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Google Workspace: a Practical Guide


You can't use Google Workspace without Gmail - your email inbox (and much more). We'll take a look at how to manage Gmail, use the right settings for you and your workflows, and explore some of the more in-depth features of Gmail's functionality.

Gmail is Google's email service and the email service provided as part of Google Workspace. At the University of York, this is how you'll access all of your emails and send messages and you will log into it with your University of York email address and password.

You might already use a personal Gmail account and be familiar with some of Gmail's features, but regardless of whether you're completely new to Gmail or just getting your head around the whole of Google Workspace at the University of York, there's lots of useful things to know about Gmail.

Making sense of Gmail

Like Google Drive, if you're new to Gmail you might find it takes a bit of getting used to. Features like conversation view, labels, filters, archiving, and searching can be very helpful, but might be new to you. There's a range of inbox views and settings that can be helpful too.

Gmail is fairly customisable in terms of inboxes and layout. We'll explore the full range of settings elsewhere, but now we'll look at how to tame Gmail to suit you and keep track of your emails.

Setting an inbox view

Within the Gmail interface there is a range of ways you can arrange your inbox, depending on your preference. The default view lists all emails in your inbox in the order they arrived, but by clicking on the cog icon in the top right of the screen you'll open Quick settings where you can customise certain settings, including the Density of your inbox (how close together your email list is) and your Inbox type, which affects which emails you see first.

The inbox types are:

  • Default - all emails in your inbox listed in order of receiving them.
  • Important first - Gmail uses its personalisation features, powered by AI, to guess which emails are most important to you, and these ones will be displayed in their own section at the top of the inbox, followed by all other emails.
  • Unread first - all unread emails are displayed in a section at the top of your inbox, and all read emails beneath that.
  • Starred first - all emails you have starred are displayed at a section at the top of your inbox, and all non-starred emails beneath that.
  • Priority Inbox - Priority Inbox allows you to combine the above sections, so you can create an inbox with multiple sections at the top for different categories like unread, starred, etc. To customise this you have to open the full Inbox section of Settings rather than just use Quick Settings.
  • Multiple Inboxes - Multiple Inboxes allows you to create up to five different custom sections based on searches that appear alongside your inbox, either above or to the left or right depending on what you choose. You can also set how many conversations yuo see per page in these sections. To customise this you have to open the full Inbox section of Settings rather than just use Quick Settings.

Note: some of these inbox types may not be available if you have smart personalisation turned off.

You can toggle between inbox views as you want, so you can try out different views until you find one that suits your workflow. You can also add a reading pane either to the right of your inbox or below your inbox, if you prefer to still see your inbox when reading an email (by default in Gmail an email opens across the whole inbox area).

Conversation view

In Gmail, conversation view refers to the way that email replies can be grouped together into a thread called a "conversation", in a similar way to chat threads in messaging apps. This can make it easier to return to ongoing email chains and find all relevant emails, or keep on top of email chains with multiple other people without missing a reply. However, some people find conversation view harder to navigate, as you don't see each individual email as it comes in, and sometimes when you forward emails in a chain, that conversation becomes confusing to know who you are replying to.

Conversation view places all emails in a reply chain together in a conversation and you can click on each to expand.

In Quick settings and also under General if you choose to See all settings, you can turn conversation view on or off. If you're moving to Gmail from another email provider, e.g. Outlook, then turning off conversation view to start off with can help with the transition.

Using labels

Gmail labels for things like boring newsletters, business as usual, Emails from Bob, highly important, good ones, to-do and that important project

Labels in Gmail allow you to organise emails into different categories, similarly to folders in file storage but with the added benefit that emails can be in multiple labels if needed. You can add labels whilst keeping the email in your inbox, or you can move an email to a particular label, which removes the email from your inbox. How you use labels is really based on personal preference and how you want to manage your inbox (though if you are using a shared inbox with delegated access you'll want to agree together how to manage labels for that inbox).

To apply labels, you can select or open an email and then click on the Labels button to apply any labels. If you want to also stop the email from appearing in your inbox, and instead have it only appear in the label, you can use the Move button when an email is open or selected, or drag the conversation onto the correct label.

Labels appear down the left hand side of your inbox and you can click on a label to see all of the emails inside it. Labels can have sublabels too, for further levels of organisation. Within Settings there is a Labels tab that allows you to set which labels are visible in your list and remove and edit labels you've created.

You can also search for emails within a particular label using the syntax "label:" and then putting the label name in the search bar at the top of Gmail.

Searching and filters


Perhaps unsurprisingly given Google's origins, searching is a key way of finding emails in Gmail. The search bar at the top of Gmail allows you to search for words and email addresses to find emails in your Gmail account. You can type search terms in or use the advanced searching options by clicking on the Show search options button on the right hand side of the search bar. This opens a range of categories you can search by including who the email is from or to, the subject line, words that the email doesn't have, when the email was received and if it has an attachment.

When you use the searching options, you might notice that your criteria get turned into text in the search bar with things like from:, to: and has:attachment. You can use these search terms in the search bar as well without using the search options if you want.


Filters are a feature of Gmail that allow you to set rules for incoming emails and then set actions that will occur when emails that match those rules. To create a filter, you have to first create a search using the search options and then use Create filter to set up what that search will do with incoming emails. You then get the option to tick what what happen When a message is an exact match for your search criteria, and then choose Create filter to apply that filter to any new incoming emails.

Some of the useful options are:

  • Apply the label: - allows you to pick a label to apply to the incoming email. You can also combine this with Skip the Inbox (Archive It) which basically moves the email into that label so it does not go into your inbox as well, which can be helpful for regular emails you don't need to deal with immediately, but can come to in the label as needed.
  • Never sent it to Spam - ensures emails matching that criteria never go into Spam, so using this with an email address can be helpful if you're having issues with emails from one address going to Spam.
  • Forward it to: - helpful if you want to set up email forwarding, particular to or from a shared inbox, but only for certain emails, for example ones with particular text in them.
  • Be careful with filters, as it is possible to accidentally lose emails if you create a filter that deletes emails or makes them skip the inbox, and one comes in that unintentionally matches the criteria. You can see, edit, and delete your filters from Settings, under the Filters and blocked addresses tab. Always check here first if you think you're missing emails you expect to receive.

Archiving and deleting


One of the options in Gmail when you have an email selected or open is to Archive the email. This means that the email no longer appears in your inbox, but still exists within your Gmail account and can be found by searching (or by looking in any labels it has been labeled with). Archiving is helpful for emails you would delete, but want to have available just in case you ever need them in the future. If you accidentally archive an email, you can move it back into the inbox if needed.


Deleted emails in Gmail go into the Bin, which can be accessed from the left hand sidebar, often by clicking on More. Emails are automatically deleted from the Bin after 30 days or can be manually deleted forever.

Using email effectively is important regardless of which email client you are using. When using Gmail, you also need to keep in mind good email etiquette, be aware of security concerns like phishing and scams, and consider when to use email and when to use other forms of communication. Our Email Skills Guide has some pointers:

Google has a range of Gmail support pages, so if you can't find what you're looking for on this page, that's the place to look.

Composing emails in Gmail

To write an email in Gmail, you can either click Compose to open a new blank email, or open an email and click Reply to compose a response. Both methods give a range of options for the email and formatting, so let's take a look.

To and From

To, Cc, and Bcc

When you're composing a new email, you'll probably first set out the recipients: who the email is To. As with most email clients, you can send emails To email addresses, or add them in as Cc (carbon copy) or Bcc (blind carbon copy) depending on what you need. To add email addresses as Cc or Bcc you will need to click on the matching next in the To field to make a field for Cc or Bcc appear.

There's various etiquette for using email, including when to use To, Cc, and Bcc. Typically, To is for people the email is addressed to, Cc is for involving those who might be interested (and their involvement in the email may be optional), and Bcc is used to keep the email addresses the email is sent to private from the email recipients. You should always use Bcc when emailing groups like students or customers so you are not sharing their personal data (email address) with the other recipients).

You can also email multiple people at once using a Google Group. These make it easier to email multiple people without accidentally missing off an email address, and Google Groups can be set up so the members cannot see the other members if this is needed. If you need to send emails to a lot of recipients not in a Google Group, or with personalised text or attachments, you might use Yet Another Mail Merge, which we have access to at the University of York.

Reply and reply all

When replying to an email that has been sent to multiple recipients using To or Cc, you will either send your email as Reply or Reply to all. Reply just sends your response to the email address that sent the email you are replying to, whereas Reply to all includes all email addresses the email you are replying to was sent to. You can click the respective buttons at the bottom of the email conversation to choose which to use and can change these when composing your reply using the little arrow icons on the right hand side of the email address.

In Gmail's Settings under General you can change the Default reply behaviour to either Reply or Reply all, which will make that action the default one when you press Reply on an email, but can be changed when composing.


By default, Gmail will display the email address of the account you are signed in to Gmail with in the From field (this can be useful to check if you have multiple Gmail inboxes open at once and want to make sure you are sending from the right account). You can also set up other email addresses to Send mail as from the Gmail Settings on the Accounts tab, in case you have access to other inboxes and want to be able to send from different email addresses as needed from within Gmail.

Formatting an email

Gmail has a range of built-in formatting options. You can use the underlined A Formatting options button next to the Send button to open up an extra toolbar of formatting, including changing the font, text size, and text colour, using bold, italics, and underline, and creating numbered and bulleted lists, indentation, and quotes. You can apply these as you would in a text processor by highlighting text and changing it. You can also use common shortcuts for formatting like CTRL + B for bold, CTRL + I for italics, and CTRL + U for underline (replace CTRL with CMD on a Mac).

You can also change your Default text style in Gmail Settings under General, which can be useful if you want to change your text size or font for all emails you send.

It is important to remember accessibility when formatting emails. Follow guidelines for creating accessible materials, for example using a decent font size and regular sans-serif font. If you do change the colour of text, you must ensure the colour contrast (and also make sure that you aren't relying on colour to communicate information). A well-structured, clear, and accessible email is much more important than a stylish-looking one.

Bear in mind that going overboard with formatting, especially colour and images, can look like a marketing email or distract people from the content, so use some formatting sparingly so you don't stop people reading or engaging with your email.

Attachments and links

Gmail has multiple options for adding other files to your email, some of which use Google Drive to store the files. You can use the paperclip Attach files icon to upload files to your email, but a more effective method in most cases is to share the file from Google Drive (uploading it to Google Drive if necessary) and then either insert a link to the Google Drive file in the email or use the Insert files using Drive button to create a clickable button to the file. This allows you to have full control over who has access to the file, whereas with attachments the file can be forwarded to other individuals without your knowledge.

Using the Insert link button you can add links to Google Drive files (with appropriate sharing permissions added) or to any other links on the internet. Write descriptive text that says what the link is (e.g. "Gmail guidance") and then highlight the text and insert a link to the content, as this is better for people using assistive technology like screen readers than just pasting the direct link in to the email.

Templates and signatures


You can set your email signature from Gmail Settings under the General tab, near the bottom of the list of settings. You can create multiple signatures and choose default ones for your email address for new emails and for replies. These have similar formatting options to the compose email options, but once again, bear in mind accessibility: keep your font size and colour readable and try to avoid using images or excessive text and links.

When composing emails, you can click on the Insert signature icon to change which signature appears on that email or remove the signature from that email.


Gmail allows you to create templates and then insert them into emails to save time, for example for text you commonly have to send to people. Having templates turned on is controlled in Gmail's Settings on the Advanced tab, so if you don't see the Templates option described below, check you have templates set to Enable in these settings.

To create a template, you need to first write your template from the Compose button as if it was a new email. Then, click on the three dots 'More' icon in the bottom right, then choose Templates > Save draft as template > Save as new template. Give your template a name.

You can then insert your template into emails by reopening Templates then selecting the template in question. You can still add other text or edit the template if needed once it is inserted.

Schedule send

When you send an email in Gmail, it will go immediately (or after a certain number of seconds if you have Undo send turned on in Settings), but sometimes you might want your email to be sent later, at a particular time. Gmail has a built-in feature called Schedule send which allows you to pick when an email will send.

To use this, instead of clicking on the usual Send button, click on the arrow next to the Send button and then choose Schedule send. This will open up the Schedule send box which allows you to pick when the email will be sent, either from some default options or a chosen date and time. Bear in mind that this is when the email will be sent and the recipient may have to wait a moment to receive it, so you cannot guarantee that even though it is sent at an exact time, they will receive it instantly.

All scheduled emails that have not yet been sent will appear in the Scheduled section down the left hand side of Gmail, which will only appear if you have emails scheduled. From here you can detete or edit them if needed.

Use the schedule send button to open the window to select the date and time to schedule your email and then the email will appear in a Scheduled section down the sidebar of your inbox

Gmail settings

Gmail's Settings is a treasure trove of ways to customise your Gmail experience and inbox. Many of these settings are covered elsewhere on this page, so here we'll explore some useful settings to check when getting Gmail to work effectively for you.

The cog settings icon is how you access Settings in gmail

To access Gmail's settings, you need to click on the cog Settings icon in the top right hand corner of the screen. This will open the Quick settings, which allows you to change the view of your inbox in various ways and toggle conversation view on or off. Choose See all settings to access the full range of Gmail settings, which is what we'll be refering to when we say Settings.

The General tab in Settings has many of Gmail's useful settings, and is also notable as it is one of the only pages in Google Workspace that requires you to press Save changes at the bottom of the page, rather than saving automatically. This is to allow you to be able to do things like write and set an out of office and then save once it is configured, rather than having your out of office start appearing before you'd finishing writing it!

Undo send

Undo Send is a very useful setting (found on the General tab), as it controls for how long Gmail waits before actually sending your email to the recipient(s), which is also the amount of time the Message sent dialogue box contains an Undo button. You can choose 5, 10, 20, or 30 seconds, and 30 seconds can be helpful if you're liable to spot mistakes or wrong email addresses once you've pressed Send on an email! Bear in mind that emails aren't send until after this interval, so it does cause a slight delay.

Once you click Send on an email, you can still click Undo for a set amount of time before the email actually sends

Smart features and personalisation

Gmail has a range of settings that require smart features and personalisation to be turned on for them to work. These features use artificial intelligence (AI) to offer help with things like spelling and grammar, suggest text and replies you might want to use, and nudge you when you have emails you might need to reply to. You can turn off smart features and personalisation as a whole on the General tab, which will then disable all the features that need this to work. If you want to use one of these features, you will need to ensure Turn on smart features and personalisation is ticked and then toggle the individual features on or off as you want.

These features can make your life easier, speeding up your time spent writing emails and helping with spelling and grammar. However, you may find them unhelpful, especially when the suggestions don't match your usual tone when writing. Let's take a look at some of them in more detail:

Spelling, grammar, and autocorrect

These features control whether spelling and grammar suggestions are shown and whether autocorrect will occur when composing emails. Bear in mind you may already use features for this through your web browser or device, but often these do not appear in the Gmail compose box, so if you like to use these features, you may want to turn these settings on.

Smart Compose and Smart Compose personalisation

There are two different settings for the Smart Compose feature, which causes predictive writing suggestions to appear as you write an email, often guessing how you want a sentence to... end. You can turn on Smart Compose, which causes generic suggestions to appear as you write, and you can turn on Smart Compose personalisation, which means the suggestions that appear are tailored to the writing style of your emails, using AI.

If you use these features, make sure you check careful what you use if you accept the suggestion, to ensure you don't accidentally send something you didn't mean to say!

Smart Reply

Smart Reply is another setting that causes suggested replies to appear as buttons beneath emails you receive where relevant. These can be helpful for quick responses, but often are impersonal and quite American in style, so may not suit your email tone. However, having them appear doesn't mean you have to use them, and they can be amusing to read!

Button labels

An easily missed setting, but one that can make your life a lot easier if you don't know what Gmail's icons mean. When you have an email open or selected, a range of icons appear along the top bar for actions such as archiving, moving, adding labels, etc. By default, these are icons and you can hover over them to see what they do, but you can use the Button labels setting in General to change these to text, making it easier to know what you're doing with your emails. You may prefer either icons or text, but the option is there to toggle between them!

Out-of-Office AutoReply

Gmail has a built-in Out-of-Office AutoReply feature that sends an automated reply to all incoming email messages (or only to those in your Contacts or within your domain, in our case University of York. This feature is at the bottom of the General tab's list of settings, so you'll have to scroll for a while to find it.

To set up your Out-of-Office AutoReply, choose a first and last day for it to be automatically sent, then write a subject and message for the automated response. You can use it when on leave, busy, or if you need a message to go to everyone who emails you. If you choose the current day, the AutoReply will begin as soon as you click Save Changes.

Delegated access in Gmail

Typically you access Gmail by logging in to a Google account, for example your own University of York Google account. However, you may also need to access shared inboxes by having delegated access to an inbox.

Delegated access means that you can access the inbox to another Google account to check, reply to, and organise emails as needed. You have to be given delegated access to the account by the owner of that account and then you can access a delegated inbox by opening your own Gmail inbox and then clicking on your account icon in the top right hand corner and selecting the delegated account you want to open.


When using a delegated mailbox, you are fine to open that inbox in the same browser window as your own Google account. However, if you are the owner of another email account and can log into that account, we recommend using Chrome profiles to keep these accounts separate.

Often at the University of York, you will have delegated access to a non-personal account, which is a separate email account owned by someone at the university which can have a custom email address. The IT Services Email page has more details:


Delegated access only gives you access to the Gmail inbox of a Google account, and not the Google Drive or any other Google app. To access Google Drive files for another account, those will need to be shared by the owner of the account or put on a Shared drive.

For more information specific to the University of York on delegated access, both in terms of having an inbox shared with you using the 'delegated access' option and for setting up delegated access to an account you own for someone else, see the following IT Support pages:

Google Contacts

Google Contacts is a separate app to Gmail and can be accessed via the 9 dots launcher icon or at It is a space for saving email addresses and other contact information for people you need to contact, as well as organising these with labels if needed. Google Contacts is a feature of Google Workspace so won't be available if you only have a personal free Gmail account, but is available for University of York Google accounts.

Google Contacts also has a Frequently contacted section that shows you which email addresses you contact the most through your Google account, even if you don't have them added in Google Contacts. You can add these email addresses to your Contacts list from this screen. You can also import and export contacts in CSV format if needed.

Contacts also has a deleate access feature similar to Gmail. You can give other Google accounts delegated access to view, edit, delete, and create contacts within your Contacts and you can be given access to others' Contacts. To invite someone else to have delegated access to your Contacts, choose the cog Settings icon in the top right hand corner of Google Contacts then choose Delegate access. This shows any existing delegates and has a button to Invite delegate.


Here's some suggested exercises to start familiarising yourself with Gmail:

  1. Change your inbox view. Try out a different inbox view and see what you think - remember, you can always change it back.
  2. Create some labels. If you've not already, create some labels relevant to your work and add some emails to those labels.
  3. Create a filter. Set up a test filter and ask someone else to send you an email matching the criteria (or send yourself one). Make sure you delete the filter afterwards unless it's one you want to keep!
  4. Schedule an email. Write yourself an email to your future self and schedule it to send to you in the future.
  5. Check your settings. Visit Settings and under General take a look at what you've got set up and if you want to change any settings.

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