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All Things Google: The New Gmail Compose

Picture of a hand holding a quill pen

We’re probably at the point here at ProfHacker where we might not have to tell you that we tend to like all things Google. So I was plenty interested when Gmail rolled out a new interface for writing a few weeks ago that makes it a lot easier to multi-task while writing emails.

In the past, composing email worked in the same way that reading them did: it took up your entire screen. The new writing environment drops a compose window in the lower-right corner of your inbox.

New compose window in Gmail

At first, you might be a bit annoyed about the smaller space for writing. And many of the formatting options that you’ve grown used to having right above the compose space in Gmail have been tucked inside different menus. Where, for instance, is the option to add bullet points? How do I CC someone? It turns out the bullets (and most of the other formatting options, including font sizes, indenting and colors) live under the “A.” The option to CC someone appears once you click on recipients.

While it might take you a while to figure out where all of your options now live, the real advantage of the new compose is that you can now move throughout Gmail while composing. Looking at different emails or conversations, running searches, even changing your Gmail settings can all be done while keeping your compose window open. This ability is worth the price of entry alone (and, of course, the price is free). In the past I’ve had to resort to opening multiple Gmail tabs to refer to multiple message threads while writing in a third or fourth window. The new compose more or less gets rid of this problem altogether. If I need a bit more space to read the email, I can minimize the window, and if I want to write while looking at other tabs, I can pop the window out.

And it turns out that all of those hidden features have actually been improved with the addition of keyboard shortcuts. Google tools already supported a number of keyboard shortcuts in Gmail, which I wrote about last year, and which you can see by simply typing “?” once you’ve turned them on. But the new compose supports many more of them. Inserting a bulleted list, for example, is as easy as “CTRL + Shift + 8″ on Windows and “Cmd + Shift + 8″ on a Mac. Adding a CC to an email is “CTRL + Shift + C” on Windows or “Cmd + Shift + C” on a Mac. Neither of these shortcuts was available in the previous compose. And since I like having keyboard shortcuts for EVERYTHING, this means I love, no, LURVE the new compose.

You can start using the new feature by clicking on “Try out the new compose experience” to the right of the Labels button at the top of the classic compose pane.

New compose option

If, however, you find that you prefer your old way of writing emails, it’s easy to switch back. Just click the small arrow in the lower-right corner, next to the trash can, and choose “switch back to old compose.”

It took a week or two for me to get used to the new version, but I’ve found the new compose features tremendously helpful in helping me plow through my email. How about you? Are you using the new compose? Let us know what you think in the comments!

Lead photo: Quill / rachaelvoorhees / CC BY-SA 2.0

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