Adjusting Our Outlook Reading Pane

In this post I would talk about the Reading Pane. The Reading pane is the pane displaying the email content. Unfortunately, the default Outlook view of the reading pane is not the best approach to use. By changing the reading pane layout settings, we should get an enhanced Outlook experience.


The reading pane has 3 layout options – Right, Bottom and Off. Let’s review the 3 of them and then decide which one is the best.


The Bottom Layout

I believe this is the default layout for Outlook. In that mode, you can fully see the email title details (From, Subject, Received, etc) and also see a specific email content (the one you are standing on) widely.

Before I would talk about what the issues are with that layout, I would like to talk about 2 email attributes – email title length and email content format.

Email titles should provide a clue on the email content. By looking at the first 3-4 words of the email Subject field, along with looking on the From field, we should be able to have some sense on what the email is all about. This actually means we don’t need too much of a space for the email title.

Email content usually holds relatively short lines, and even if it doesn’t, the Outlook wraps the lines for easy view, no matter what the width of the reading pane is. Moreover, the first paragraph of an email should definitely be enough for initial email review.

Having said that, we don’t really need a long email title and long lines for the email content. By using the Bottom mode we are actually wasting space on our screen – this is a wasted “real estate” space. Remember, we should exploit our screen space in the best way we can (read more in here). Apparently, the Bottom approach doesn’t do that.

Using the Bottom layout, we either see too few email titles OR we see too small part of the email at the bottom of the screen.


The Off Layout

The Off layout does not show the emails content, only the emails title. One can argue that this is a great view since you can see many emails in your folder. That is correct, but (and this is a big “but”) you can’t see the emails content.

Not seeing the emails content means we need to open each and every email in order to perform a quick review. You may argue that it is not a big of a deal. Let me try convincing you otherwise.

Here is a short exercise – wait till you have 20 unread emails in your Inbox and then count the number of operations you need to do in order to go through this email list, just for a quick review. I bet it would take at least 60 operations – move to the email, open the email in a separate window, close the email window.

The x3 (20×3=60) factor is in a killer. Most people use the mouse to do this operation which is requires even more operations and is a killer to your efficiency and your hand healthiness. I hope you read the blog on the “Top 5 keyboard shortcuts for emails” and you would do those x3 operations using the keyboard only.

I also found people that end up with dozens of email windows open out there, as they forget to close all of them when they are trying to jump between the Outlook reading pane and the emails content.


The Right Layout

Finally, the Right layout. It is kind of funny that it is called that way, because I believe it is really the right layout to use.

The main benefits of the Right layout are:

  • It shows the same number of emails as one can see in the Off layout, and twice the emails than in the Bottom layout mode.
  • Per email, we can see enough information for review just by standing on the email, much better than in the Off layout.

This is what makes the Right layout the right choice for us to use.


The “Twist”

If you have followed my arguments closely, you might have caught me stating an argument that is not true  – “the Right layout shows the same number of email titles as the Off layout”.

By default, the Right layout contains 2 lines per email title, compared to one line in the Off layout. The reason is the available space for the email title. In the Off layout mode, the email title has enough space to be shown in a single line, while the Right layout is tighter in space and therefore splits the email title into 2 lines.

See below example of a Right layout in a default Outlook configuration.


In order to have a single line in the Right mode, please apply the following.

  1. Right click on the Messages Pane title and select “View Settings…”
  2. Select “Other Settings…”
  3. Select “Always use single-line layout”

At first sight, it might look too tight for you. You should make sure you have the minimum number of columns you need in the Messages pane (see my post on Messages Pane Columns). Then, play with the columns width for getting your preferred email title view.

Using a regular desktop wide screen, you should have no problem using this single-line mode. I’m using this mode also on my Dell-E4310 tiny screen without any problem.

Published by

Erez Morabia

I’m an engineer and a leader in the computer software industry which is passionate about leading teams, embracing new technologies and improving soft skills for work efficiency.

2 thoughts on “Adjusting Our Outlook Reading Pane”

  1. Erez,

    Though I agree with the convenience of the preview in general and the right preview specifically, there is a major drawback to use it….
    Security – Outlook, when it opens a mail, it runs quite a few commands in the email body. Some of the “nicest” email viruses were run just because people opened them… Preview opens the mail automatically. Which means, just the fact the you were “on” that email you opened the potential virus. In the off state you delete such emails before opening.

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