Why Aren't My Unread Messages Bold Anymore?

The magic sauce that Outlook uses to turn unread messages bold in your message list is Conditional Formatting.  What you might not realize is that those settings CAN be changed.  Unread messages don't have to black and bold...they can be red and italicized or purple and Arial or dark green, Calibri and underlined or....you get the idea.

Well, in addition to changing the setting you can turn it off entirely.  Conditional Formatting is view-specific so if you're not seeing the formatting you expect you should first check to make sure you're using the right view.

In Outlook 2010 that means going to the View tab of the Ribbon, clicking "Change View" and see what view you've got selected.  "Compact" is the default and if you're not using that one...try it and see if it fixes your problem. (In older versions of Outlook your default view might be "Messages")

In older versions of Outlook you'll find the current view settings somewhere under the View menu.

I *AM* Using "Compact", Now What?

Well, then you probably have Conditional Formatting turned off for some reason.  The EASIEST fix is to just reset the Compact (or Messages) view back to the default.  In Outlook 2010 that means going to the View tab of the Ribbon and clicking "Reset View".  It should reset back to factory default.

TIP: Want to reset ALL of your views back to factory default?  Start Outlook with the /cleanviews switch. See if this helps - http://www.officeforlawyers.com/outlook/tsol.htm#CLS

If you'd like to dig into the Conditional Formatting settings yourself (and even create new ones or customize the old ones) then keep reading...

Go to View | View Settings (in Outlook 2010) or View | Current View | Customize Current View (In Outlook 2007 and some older versions) and click the "Automatic Fomatting" button.  You should see something like this:

Conditional Formatting in Microsoft Outlook If "Unread messages" is unchecked then your unread messages are just going to appear as normal messages, not boldfaced.  Check that box to restore the feature.

If you want to modify the settings just select it, click the "Font" button to set a new font, color, size and/or effect. 

If you want to create your own, custom, conditional formatting then click the "Add" button.  Give your format a name, choose a font and then click "Condition" to specify what kind of messages this should apply to.  Conditional formatting is great for highlighting messages from your boss or spouse, for highlight messages from particular senders or with certain words in the subject or body.  Also to highlight messages sent to particular people or during a particular time frame. 

You can add as many conditional formats as you like, but keep in mind that the ones towards the top of the list take priority.