Outlook 2016 cheat sheet

Are you getting the most from Outlook 2016 for Windows? Learn about the key features in Microsoft’s email and calendaring client.

The pundits will have you believe email is being supplanted by texting, social media, chat apps like Slack, and direct communications software such as Skype and Google Hangouts Meet.

Don’t believe them.

Email is still big, the mainstay of workplace communications as well as a popular way for people to keep in touch with friends and families. And for many people, email means Outlook. Although Microsoft has recently announced the availability of Office 2019 to commercial users, many businesses will stick with Office 2016 (and thus Outlook 2016) for some time to come — especially because the company is now saying that Office 2016 users can connect to Microsoft’s online services until 2023.

But although you may have been using Outlook 2016 for some time, you might be missing out on some of its worthwhile features. In this story, we’ll clue you in on the most important features introduced in Outlook 2016 for Windows.

Your copy of Outlook may have been purchased as standalone software or as part of an Office 365 subscription. The subscription version gets continually updated, while the standalone version (which Microsoft calls the perpetual version) stays static. But fear not, we’ve got help for whichever version you use. The first part of the article covers both versions, while the latter sections focus on features available only to Office 365 subscribers. Then we wrap things up with a list of handy keyboard shortcuts for all Outlook 2016 users.

Share this story: IT folks, we hope you'll pass this guide on to your users to help them learn to get the most from Outlook 2016.

Use the Ribbon

The Ribbon interface that you came to know and love (or perhaps hate) in earlier versions of Outlook hasn't changed much in Outlook 2016. Because the Ribbon has been included in Office suite applications since Office 2007, we assume you're familiar with how it works. If you need a refresher, see our Outlook 2010 cheat sheet.

The Ribbon in Outlook 2016 has a flattened look that's cleaner and less cluttered than in Outlook 2010 and 2013. The 2016 Ribbon is smaller than it was in Outlook, the title bar now is now blue rather than the previous white, and the text for the Ribbon tabs (File, Home, Send/Receive and so on) is now a mix of upper- and lowercase rather than all caps. But it still works in the same way, and you'll find most of the commands in the same locations as in Outlook 2010 and 2013.

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The Ribbon hasn't changed a great deal from Outlook 2013. (Click any image in this story to enlarge it.)

To find out which commands live on which tabs on the Ribbon, download our Outlook 2016 Ribbon quick reference. Also see the nifty new Tell Me feature described below.

As in previous versions of Outlook, if you want the Ribbon commands to go away, press Ctrl-F1. (The tabs above the Ribbon stay visible.) To make them appear again, press Ctrl-F1.

You’ve got other options for displaying the Ribbon as well. To get to them, click the Ribbon Display Options icon at the top right of the screen, just to the left of the icons for minimizing and maximizing Outlook. From the dropdown menu, you can choose Auto-hide Ribbon (hide the entire Ribbon, both the tabs and commands underneath them), Show Tabs (show the tabs but hide the commands underneath them, as when you press Ctrl-F1), or Show Tabs and Commands (show the whole Ribbon).

And if for some reason the blue color on the title bar is too much for you, you can turn it white, gray or black. To do it, select File > Options > General. In the "Personalize your copy of Microsoft Office" section, click the down arrow next to Office Theme, and select Dark Gray, Black or White from the drop-down menu. To make the title bar blue again, instead choose the "Colorful" option from the drop-down list. Just above the Office Theme menu is an Office Background dropdown menu — here you can choose to display a pattern such as a circuit board or circles and stripes in the title bar.

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You can change Outlook’s blue title bar to gray, black or white: In the "Personalize your copy of Microsoft Office" section, click the down arrow next to Office Theme and pick a color.

Try Tell Me for greater efficiency

Outlook is so full of features it can be tough to remember where to find commands you haven’t used in a while. So Outlook 2016 has made it easier with a new feature called Tell Me, which puts even buried tools you rarely use in easy reach.

To use it, click the "Tell me what you want to do" text to the right of the Help tab on the Ribbon. (Those who prefer keyboard shortcuts can instead press Alt-Q.) Then type in a task you want to do, and you'll get a menu showing potential matches for the task.

For example, if you want to filter your mail to see only messages with attachments, type in “filter email.”  In this instance, the top result is a Filter Email listing with an arrow to its right, indicating that it has many options. Hover your mouse over it and you get multiple options for filtering your mail, including Unread, Has Attachments, This Week and others.

Choose the option you want to use, and the task will be performed instantly. If you'd like more information about your task, the last two items that appear in the Tell Me menu let you select from related Help topics or search for your phrase using Smart Lookup. (More on Smart Lookup below.)

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Outlook 2016's Tell Me feature makes it easy to perform just about any task.

For the most common basic tasks, you won’t need Tell Me. But for more complex ones, it’s worth using because it’s much more efficient than hunting through the Ribbon to find a command. It also remembers the features you've previously clicked on in the box, so when you click in it, you first see a list of previous tasks you've searched for. That makes sure that the tasks you frequently perform are always within easy reach. while at the same time making tasks you rarely do easily accessible.

Use Smart Lookup for online research

Sometimes emails are just quick notes that don’t require much research, and you can toss them off with little or no thought. Other times, though, you’ll want to include relevant information before sending them off. Those are the times you’ll appreciate the new Smart Lookup feature. It lets you do research from right within Outlook while you're creating an email, so you won’t have to fire up your browser, search the web, and then copy the information or pictures to your message.

To use Smart Lookup, right-click a word or group of words in an email — it can be a new draft, a message you’ve received, or one you’ve already sent — and select Smart Lookup from the menu that appears. Outlook then uses Bing to do a web search on the word or words, displaying definitions, related Wikipedia entries, pictures and other results from the web in the Smart Lookup pane that appears on the right. If you just want a definition of the word, click the Define tab in the pane.

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Smart Lookup lets you do web research from right within Outlook.

To use Smart Lookup in Outlook or any other Office 2016 app, you might first need to enable Microsoft's intelligent services feature, which collects your search terms and some content from your presentations and other documents. (If you're concerned about privacy, you'll need decide whether the privacy hit is worth the convenience of doing research from right within the app.) If you haven't enabled it, you'll see a screen when you click Smart Lookup asking you to turn it on. Once you do so, it will be turned on across all your Office 2016 applications.

Keep email messages out of the way but handy with the Archive folder

Outlook has long offered email message archiving — that is, the option to move messages out of your Outlook mailbox and into a separate PST file as a space-saving measure. Corporate versions of Office, such as Office 365 for Enterprise, offer their own archiving features that automatically archive users’ older messages, again to save space. These methods remove the messages from the user’s Outlook mailbox. You can still get them back, but it takes some doing.

There’s another option in Outlook 2016: You can move specific pieces of mail out of your Inbox or other folders and into the Archive folder. That way, when looking for a message, you can browse or search the Archive folder and find the message more quickly.

Using the Archive folder doesn’t reduce the size of your mailbox; it simply helps tidy up your inbox while keeping older messages instantly accessible. Microsoft recommends that you use the Archive folder to store messages that you’ve already responded to or acted on. If you already have a system of folders and subfolders in Outlook, you might not need the Archive folder, but it can be a boon for those of us who tend to leave everything in the inbox. And even if you do have a folder system, you might find that not all of your email fits neatly into your folders and subfolders; you can move these messages to the Archive folder to keep your inbox clean.

To move messages to the Archive folder, first select one or more that you want to archive. (Select multiple messages by holding down the Control key and clicking each one you want to select.) With the message or messages selected, go to the Ribbon’s Home tab and click Archive in the Delete group, right-click the message or group of messages and select Archive, or simply drag the selected message(s) to the Archive folder. You can also move an individual email to the Archive folder by pressing the Backspace key when the message is highlighted or when you’re reading it.

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Choose the last item in the pop-up menu to move the selected messages to the Archive folder.

Now when you need to find a message, you can browse the Archive folder or else go to the Archive folder and launch a search.

To move a message out of the Archive folder to a different folder, simply drag it to its destination.

Find attachments more easily — and share “cloud attachments”

We’ve all been there: We want to attach a file we were recently working on, but don’t remember its precise location — or sometimes even its name — and spend far too much time navigating and searching for it.

Outlook 2016 solves the problem neatly. When you click the Attach File icon, a list of the twelve most recent files you’ve been using pops up. The list includes all the files you’ve been using on any device, as long as you’re signed in to your Office 365 or Microsoft account. So if you were working on a file on your desktop, then later in the day took your laptop to work outside your office, Outlook would show you the files you had opened on both devices. If a file is stored in OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, or SharePoint, you’ll see a cloud on its icon.

If the file you want isn’t in the list, click Browse this PC to browse your local hard disk, or Browse Web Locations to browse OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, or SharePoint.

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Outlook shows you a list of Office files you’ve recently used, making it easier to find and attach them to an outgoing email.

Click the file you want to attach. What happens next depends on where the file is stored and whether you or your company has an Office 365 subscription. If you choose a file that’s stored on your local hard drive, a copy of it will be attached to the email in the usual way. If you don’t have an Office 365 account, files that are stored in the cloud are also attached in the usual way.

If you do have an Office 365 account and you click on an Office file that’s stored in OneDrive, OneDrive for Business or SharePoint, you’ll be given a choice: You can choose "Attach as copy" to send the file as a normal attachment or "Share link" to send a link to the file in its cloud location, something Microsoft informally calls a “cloud attachment.” The latter option ensures that people will see the most recent version of the file and lets them collaborate on it. For example, if you send a link to a Word file to multiple people, when they click the link, they’ll open the file and be able to collaborate on it with each other live using Word’s collaboration features

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Sharing a link to ann Office file stored in OneDrive, OneDrive for Business or SharePoint lets you collaborate on the file with others.

If you’re in a business environment, by default anyone within your organization can edit the file, and for individuals, the default is that anyone can edit the file. But you can change the collaboration permissions. After you’ve attached the link to the email message, click the down arrow next to the attachment icon and select Change Permissions from the drop-down menu. Individual users will have a choice of Anyone Can Edit or Anyone Can View. Business users have a few more options: Anyone Can Edit, Anyone Can View, Organization Can Edit, Organization Can View, Recipients Can Edit, and Recipients Can View. Make your selection and then send the file on its way.

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Choosing collaboration permissions for a shared file link.

Page Break

Note: The next two tips are for Office 365 subscribers only. If you’re not a subscriber, you can skip to the handy keyboard shortcuts chart.

Get a more focused inbox

If you’re like the rest of the world, you suffer from email overload. Your most important messages are mixed in with the dross of everyday email life — retailing come-ons, groups begging for donations, pointless newsletters and more.

Focused Inbox helps solve the problem. Using artificial intelligence, it determines which messages are most important to you and puts them into a Focused tab, while putting everything else into an Other tab. That way you can spend most of your time handling important messages in the Focused tab, only occasionally checking the Other tab.  

Note that Focused Inbox replaces Outlook’s earlier “Clutter” feature, which was introduced in Office 2013. If you have the perpetual version of Office 2016, you’ll still have the Clutter feature and don’t have access to Focused Inbox.

To turn on Focused Inbox, select the View tab from the Ribbon, then click the “Show Focused Inbox” icon. From now on, you’ll have two tabs in your Inbox, Focused and Other. The Focused tab should have the most important messages, and the Other tab should have less important messages. If that’s not the case, you can manually move messages from one folder to the other and tell Focused Inbox to automatically filter them in that way in the future.

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Turning on Focused Inbox.

To move a message from one tab to another, right-click the message you want to move, then select “Move to Other” or “Move to Focused,” depending on where you want the message moved. That will move the message just this once. If you want to permanently route all messages from that sender to the other tab, choose either “Always Move to Other” or “Always Move to Focused.”

Focused Inbox isn’t for everybody. If you find that Focused Inbox hinders more than it helps, you can toggle it back off by selecting View > Show Focused Inbox.

Work in Office 365 Groups

If you work in an office that uses Office 365 Groups, you can now join groups, create new groups, schedule meetings on a group calendar and more, all from within Outlook. Office 365 Groups, available for most Office 365 business and enterprise plans, make it easy to collaborate with others by designating a set of people with whom to share resources, such as a document library, shared calendar and/or shared email account. Groups can be for departments, project teams, and so on, and when a group is created, all the appropriate permissions are automatically granted for everybody in the group.

Creating a new group from inside Outlook is simple. Select Home > New Group, then fill in information for the group, including its name, description, whether it’s private or public within your organization, and so on.

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Creating an Office 365 group from inside Outlook.

Note that your IT department needs to set up provisioning for Office 365 Groups, so check with IT for more details about creating and using groups. Also, in order to use Office 365 Groups in Outlook, you need to use Outlook in Cached Exchange Mode. See this Microsoft support page for details.

Handy keyboard shortcuts

If you're a fan of keyboard shortcuts, you’ll be pleased to find out that Outlook 2016 has them. The table below highlights the most useful ones, and more are listed on Microsoft's Office site.

And if you really want to go whole-hog with keyboard shortcuts, download our Outlook 2016 Ribbon quick reference guide, which explores the most useful commands on each Ribbon tab and provides keyboard shortcuts for each. 

Useful Outlook 2016 keyboard shortcuts

Don't forget to download our Outlook 2016 Ribbon quick reference!