Outlook email basics and beyond

Office for Mere Mortals
Your beginners guide to the secrets of Microsoft Office
Invalid email address
Tips and help for Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook from Microsoft Office experts.  Give it a try. You can unsubscribe at any time.  Office for Mere Mortals has been running for over 20 years, we've never, ever revealed or sold subscriber details.  Privacy policy

Outlook tricks you may not have considered for New, Reply, Reply All, Forward and Resend.

New / Compose

The simple and easy one first. Click on the New Email button to start a new message.

At the very least fill in the TO, Subject and some message text then click Send.

There can be more than one email address in the TO field. That’s important because some spam filters consider whether the incoming email is addressed to the recipient in the TO field or in CC or BCC. If it’s in CC/BCC then it may be mistaken for spam. In technical terms, the spam score can be higher if the recipients address is not in the TO field.

CC means Carbon Copy. All message recipients can see who received the message as CC or TO recipients.

BCC means ‘Blind’ Carbon Copy. These people get a copy of the email (including TO and CC lists) but the BCC list is hidden from everyone except the sender.

Sending the same message to many people

Naturally, you can send a single email to many people by listing them in TO, CC or BCC fields. However there are other options.

If you don’t want recipients to see who else got the message, put all recipients in the BCC list. In theory you can send a message with no TO or CC email addresses and only BCC recipients – but occasionally that can cause problems so it’s a good idea to put at least one TO recipient (which can be the senders email address).

The other option is to do a Word mail merge to emails. This will send an individual email to each listed recipient.

Email Address autocomplete

When you type an email address or name in the Outlook address fields it will offer options using Autocomplete. That’s great most of the time but there’s a trap.

If you change the email address in a Contact item it is NOT changed in the autocomplete list. The autocomplete list is separate from the Contacts list. That means the old address will keep coming up in autocomplete until you delete it from there as well.

Copying an email address

Usually you get email addresses by replying but sometimes you want an email address to paste into a message or add to CC or BCC.

Though it doesn’t look it, any email or name in an Outlook message header (i.e the white or gray areas above a message) can be selected, copied and pasted. Click or select the name, right-click and choose Copy.


Choose a message and click the Reply button. This sets up an email message TO the person who sent the message. The original message is added to the new message.

As you know, the subject has RE: added to the start in English versions of Outlook. In other languages a different two letter prefix might apply such as AW in German.

Outlook and most other email programs are smart enough to see an existing ‘RE:’ at the start of a message and not add another one. But occasionally you’ll still get a subject like this: RE: RE: RE: RE: …. with the real subject scrolling out of sight to the right. If so, be kind to your correspondents by deleting the extra RE: so the subject line can be read.

Except for the RE: or equivalent don’t change the subject line. That’s because Outlook and other programs use the subject line to group emails into what Microsoft calls ‘Conversations’ but in the 20th Century we called them ‘threads’.

How you reply depends on you and the circumstances.

You can simply type a reply at the top of the new message. That’s good for single topic emails. These days with small reading/preview windows or smartphones, people can only see the first dozen-ish lines of an incoming email.

Often emails cover more than one topic or idea, so your reply needs to be separated

One options is to add your replies in a different color text to the original.

The other replying option is to partly quote the incoming message (using indent or bullet point) then put your responses below that – preferably in a different color.

http://img.office-watch.com/ow/Email%201.png image from Outlook email basics and beyond at Office-Watch.com

Reply All

Sends a reply to the message sender AND anyone listed in the CC list for that message

It’s worth checking the CC list …. should everyone on that list get the reply too?

Switching between Reply and Reply All

A common mistake is pressing Reply when you meant to click Reply All … or vice-versa.

Sadly, Outlook has no way to switch between Reply and Reply All once you’ve started a reply. This has been a long-standing Outlook gripe that Microsoft has ignored.

The main workaround for changing Reply to Reply All is to copy the reply text you’ve already done then click Reply All on the original message and paste your reply into the Reply All message.

Turning a Reply All into a Reply is simply a matter of removing the CC entries from the reply message.


Creates a new message with the selected message copied into the new message contents.

The subject line is prefixed with FW (or WG in German. )

Some things to consider when forwarding:

Should you forward the name and, especially, email address of the original sender? That person might not appreciate their email address being broadcast to others. It’s easy to delete the email address or the entire FROM: line before forwarding.

Ever received a forwarded email with all the content waaaay down the email and indented waaay off to the right? That’s from someone who has Forwarded without a little check of the content before clicking Send. Before forwarding, remove any unnecessary lines from the top then select the rest and move it back to the left margin.

About RE and FW

If you have a non-English version of Outlook and want to use RE and FW instead of the local language alternative go to File | Options | Advanced | International

http://img.office-watch.com/ow/Email%202.png image from Outlook email basics and beyond at Office-Watch.com

Check the options for

  • Use English for message flag labels
  • Use English for message headers on replies and forwards and for forward notifications.

This will help with consistency in global communication and any problems with email programs that can’t cope with non-English versions of RE and FW.


A very useful but rarely used Outlook feature.

It’s easy to resend a message you’ve sent in the past either to the same people or others. This is handy if the original message got lost but also if you need to send the same or similar message to other people or other addresses.

Go to your Sent Items folder, and open the message you want to resend. Under the Actions menu you’ll see Resend this Message.

http://img.office-watch.com/ow/Email%203.png image from Outlook email basics and beyond at Office-Watch.com

This option creates a new outgoing message window with the same settings as the original. If you just want to resend the message, click Send and it’ll go.

Or you can change the message, alter the TO, CC or BCC names plus the text of the message itself.

We use ‘Resend This Message’ enough that it’s on our Quick Access Toolbar. It really deserves a more prominent place on the default Outlook ribbon.


You can edit the text of an incoming message. Open the message then under the Edit menu choose Edit Message.

http://img.office-watch.com/ow/Email%204.png image from Outlook email basics and beyond at Office-Watch.com

The message window might not seem to change but if you click in the text of the message and type you’ll see that it is now editable.

You can change the format of a message from plain text to HTML from the Format menu. To see the formatting options right-click on an empty space on the toolbar and select the Formatting Toolbar.

Now the big question – why would you do that? I expect there’s plenty of reasons here’s some of mine:

  • to make a message easier to find. Sometimes incoming messages don’t have key words that would help you to find them later. Emails with just image attachments but no message text to explain what the photo is. Editing the message to add a few words like ‘vacation Italy Venice gondola’ or ‘new house Denver yard’ will help retrieve that message in years to come.
  • similarly, a PDF attachment without searchable text (e.g. a fax converted to email) can be found later if you add a few words of explanation to the incoming message/
  • Much the same reason can apply to a normal incoming message. If I’m going to refer to it again I may edit it so the vital info is easy to see or the message lacks context.

Latest news & secrets of Microsoft Office

Microsoft Office experts give you tips and help for Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook.

Give it a try. You can unsubscribe at any time.  Office Watch has been running for over 20 years, we've never, ever revealed or sold subscriber details.  Privacy policy
Invalid email address