Email thread: How to manage email threads (+ 5 pro tips)
Email thread: How to manage email threads (+ 5 pro tips)

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, most popular email clients now organize emails this way: 

Email Thread in Gmail

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. 

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

Email Thread

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 emails into threads makes it easy to track and follow conversations. Plus, email threads help you communicate effectively.

An unthreaded email looks like this:

Unthreaded Email

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 compare the same email displayed as part of an email thread, instead:

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: 

Superhuman Email Threads

Quick note: 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.


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: 

1. Gmail


Open Gmail on your browser.

Head to the Settings menu (gear icon) > See all settings.

Enable Email Threads in Gmail

In the General tab, scroll down to Conversation view. Turn Conversation view on:

Gmail Email Thread

Voila! Gmail will now group emails from the first reply to the latest email message. Like so: 

Email Thread Gmail

Gmail groups emails if each message meets the following criteria:

  1. The same recipients, senders, or subjects as previous emails.
  2. A reference header with the identical IDs as an earlier message. 
  3. 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. 

Mobile (iOS/Android)

Open the Gmail app on your iPhone (or iPad).

In the top left, tap on Menu (three lines) > Settings

Gmail iOS Email Thread

Tap Inbox customizations. Toggle Conversation view on: 

Email Threads Gmail iOS

You’ve now enabled email threads on the Gmail app for iOS!  

Email Threads in Gmail iOS

On Gmail for Android, turning on message threads is easy: 

  1. Open the Gmail app. 
  2. In the top left, tap Menu (three lines) > Settings
  3. Select your email account. 
  4. Toggle Conversation view on.

That’s it! Email threading on Gmail is now enabled.

2. Outlook

Outlook Web

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:  

Email Thread Outlook

You can also arrange the message list to show the newest emails on top, bottom, or separately.

Desktop (Mac/PC)

Open settings in your Outlook desktop app. (Hit “Cmd+,” on Mac).

In Email, click on Reading

Outlook Settings

Check Show email grouped by conversation

Outlook Email Threads

Outlook will automatically group all your emails in threads. 

Mobile (iOS/Android)

Open Outlook on your mobile device. 

Click on the profile icon in the top left. Click on the Settings button (gear icon): 

Outlook iOS Email Threads

Scroll down to Email. Turn on Organize by Thread

Outlook Email Thread

Your emails will now appear as threads in the Outlook mobile app.

Sidenote: if you’re not sure whether Outlook is still the right email client for you, 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.

Apple Mail Email Thread


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:  

Email Threads in Apple Mail

Once checked, Mail will organize all your previous conversations into threads.

iOS (iPhone/iPad)

Open Settings. Search for the Mail app: 

Apple Mail iOS Email Threads

In Mail, head to Threading. Turn on Organize by Thread

Organize by Thread Apple Mail iOS

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:

Superhuman Email Threads

In Superhuman, you can hit Cmd+Shift+C to CC or Cmd+Shift+B to BCC people on an email. Or you can forward an entire email thread by hitting F

How to remove someone from an email chain

Removing someone from an email chain is easy —imply clear their email address from the CC or BCC field when writing your nextemail.

You can also hit “Reply” instead of “Reply all” to exclude all CCs 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, here’s the subject line I used when collaborating on a recent guide for  scheduling emails in Outlook:

Superhuman AI Summary

The subject line is descriptive and simple. That makes it easy for anyone to find, with just a few words in search:

Sidenote: What’s that Summary with bullet points? That’s Auto-Summarize, a Superhuman AI feature which summarizes the entire email chain, giving you the key information without having to dig through each email.

Superhuman AI can also help you: 

  • Write an entire email 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, you need to master CC and BCC. (Here’s a link to our guide on CC vs BCC, and when to use them) 

Here are a few rules of thumb: 

  • Use CC to open dialogue and communicate as a group.
  • Use 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.

Superhuman Email Compose

In Superhuman, you can quickly add recipients by entering “@” or “+” and typing their name: 

Superhuman Email

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:

Instant Intro

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 emails.

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

Writing better emails is a skill everyone can (and must) learn. Read our guide on how to write better emails.

For now, here’s a quick rundown:

  • Write clear, concise subject lines.
  • Break up emails to make it scannable.
  • Summarize critical points using bullets.
  • End your emails with a single CTA (or ask).
  • Proofread emails 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 in your voice! 

Regardless, mistakes still happen. Luckily, most email clients offer an undo send feature. 

In Superhuman, you have 30 seconds to undo a sent email. Simply hit Z on desktop or tap Undo on mobile:

Superhuman Undo Send

Forgot an attachment? Superhuman will remind you: 

Forgot Attachments?

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.

Meetings can drain everyone’s time, and endless email back-and-forths can be just as bad.

If an email chains is getting out of hand or off topic,  , picking up the phone or inviting everyone to a Zoom call can be a wise move.

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.

Wrapping up

Email is an irreplaceable tool for business communication. But email doesn’t have to be time-consuming or complicated. 

Using email threads can help you stay organized and get through your inbox faster. Want to go even faster? Learn about the Inbox Zero method.

And try Superhuman, the fastest email experience ever made. You’ll reply 2x fast and save 4+ hours every week.

Reduce distractions and save 4+ hours every week with Superhuman!
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