tab, use the scroll bar on the right to scroll through the available labs. Scroll to the Preview Pane option. Click the Enable toggle button to the right of the lab description:

Gmail Preview Pane in Gmail Labs
Use the toggle button to enable the Gmail Preview Pane.

Scroll down to the bottom of the Labs tab and click the Save Changes button. The Gmail inbox, displays, but you'll notice a new icon next to the Settings icon. It's the Toggle split pane mode icon:

Gmail Toggle split pane mode icon
Use the Toggle split pane mode icon to select where your preview pane appears.

Step 2. Configuring the Gmail Preview Pane

Click the down arrow next to the Toggle split pane mode icon to display a drop-down menu:

Gmail Preview Pane Options
Choose a preview pane option.

Use the drop-down menu by the Toggle split pane mode icon to select how your preview pane appears. You have three choices:

  1. No Split - No preview pane appears.
  2. Vertical Spit - A preview pane for the selected message appears to the right of your inbox list.
  3. Horizontal Split - A preview pane for the selected message appears below your inbox list.

The example below shows an inbox configured with a horizontal split:

Gmail preview pane with horizontal split
The Gmail Preview pane appears below the inbox messages. (Horizontal Split)

Notice that the text of the select message appears below the inbox list.

Step 3. Using the Gmail Preview Pane

Even after you've configured your Preview Pane in Gmail, you won't see any message text until you select a message. Without any messages selected, your preview pane looks something like this:

Empty Gmail Preview Pane
The Gmail Preview Pane is empty. (Vertical Split)

To use preview pane feature, click on a message to select it. Once you've selected a message, the message text for the selected message displays in the Gmail preview pane:

Gmail Preview Pane Vertical Split message
A Gmail Preview Pane with messages. (Vertical Split)

Here's how to check Gmail messages quickly with the Preview Pane turned on: Once you've selected your first message, use the up and down arrows on your keyboard to quickly select the next message in your inbox and preview the contents. There's no need to click on each message in your inbox individually.

How to Quickly Delete a Message

You can also delete a message without opening it. This can be particularly helpful if you receive lots of junk emails or spam messages.

With the message preview feature on, you can see the contents of each selected message at a glance. You can quickly delete or archive a message without taking the time to open it.

Here's a sample sales message that I viewed through the preview pane:

Sales messages in Gmail Preview Pane
Click the checkbox next to a message to select it.

The preview shows me enough that I know I am not interested. I don't have to open the message to delete it.

To delete the message, click the checkbox next to the message and click on the Trash icon:

Deleting a message from the Gmail Preview Pane
Use the Trash icon to delete the selected message.

The message is moved to the Trash folder. It will be permanently deleted after a specified period.

To continue browsing through your messages using the Gmail Preview Pane, click on another message to select it. Use the up and down arrows to quickly scroll through your messages.

How to Archive a Message or Move It to a Label

The process for archiving a message from within the Gmail Preview Pane is similar to the process for deleting a message.

After reviewing the selected message in the preview pane, click the checkbox next to the message:

Archiving or Moving a Message in Gmail Preview Pane
You can archive or move a selected message.

At the top of the screen, click the Archive icon to archive the message. To move the message to a label (sometimes referred to as a folder) instead, click the Move to Label icon and select the label where you want to move your message.

Depending on your choice, the message is archived or moved to a label.

Return to browsing through your messages by clicking on another message to select it. Use the up and down arrows to scroll through the messages.

How to Reply to or Forward a Message

You can also reply to a message or forward a message from within the Gmail Preview Pane, which is another time-saver since it lets you answer your messages more quickly.

To reply to or forward a message, click on the Reply icon in the upper right of the preview pane. Or click the arrow next to the Reply icon and select the Reply or Forward option from the drop-down menu.

You can also click the Reply or Forward hyperlink at the bottom of the preview pane:

Replying to a message in the Preview Pane
Use the Reply icon or hyperlink to respond to a message from the preview pane.

The Gmail New Message form appears below the preview text in preview pane:

The Gmail New Message form in the preview pane
Type your reply into the New Message form.

To respond to the selected message from the preview pane in Gmail, type your response in the New Message form. When you are ready to send your reply, click the Send button at the bottom of the New Message form. Your response is sent.

Continue to use the up and down arrows to preview other messages in your inbox.

Step 4. Disabling the Gmail Preview Pane

If you change your mind about using the Gmail Preview Pane, you can easily disable it. Click on the Settings icon in the upper right corner and click the Settings option from the drop-down menu.

From the Settings screen, click the Labs option. The following tab appears:

Gmail Settings Screen
If you need to disable the Gmail Preview pane, click the Labs option.

At the top of the list of Gmail Labs are the labs you have enabled. The Preview Pane lab should be on this list. If you have other Gmail labs enabled, they will appear on the list as well.

To de-activate the Gmail Preview pane, click the toggle button next to the Disable option to the right of the Preview Pane lab. Scroll to the bottom of the screen and click the Save Changes button.

The system returns to your inbox. The Toggle split pane mode icon is gone. The Gmail Preview Pane feature has been disabled.

Conclusion

We all need to make the most of our time. Depending on how much email you receive, reviewing your incoming messages and deciding what to do with each of them can take a lot time.

If you are looking for how to check your Gmail messages quicker, the Preview Pane in Gmail could be the answer. It's easy to set up and use. And it can readily be disabled if you no longer need it.

Best of all, you can use the preview pane to respond to or forward messages without ever leaving your Gmail inbox. You can also delete, archive, or move messages to folders from the Preview Pane.

More Great Gmail Tutorials

To discover another great Gmail Labs feature, check out the following tutorial:

For other cool time-saving Gmail features to help you improve your productivity, study this tutorial:

For more basic information on other ways of setting up your Gmail inbox, review:

Jump into another helpful tutorial to learn a few more Gmail tips and tricks, so you can work more efficiently, and save a ton of time every day. 

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