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View related messages in Mail on the Mac

Date: 23rd February 2012     

There are some useful options for organising and viewing email messages in Mail in OS X Lion on the Mac, but you might find them a bit confusing at first sight. For example, you can select a message and then use the Organize by Conversation option on the View menu to group and show related messages. But there is also a Show Related Messages option on the View menu too. What is the difference between a conversation and a related message?

When you turn on the Organize by Conversation option in Mail's View menu the messages in your inbox are scanned. Some messages will be grouped together and displayed as one item. At the left side is a triangle which when clicked, displays all the related messages and the number of messages that are that have been grouped together is displayed too. A group of messages is a conversation

I don't know the exact nature of the rules Mail applies when working out whether two or more messages should be grouped together in a conversation, but they include the sender, subject, date and recipients. So three messages on the same day from the same person with similar subject lines would be grouped as a conversation. A message the person sent last year probably would not.

It is easy to see how related messages can be grouped into conversations, but what does Show Related Messages do on the View menu? When you select Organize by Conversation, only messages in the currently selected mailbox are grouped. So if you select your inbox then messages in your inbox are grouped into conversations.

If you enable Show Related Messages then messages in other mailboxes are also added to the conversations. For example, messages in the Sent mailbox. If you have created other mailboxes for storing or archiving messages then they will be included in the conversation too. So Show Related Messages is a system-wide conversation view.

You can turn on this option from the View menu or you can click the icon in the toolbar. Somewhat irritatingly, the icon doesn't show whether the option is on or off. However, if you let the mouse hover over the icon it says show or hide.

Another confusing aspect of this is that if you turn on Show Related Messages and then select another message you'll find that it is turned off. The option only works for the currently selected message or conversation and selecting a new one disables it and you have to turn it on again.

To permanently enable Show Related Messages so that it is on all the time, go to Mail, Preferences, View and tick the box under View conversations: Include Related Messages.