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Outlook: Using Inbox Rules to Sort E-mail

Inbox Rules (known as filters in PantherLink) are a great way to automatically route e-mail with common properties (such as sender, subject keywords, or date) to a particular folder within your Outlook account. Maintaining a robust file structure will help you find the e-mail you need to do your job more quickly, as well as let you quickly archive or delete e-mail in large chunks as needed.

Filter1From the inbox view in Outlook Web Access, go to the Cog icon on the right side of the top ribbon (as above), then select “Options” from the drop-down menu. (Note: If you are using the Outlook Desktop client, get to the Rules creation wizard in the “Move” section of the Home tab on the top ribbon.)

Once in the Options screen, Inbox rules will be an option on the left menu, under Mail > Automatic Processing. The screen above lists all active and inactive inbox rules associated with your account. If the box to the left of the rule name is checked, that rule is active. For now, click on the plus sign (highlighted above) to create a new rule.

Choose a name for your rule, hopefully one which will allow you to tell at a glance the type of message you are filtering. The first drop down asks you to select the condition which triggers the rule. You may find a number of conditions useful for organization; a few of the most useful follow.

Filter4“Received from” allows you to specify a sender of particular interest. If, for example, you want to store all e-mails from your boss in a folder, you can make the rule trigger on all e-mails sent from “”. You can also select an Outlook group if you want to trigger off a number of different e-mail senders, for example members of a seminar.


“It includes these words” allows you to look for specific words in the subject, body, header, or recipient address to trigger the rule. If you belong to a listserv which appends the name of the list to all e-mail subjects, for example, you can set this rule to trigger off of “[listserv]” in the subject.

“My name is” allows you to differentiate items you receive via mass mail or mail list from items that are sent directly from you. If you receive e-mails via as well as directly to you, you can use this filter to make sure you see the ones that require your direct attention.


Once you’ve selected your condition, the second drop down menu lets you tell Outlook what to do with the message. Most commonly, this involves moving the e-mail to the folder of your choice under the “Move, Copy, or Delete” submenu. You can also choose to “Mark the message” with a category to group similar documents together outside of folders, or to give it high-priority to make sure you respond to it.


Sometimes you have to make exceptions to rules. If you want to send all e-mails from students to the course folder unless your department chair is in the CC or To: field, you can use the third drop down menu to create such an exception. Select conditions the same way you selected the conditions to trigger the rule.Filter10

BONUS FOR OUTLOOK DESKTOP USERS: You can add new rules based on a current message by right-clicking that message in your message list and selecting Rules > Create Rule, as shown above. The rule wizard will pre-populate fields with properties of the selected message, including sender, recipient(s), and terms in the subject you might want to use to trigger. You can change any or all of these in the wizard before adding the rule.