2. Familiarizing Yourself with the Outlook Interface

Subtitles Enabled

Sign up for a free trial to access more free content.

Free trial


Explore the Outlook interface by navigating through the different viewing panes and understanding how tools and commands are laid out in the Ribbon


Lesson Goal

Investigate the Outlook interface.

The Ribbon

The ribbon is a feature which is used across multiple Microsoft Office products. It categorizes Outlook’s tools, known as commands, into tabs. Within each tab the commands are sub categorized into groups.

Outlook Panes

The majority of Outlook’s interface is taken up by panes. By default Outlook will show the email view which has its own set of panes. The first pane from the left is the Folder pane. This displays the mail folders for your email accounts.

Beneath this is the Navigation Toolbar. This switches the Outlook interface from the email view to other views such as Contacts, Calendar, and Tasks. Note that switching between these views will completely change the panes being used in the interface.

Continuing with the email view, to the right of the Folder pane we have the Mailbox pane. This will show the contents of the folder currently selected in the Folder pane. It includes a view of the emails in that folder along with short previews of the contents of the email.

To the right of the Mailbox pane we have the Reading pane. This provides a much more expansive preview of individual emails than the Mailbox pane. Note that viewing emails in the reading pane will not actually count as opening the email.

To the right of the Reading pane we have the To-Do bar. This shows us small previews of other Outlook features. It can include a mini-calendar view, a list of contacts who’ve been marked as a favourite and tasks.


In this lesson we'll investigate the Outlook interface. In all Microsoft Office products, the interface revolves around the ribbon which appears towards the top of the window. The ribbon contains a wide variety of icons called commands. Each of these commands are distinct tools that give us various customization options. We won't cover any specific commands in this lesson, but you'll become more familiar with the ribbon and its commands as you progress through this learning plan. For now, we'll investigate how the ribbon categorizes commands.

Note that the ribbon has different tabs. Each contains similar tools or commands.

Within each tab commands are organized into groups.

For example, in the Home tab, the Respond group contains commands for replying to an individual sender, replying to all people addressed in the email, forwarding to a different email address, as well as a few additional commands. Beneath the ribbon, most of the interface is segmented into separate areas called panes. To the left we can see the Folder Pane.

Next to that is the Mailbox Pane, then the Reading Pane, and finally, the To-Do Bar.

In the Folder Pane, we can see the layout of our email folders and the data files for each of our email accounts.

We'll return to folders and data files in the next lesson.

At the bottom of the Folder Pane is the Navigation Toolbar.

At the moment the Mail icon is highlighted.

If we click the Calendar icon, our interface has changed dramatically.

The Reading Pane and To-Do Bar have disappeared, and have been replaced with a Calendar view. The ribbon has also drastically changed. If we return to the Mail view, we can see that the tabs are the same but the commands are completely different.

This is one way that Outlook is very different from Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

Those applications are far more specialized. Outlook on the other hand, is like several different tools wrapped into one.

This is why switching from Mail to Calendar can have a drastic affect on the interface.

We'll cover Calendars, Contacts, Tasks, and other Outlook elements in a different course.

For this course, we'll stick with mailing.

With that in mind, we'll move on to the Mailbox pane.

This pane shows us emails contained within the folder we've selected in the Folder Pane.

In this case we didn't specifically select a folder, so Outlook has opened the top folder, Inbox.

To the right is the Reading Pane. If we click on an email in the Mailbox Pane, the Reading Pane will display a preview of the email. To the right of the Reading Pane, we can see the To-Do Bar.

By default this shows us a small preview of our Calendar, with a list of upcoming events below.

We can add to the To-Do Bar by navigating to the View tab, and selecting the To-Do drop-down command. We'll add People and Tasks.

The People section simply shows some of our contacts marked as favorites.

Tasks details some upcoming tasks.

Since we won't be covering Calendars, Contacts, or Tasks in this course, we'll turn the To-Do Bar off, by selecting the To-Do drop-down command again, and choosing Off.

We can also use these commands to adjust the view of the Folder and Reading panes. If we click the Folder Pane drop-down command, we can turn it off, or minimize it. Minimizing it will hide the pane until we click the arrow on the top left.

If we click the pin icon the folder will stay in place. If we return to the Folder Pane drop-down command, we can see that clicking the pin changed the view back to Normal. If we look at the Reading Pane drop-down command, we can see that we can move it to the bottom, turn it off, and bring it back to the right.

Note that we can't hide or remove the Reading Pane. This covers all the ways we can manipulate the interface when managing emails.

With that, we'll stop the lesson here. In the next lesson, we'll learn how to organize our folders and data files.

Sending and Organizing Emails


My Notes

You can take notes as you view lessons.

Sign in or start a free trial to avail of this feature.

Free Trial

Download our training resources while you learn.

Sign in or start a free trial to avail of this feature.

Free Trial