A Comprehensive Guide to Organizing And Using Email Threads

Jyothiikaa Moorthy
ByJyothiikaa Moorthy

8 mins read

We've all experienced the situation where you are scrambling through your inbox to find a specific email on a project.

And if all the emails about the topic appear individually in the inbox, it'll take us ages to find the email. That's where using an email thread can be helpful.

An email thread is used to group all emails related to a topic and arrange them by when they were sent. It makes it easy for people to find the email and see all the related emails in one place.

In the article, we'll talk more about email threads, also known as email chain, its meaning, their pros and cons, email thread examples, and what you can do to use them more efficiently.

  • What is an email thread?

  • Advantages of using an email thread

  • Disadvantages of using an email thread

  • How to enable email threads in your email client?

  • Best practices to follow for an effective email thread

  • Wrap up

What is an email thread?

An email thread is a conversation with a sequence of messages and replies. Each new message is added to the end of the thread, providing a complete history of the conversation. Email threads are useful to keep track of discussions and provide context for ongoing communication among participants.

So, if you use an email string or email thread, all recipients can see every reply sent to the original email in that thread, unless someone has excluded them from the conversation by hitting “reply” instead of “reply all”.

An unthreaded email would look something like this:

Unthreaded emails in inbox

Each new email shows up one after the other and it doesn't show any record of the other emails sent related to the topic.

Meanwhile, a threaded email will look something like this:

Threaded emails in inbox.png

The topmost email, in the above example, shows a “(4)” in it, which indicates there are four emails in the conversation, as it includes both the emails sent and the emails received. If you click on that email, you will be able to see all four emails sent in that email thread.

Advantages of using an email thread

One of the major advantages of using an email thread is that it can make email communication less stressful. Here is how it does that:

1. Makes it easy to track a conversation

If you use emails on a daily basis for correspondence, you will find that email threads can be really useful to keep track of your emails. The email thread keeps all the emails related to the topic together, which helps people easily search and track emails.

2. Keeps everyone informed

When a group of people is involved in a project, there are chances that you'll miss including everyone involved in the project everytime you send a new email. So if you use an email thread, you can make everyone a part of the conversation by keep them in the loop by default.

3. Reduces email inbox clutter

Without an email thread, you might have an inbox filled with 11 different emails if you get ten replies to an email you sent. A thread groups together all the emails and doesn't show each email in the inbox, thus helping reduce clutter in the inbox.

Disadvantages of using an email thread

As with everything nice, email threads come with both attractive benefits and disadvantages. Here are the disadvantages of using an email thread:

1. Getting roped into unrelated emails

An email thread usually includes a vast number of recipients, which can be a good thing at times. But the downside to it is that you will probably start getting emails you don't want to see in your inbox.

And if people get added to threads unnecessarily, it can end up annoying or confusing them. You can avoid it by only adding recipients who you think need to see the replies.

2. Tends to get too long

Sometimes, people use email threads for a big project, which can end up with a lot of back and forth and a mile-long email thread. So, if someone has not been keeping up with the email thread, they might end up wasting time scrolling to the beginning of the thread to understand what has happened.

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How to enable email threads in your email client?

If you are wondering how to create an email thread in Gmail or feel like email threads might be right for you, here are the steps you need to take to set it up on Android and iOS devices.

Gmail on Android

  • Step 1: Open your inbox. Find the Settings button on your screen. It'll be on the top right corner if you use a laptop and the bottom left of your screen on mobile.

  • Step 2: Open it and click on General settings.

  • Step 3: Select Email conversation view. Now, simply toggle it ON to turn on the conversation view.

Steps to enable email threads in Gmail

iOS Device

In Apple iOS, the built-in Mail app has numerous settings that control email threading.

  • Step 1: Go to Settings and select Mail.

  • Step 2: Scroll down to Threading.

Steps to enable email threads in iOS devices

You will see the following options that you can choose from:

  • Organize by thread

This setting is usually turned on by default and is indicated by the green color icon. It controls whether email threading is used or not and if you turn it off, it'll turn off email threading entirely.

  • Collapse read messages

This option collapses any email messages that you've read.

  • Most recent message on top

This setting is usually turned off by default. It's good to turn it on because otherwise, you will have to scroll through a lot of emails to locate the most recent one.

  • Complete threads

You can turn on this setting if you want to group emails into threads, even if they are originally from another mailbox.

You can now toggle ON any or all of the choices to enable email threading.

Best practices to follow for an effective email thread

Even if the process of using an email thread sounds easy, it can be tricky to use and organize it in such a way that it's efficient and understandable to all recipients. Here are some best practices you can follow to optimize the way you use email threads:

1. Keep one email thread for only one topic

When all the discussion related to a particular topic or project is kept together, it's easy for people to understand what is happening in the email thread. If you do want to send an email that is not related to the topic or project, send it as a new email.

Because, if you start talking about another topic in the thread, it can lead to confusion and cause people to reply with lots of questions to understand what is going on.

2. Pick topics that require insights from more than one person

If you need to ask something that doesn't require a response from two or more people, email the person directly rather than on the thread because it doesn't add value to others in the thread.

3. Don't turn the email thread into a chat

The main reason why an email thread can get too long and cluttered is that people send too many one-word replies like “Thanks,” “Got it,” "Congratulations", or “Okay”. These replies don't add any value to others in the thread and can annoy the recipients of the thread.

Set ground rules and define how often people should reply and update the status in the thread. It can be every other day, weekly, or even every other week. This will let the recipients know that they don't have to send replies to acknowledge the email.

4. Add only the contacts who have to see your replies

Don't unnecessarily add people to email threads that may not be relevant to them, as it can clutter up their inboxes and annoy them. Instead, only add the necessary people to the CC or BCC and have to see the emails related to the topic.

5. Avoid stretching the thread too long

It's best to end the discussion in the thread when the project is finished. If you keep using the same thread to communicate with the recipients, the thread can get too long. Instead, you can start a new thread with the same members if you want to start talking about a new topic. Using project management software can be a useful way to log the progress of new and existing email threads. It can help you stay organized and up-to-date with all of your email threads.

6. Be professional when writing the content of your emails

Don't send emotional responses in the thread as there are a lot of people who are going to see the reply, and it can come off as unprofessional and affect the morale of the team. So, instead of replying quickly, take your time to review the email a few times before sending it off.

7. Check if the thread can be narrowed to less people

When an email is concerning a particular individual, consider forwarding it to them or reply only to them instead of clicking on 'reply all'.

Wrap up

Using an email thread can be a wonderful way to organize conversations and keep them going smoothly. And if you use the above-mentioned tips, you can use it in the most efficient way.

Hopefully, now you your inbox will be more organized which will makr your professional life easier.

Email threads related FAQs

Email threads should be used for organized communication. They group related messages, provide a chronological view, and simplify tracking. Threads retain context, promote collaboration, and enhance productivity.

Start a new email thread when the topic changes significantly or if the conversation veers off the original subject, ensuring clarity and organization in communication.

The main benefit of using threads in email is improved organization and clarity. Threads group related messages together, providing a clear conversation history. This simplifies tracking, referencing, and searching for specific discussions, enhancing efficiency and reducing confusion in email communication.

You should stop an email thread when the discussion has reached a resolution or when further communication is no longer necessary. Additionally, if the thread has diverged from the original topic or if it becomes unproductive, it may be a good time to end the thread and start a new email chain if needed.

To stop email threads, you can either send a concluding message indicating the end of the discussion or simply refrain from replying further. Additionally, if the email platform supports it, you can mute or unsubscribe from the thread to avoid receiving further notifications.

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