You’re here because you want to learn about email threads.
An email thread groups all emails related to a particular topic into a single email. By default, popular email clients now organize emails this way:
If your inbox is full of clutter and you have trouble finding emails, you’re (most likely) not using email threads.
In this guide, you’ll learn what an email thread is, how to use it, and some best practices for using email threads effectively.
Table of Contents:
What is an email thread?
An email thread is a series of emails grouped by the same topic. Replies appear below the original message at the end of the thread (usually in chronological order). Past emails are still accessible for context or documentation.
Here’s what an email thread looks like in Superhuman:
In simple terms, an email thread turns a sequence of messages into a single email. It’s one of the best ways to streamline your inbox.
Organizing different emails into threads makes it easy to track and follow conversations. Plus, email threads help you communicate effectively.
An unthreaded email looks like this:
Viewing email that isn’t threaded makes it hard to find crucial information. Plus, unthreaded emails give you zero context into past conversations.
The worst part: Unthreaded emails clutter your inbox.
Let’s go back to using email threads:
You’ll see (14) below the first mail in your Gmail email thread. It shows the total number of emails sent and received on this chain of emails. Click on it to see all the emails in this thread.
In Superhuman, you’ll see a (#) next to emails that count the number of emails in the thread:
An email thread is also known as:
- Email conversation
- Email chain
- Email string
- Email trail
- Message thread
We’ll use all these terms in this guide.
Long story short: By grouping related emails, email threads help you easily manage your inbox and find emails.
Email threads: pros and cons
Should you use email threads? Here are some pros and cons.
Email threads have many advantages. Here are three of them:
1. Email threads improve communication.
By grouping related emails, email threads help you effectively communicate with your team, customers, and vendors. Participants can share insights and feedback in one place.
Threads make it easy for a group of people to follow a discussion. With access to past conversation history, everyone is on the same page.
3. Email threads declutter your inbox.
Email chains are the best way to manage correspondence with multiple people without cluttering your inbox.
Instead of ten emails showing up separately, email threads club all your emails into a single conversation. Only the most recent message shows up in your inbox.
4. Email threads boost productivity.
Email threads streamline your inbox. So you can respond to emails that matter most. Threading emails also helps you find relevant emails fast.
Basically: You’ll get through your inbox twice as fast.
Some common disadvantages of email threading:
1. Irrelevant email threads can clog up your inbox.
You (or your team members) may receive irrelevant emails, clogging up your inbox. Email threads can feel like spam if you don’t follow best practices. More on this later.
2. Some email services don’t support email threading.
If your colleagues (or you) use an email client that doesn’t group email conversations, you’ll send or receive replies that appear as a new message.
Unthreaded emails = email overload.
3. Email threads can get too long.
Sometimes, message threads can become too long. Essential information often gets buried.
Despite the drawbacks, email threads are among the best productivity hacks to streamline your inbox (if used effectively).
How to use email threads (in Gmail, Outlook, and Apple Mail)
Popular mail services like Gmail, Outlook, and Apple Mail automatically group your email conversations by default.
If that’s not the case, here’s how to enable (and use) email threads:
Open Gmail on your browser.
Head to the Settings menu (gear icon) > See all settings.
In the General tab, scroll down to Conversation view. Turn Conversation view on:
Voila! Gmail will now group emails from the first reply to the latest email message. Like so:
Gmail groups emails if each message meets the following:
- The same recipients, senders, or subjects as previous emails.
- A reference header with the identical IDs as an earlier message.
- Sent within one week of an earlier message.
Note: Gmail will break an email thread if the subject line changes or the email chain grows beyond 100 emails.
Open the Gmail app on your iPhone (or iPad).
In the top left, tap on Menu (three lines) > Settings:
Tap Inbox customizations. Toggle Conversation view on:
You’ve now enabled email threads on the Gmail app for iOS!
On Gmail for Android, turning on message threads is easy:
- Open the Gmail app.
- In the top left, tap Menu (three lines) > Settings.
- Select your email account.
- Toggle Conversation view on.
That’s it! Email threading on Gmail is now enabled.
Head to Outlook on your browser.
Click on Settings (gear icon). Head to Mail > Layout.
Scroll down to Message organization. Turn on Show email grouped by conversation:
You can also arrange the message list to show the newest emails on top, bottom, or separately.
Open settings in your Outlook desktop app. (Hit “Cmd+,” on Mac).
In Email, click on Reading:
Check Show email grouped by conversation:
Outlook will automatically group all your emails in threads.
Open Outlook on your mobile device.
Click on the profile icon in the top left. Click on the Settings button (gear icon):
Scroll down to Email. Turn on Organize by Thread:
Your emails will now threaded on the Outlook mobile app.
Sidenote: Outlook is a slow, clunky, and complicated email client. If you’re looking to switch, check out these Outlook alternatives.
3. Apple Mail
By default, Apple Mail will group emails from the same thread (or conversation) instead of showing individual email messages.
You can manually turn email threads on/off. Open the Apple Mail app on your Mac.
In the menu bar, click on View. Check (or uncheck) Organize by Conversation:
Once checked, Mail will organize all your previous conversations into threads.
Open Settings. Search for the Mail app:
In Mail, head to Threading. Turn on Organize by Thread:
You also have the option to collapse read messages.
Prefer seeing recent messages on top? Turn it on. Otherwise, keep it turned off.
How to add someone to an email thread
To add someone to an existing email chain, forward the email thread or add them in the CC, BCC, or To fields before hitting send.
Your new recipients will now have access to past conversations on the email thread:
In Superhuman, you can hit Cmd+Shift+C to CC or Cmd+Shift+B to BCC people on an email. Forward an entire email thread by hitting F.
How to remove someone from an email chain
Removing someone from an email chain is as easy as adding them. Simply clear their email address from the CC or BCC field when writing your following email.
You can also hit “Reply” instead of “Reply all” to exclude anyone from an email chain.
Effective email threads: five best practices
1. Write concise subject lines
Descriptive subject lines make it easy for anyone to find an email quickly.
For example, we recently published a guide on scheduling emails in Outlook. Like always, our collaboration happened via email. The subject line I used is simple and concise:
All anyone has to do to find this email thread is enter a few words:
Plus, Superhuman AI summarizes the entire email chain. I can quickly find what I need (without digging through emails).
Superhuman AI can also help you:
- Write an entire e-mail from just an idea.
- Type faster with real-time autocorrect.
- Edit existing emails (in your voice).
Here’s how it works:Try Superhuman
2. Use CC and BCC
To maintain proper email etiquette, CC and BCC are your best friends.
We’ve linked our guide on CC vs BCC (and when to use them).
Here are a few rules of thumb:
- Use CC to promote open dialogue and better group communication.
- Opt for BCC if you want to prioritize privacy or use email lists.
CC people who need to be kept in the loop (but aren’t primary recipients). BCC people if (and when) you need to protect their privacy.
In Superhuman, you can quickly add recipients by entering “@” or “+” and typing their name:
Pro Tip: If someone introduces you by email, BCC them to prevent cluttering their inbox.
With Superhuman instant intro, you can thank the introducer, move them to BCC, and start replying. All in one click:
Recommended Reading: CC vs BCC in Email.
3. Stick to the subject
Going off-topic is easy if you use email threads. It often starts with a joke and ends with a lengthy discussion on a completely unrelated subject.
The result: cluttered inboxes, mass confusion, and endless follow-up questions.
Don’t be that person (or encourage it).
Rule of thumb: Tackle one specific topic per email thread. To discuss something else, start a new email thread. This way, you’ll keep your original email chain intact.
By sticking to the subject, you’ll minimize one of the most significant downsides of email threads.
4. Write better emails
Old-fashioned advice, but writing better emails is a skill.
A skill everyone can (and should) learn.
We wrote a definitive guide to writing effective emails. Here’s a quick rundown:
- Write clear, concise subject lines.
- Break up emails to make it scannable.
- Summarise critical points using bullets.
- End your emails with a single CTA.
- Proofread your email before hitting send.
Superhuman AI can write entire emails for you. Jot down some phrases and watch it turn into a fully-written email that’s ready to send:
Superhuman AI can fix spelling and grammar, improve clarity, and change email length—all with just a few keystrokes.
The best part: You can rewrite emails to be in your voice!
Regardless, mistakes still happen.
Luckily, most email clients offer an undo send feature.
In Superhuman, you have 30 seconds to undo send an email. Simply hit Z on desktop or tap Undo on mobile:
Forgot an attachment? Superhuman will remind you:
Gmail, Outlook, and Apple Mail also offer a native undo send feature.
Further Reading: How to unsend an email on Gmail, Outlook, etc.
5. Hop on a phone call
"Meetings should be phone calls, phone calls should be emails, and phone calls should just be texts." — Naval Ravikant.
Team meetings are a huge time suck, but endless email back-and-forths are much worse.
Email chains can get out of hand quickly. In those cases, picking up the phone or inviting everyone to a Zoom call is faster.
Rule of thumb: Notice yourself playing a never-ending game of email ping pong? It's time to pick up the phone or get everyone in the same room.
Email is an irreplaceable tool for business communication. But email doesn’t have to be time-consuming or complicated.
Using email threads lets you stay organized and hit inbox zero faster.
Want to level up your email management? Learn the inbox zero method.
If you’re looking for a delightful, blazing-fast email experience – try Superhuman today! You’ll save 4+ hours every week and (finally) love email again. 😉