How to Open an Email Message

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By learning email basics, you gain the ability to read important messages from any location.
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Whether you receive email through a desktop client or Web-based service, the method you use to open your messages depends on your viewing needs. You can completely open or just preview a single message or a group of related messages.


Basic Viewing

Messages in the Inbox or a storage folder are usually displayed as a list of bar-style line items. Each line contains at least the sender's name or email address, message subject and time or date you received the message. To open an email, click or double-click, depending on the service, anywhere on the message line. To close the message, click a back arrow, "X" or a folder name. Keep in mind that some email service providers allow you to toggle between an open message, folders and other messages. If your email provider offers this option, the message won't close automatically by clicking a folder name.


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Preview Pane

Many email services provide a preview feature to help readers quickly scan their messages and decide whether they need to open an email or save it to read later. When you have this option enabled, clicking a message line once doesn't open the email. Instead, a preview of the contents appears in a horizontal pane halfway down or below the list or in a vertical pane to the side. Typically, preview panes modify the appearance of the list by blocking part of it or changing the format of the information displayed on each line. If you want to enable this feature, check the general or view settings for your client software or online account.


Conversations Mode

You can also open all of the replies to a topic you're discussing with one or more people in a single message thread so you don't have to search for individual emails. When you receive a new reply related to the discussion, you open it like any other email but the reply appears above a list of the previous messages. To view those messages, click an individual message line or the option to expand or display all, if available. Some email service providers limit the number of messages you can view in a thread. Additionally, if you change the subject line or send someone a reply outside of the thread, you start a new conversation thread and will no longer see the replies to the original thread. You can click on a message within the original thread to see the contents of that conversation again.


Security Concerns

Emails are not a 100 percent safe means of communication. Many criminals use them to commit fraud, steal private information or hack computers and networks. Whenever you receive a new email, always check that it's from an address you know before opening it as some criminals use the names of legitimate senders to trick email recipients. View the email address in a preview pane or, if available, reveal it on the messages list screen for the Inbox or a folder by rolling your cursor over the sender's name. As you might also receive an email from the hacked account of someone you know, never interact with any unexpected links or attachments that arrive from legitimate email addresses. Instead, ask the sender through some other method of communication about the contents of the suspect message.