print friendly version

How to...

Email filtering with Inbox Rules (for Staff and Researchers)

This Guide is for staff and research students and illustrates how to use Outlook Web App (OWA) to create message filtering rules (known as Inbox Rules) for your incoming email.

A similar facility is available in Outlook, but this Guide focuses on OWA, because:

  • OWA is available from any computer where you have internet access;
  • the same choice of Inbox Rules is available;
  • the set-up method is simpler;
  • any rules you create in OWA will also be visible from and apply to Outlook, and vice versa.

Please note that if you use OWA Light, a simpler version of OWA, you won't be able to create or change Inbox rules.  You may be connected automatically to OWA Light if your browser has any incompatibilities with standard OWA.  If this happens, the only solution is to use another browser or upgrade the existing one.  However, if you are able to use the standard OWA and thus create or change Inbox rules, the rules will be stored on the Exchange server and will still operate even if you later use OWA Light; you just won't be able to change them using OWA Light.


  1. Introduction
  2. When to use filtering
  3. Getting started
  4. Selecting message conditions
  5. Selecting message actions
  6. Saving your new Inbox Rule
  7. More options
  8. Handling combined message features
  9. Handling alternative message features
  10. Deleting or disabling an Inbox Rule
  11. Changing an Inbox Rule
  12. Reviewing your Inbox Rules

1. Introduction

Inbox Rules consist of one or more conditions to be applied to incoming email, and one or more actions to be taken on the email if the conditions are satisfied.   You can create as many rules as you like, to test for different things.  Rules can be applied together or be made exclusive.

The conditions all apply to features of an email, such as who it's from or to, words or phrases it contains, how big it is, whether it contains attachments, and so on.  As standard, only one condition can be chosen per rule, but the More Options feature allows you to specify more than one condition.

The actions are things that are to be done with the email, such as moving it to a folder, or discarding it.  As standard, only one action can be chosen per rule, but in more advanced mode you can specify more than one action.

Rules can also contain exceptions, such that the specified actions will not be taken if any of the exceptions apply to the email, even if the other conditions are satisfied.

2. When to use filtering

Note that if you're considering using Inbox Rules to handle spam and other unwanted email, it's only worth doing if the unwanted emails are persistent.  It may be better to wait a while and just delete such emails by hand for a few days to see if they do stop arriving, and only consider setting up a filter if they turn out to more persistent.

One worthwhile use of Inbox Rules is when you want to move regularly-received legitimate emails (such as emails from a forum or other discussion group, or newsletters etc) in a specially-created folder of their own, but if you do this, remember to review the contents of the folder from time to time so as to delete any emails that don't need to be kept.

3. Getting started

First, login to OWA in the normal manner, but remember that you can only use the standard version of OWA for working with Inbox rules, not the Light version.  Then:

  1. Click on Options at the top right of the OWA window, then click on Create an Inbox Rule... in the drop-down menu:

    OWA Inbox Rules option

    (NOTE: you would click this link even if you wanted to change or delete any existing rules)

  2. In the Inbox Rules panel, if you do not yet have any rules set up, you should see a view like that shown below.
    Otherwise, a list of previously-created rules will be visible.
  3. To create a new Inbox Rule, click on New...:

    OWA New Inbox Rule

  4. This opens a New Inbox Rule dialogue box with sections for selecting message conditions ('When the message arrives, and:') and selecting message actions ('Do the following:').

4. Selecting message conditions

In this section you will be selecting a message condition for filtering, that is, a feature of the message content which sets it apart from other messages.  As standard, one condition per rule can be selected.

Click on Select one under the 'When the message arrives, and:' label to open a list of available options. The options are as shown below - click any of them here to see the instructions for that option:

It was received from... / It was sent to...

The It was received from... or It was sent to... options open a Contacts panel, in which you can select an address either in the Global Address List or in your own Contacts lists, or enter a specific email address by hand.

Click on the required address in the Contacts list and then click the From-> or To-> button (depending on the option chosen) to add it to the box:

OWA - address chooser for rules .... OWA - address chooser for rules

If the required address is not in any Contacts list, click in the box alongside the From-> or To-> button and enter the required email address by hand.   When done, click on the OK button.

It includes these words in the subject/body/sender's address

The 'It includes these words...' options all require you to add words or phrases to identify features of messages you want to filter.   Clicking either option opens a dialogue box to add such words or phrases:

OWA - words and phrases for rules

Click in the box labelled Type words or phrases here, then enter the required words or phrases, then click the OWA - words and phrases adding button icon to add the words or phrases to the rule.  You can repeat this step if you want to add more words or phrases.

When done, click OK.  You will see the chosen words or phrases listed alongside the box.

If you want to add or remove words or phrases, click on the listed words, which will re-open the dialogue box.

My name is in the To or CC box

The My name is in the To or CC box option will select messages which include you as a direct addressee (rather than a mailing list).  This option will not include messages which have been BCC'd to you.

Apply to all messages

The [Apply to all messages] option means what it says: the rule will apply to every incoming message.  Use with care!

Want to add more conditions?

You can add extra criteria for this filter rule (so that more than one condition is needed) by clicking on the More Options... button in the dialogue box.  You will see an Add Condition button, with which you can add extra criteria for this rule.   See also the sections about handling combined or alternative message features.

5. Selecting message actions

In this section you will be specifying what is to be done with messages that fit the chosen criteria.

Click on Select one under the 'Do the following:' label to open a list of options.   The options are as shown below - click any of them here to see the instructions for that option, but note that two options are limited or unavailable on the Sussex Exchange system.  As standard, one action from the list can be chosen, but the More Options feature allows you to choose more than one action.

Move the message to folder

Click on Move the message to folder... to be shown a list of your folders:

OWA - folder chooser for rules

- From the list, find and click on a folder to which messages are to be moved as soon as they arrive.
- Alternatively, click the New Folder button to create a new folder specially to receive these messages.
- Click OK.

Mark the message with a category

The Mark the message with a category option allows you to choose a category with which to label the message. Categories and their use are described in more detail on the Microsoft Office website.

Redirect the message to

Note also that you must not redirect your emails to another person's email address or to a non-Sussex address, because this will breach GDPR guidelines.  Emails redirected to non-Sussex addresses will be intercepted and deleted by email security systems.

Follow these steps:

  1. First choose a condition in the When the message arrives, and: box (to redirect all email, select the [Apply to all messages] condition).
  2. In the Do the following: box, click on Redirect the message to...
  3. An address book dialogue box will open.   You can choose an address from the address book (subject to the restriction noted above) and then click on the To -> button at bottom left, or enter another email address by hand in the Message recipients: box.  Then click OK.
  4. If you want the redirected email to be kept, go to step 7.   Otherwise, click on the More Options... button below the Do the following: box.
  5. Click the Add Action button.
  6. In the and box (the extra action), from the Select one list, move the mouse pointer to Move, copy, or delete option, then click on Delete the message in the secondary drop-down menu.
  7. Click on the Save button to save the rule.
  8. You will be asked Do you want this rule to apply to all future messages? - click on Yes.
  9. The newly-created rule will be shown in summary.

Delete the message

The Delete the message option will cause the message to be put into the Deleted Items folder.  This means that email isn't actually discarded, and you would need to empty your Deleted Items folder at appropriate intervals.

Send a text message to

The text messaging facility is not currently available on the Sussex Exchange system.

6. Saving your new Inbox Rule

When you have completed the definition of your Inbox Rule, click the OWA rule save button at bottom right of the New Inbox Rule panel.

If you want to abandon the creation of the current Inbox Rule, click OWA rule cancel instead.

7. More options

In the New Inbox Rule panel, you can click on OWA New Inbox Rule More Options to obtain more advanced options for filtering.

The advanced selection and action options provide more detailed lists, and if you move your mouse pointer over any of the options it will open a sub-menu showing the options in that category.

The method of selecting conditions and actions is otherwise more or less the same as described above.

In More Options you can also specify extra selection conditions and/or actions, using the Add Condition or Add Action buttons.


The More Options section also provides - using the Add Exception button in the Except if section - a means of selecting conditions which should not trigger the associated action.  For example, you might want to create a rule which deletes messages whose sender's address contains '' except for messages specifically from '' (or indeed the other way around).   The Except if option provides the same choice of message selection criteria.  As with Conditions and Actions, you can add more than one Exception.

'Stop processing more rules' option

This is a clickable option in the More options section.  If selected, it means that if the conditions in this rule are satisfied for a message, no other rules will be executed after this one.  If this option is not selected, conditions and actions in other rules you may have created will also be used, which could lead to multiple actions taking place.

8. Handling combined message features

The testing logic of Inbox Rule conditions is such that a single rule can test only conditions that are all true.  For example, you can test if a message comes from a certain address and if it contains certain words in the subject, all within one Inbox Rule.   Use the More Options feature to add the extra conditions.

9. Handling alternative message features

If you want to test for alternative conditions (that is, conditions that will satisfy the Rule if any of them are true), you will need to create a separate Inbox Rule for each condition.  For example, suppose you want to test if a message has been sent from or from, create two rules, one to test for email from the ann.other address and the other to test for email from the joe.bloggs address.   You must make sure that the Stop processing more rules option is de-selected in both rules, otherwise it won't test both conditions and you won't get the desired effect.

10. Deleting or disabling an Inbox Rule

Open the Inbox Rules dialogue, as explained in the Getting Started section.

Deleting an Inbox Rule

To completely remove a rule, click on the title of the Rule you want to delete, then click the OWA Delete Inbox Rule (Delete) icon:

OWA Delete Rule dialogue

In this example, we're deleting a rule for messages received from

A pop-up message will appear, asking you to confirm.  Just click Yes to confirm the deletion:

OWA Delete Rule confirmation

Disabling an Inbox Rule

To temporarily switch off a rule, click on the title of the Rule you want to disable, then click on the tick-box under the On column so as to clear it:

OWA Inbox Rule On button (ticked)   OWA Inbox Rule On button (unticked)

This will stop the rule from actually being used, but it will remain present in your list of rules should you want to switch it on again.  Note that when you do this, you may be shown the warning mentioned at the end of the Changing an Inbox Rule section.  If that happens, normally you need only click on Yes to proceed.

11. Changing an Inbox Rule

Open the Inbox Rules dialogue, as explained in the Getting Started section.

Click on the title of the Rule you want to change, then click on Details:

OWA Edit Rule dialogue

This opens up the same dialogue box as used when you create a new rule: the procedure described under Selecting message conditions is more or less the same, but you can modify the conditions of a rule, for example in changed circumstances.  For example, suppose we want to remove one or more of the words or phrases from a rule's condition.   First click on the list of words seen to the right in the dialogue box:

You'll be shown a list of all the words and/or phrases to be tested for in this rule's condition:

Now click on the unwanted word or phrase in the list, then click on Remove.  Repeat for any other words or phrass to be deleted, then click on the OK button to store the changed rule.

Note: in some circumstances, the following warning may appear on screen when you try to save changes to a rule:

OWA Edit Rule warning

Click Yes or No according to circumstances (if you've never used Outlook to create rules, click Yes).

12. Reviewing your inbox rules

It would be wise to review your filtering rules every so often so as to remove those that are redundant, for example if the messages they are supposed to filter have stopped arriving.   One way of doing this is to temporarily switch off an Inbox Rule to see if the emails it was dealing with start arriving again.   If that happens then you need only switch the rule back on again.   To switch an Inbox Rule on or off, or to delete it altogether, follow the instructions in the section on Deleting or disabling an Inbox Rule.

If you had set up a rule to divert emails in a specially-reserved folder such as Junk E-Mail, you should check that folder from time to time to see if the unwanted emails are still appearing there.   If not then the relevant Inbox Rule could be disabled or removed altogether.




created on 2013-04-05 by Andy Clews
last updated on 2019-07-16 by Alexander Butler