Find What you Need with Outlook's Email Search Capabilities

Back in the dark ages (before Internet access was widely available), access to information was the big problem. Today, we're drowning in the stuff and finding the specific bits you want want is the problem.

Email search tools are particularly valuable, and Outlook provides the capability as part of its general search features. This part of the site deals with Outlook search capabilities.

About Search Folders

Outlook 2003 brought us a new capability called search folders. While these look like regular folders, they are actually the results of a particular search. The folders only show mail messages that match their particular search, and they do so without moving the messages.

Even better, the contents of search folders change dynamically. What you see in a search folder corresponds to what you would see if you were to run that folder's search right now.

For example, the Unread Mail search folder, one of the default search folders, displays all your unread messages, regardless of which folder they are in.

Search folders are powerful tools, and making basic use of Outlook's default ones is pretty easy. However, you can go beyond the basics with the default folders, and even create your own for searches you run frequently. This capability is particularly useful if you use folders to organize your mail, and frequently end up with messages that belong in more than one folder.

Imagine that you are working on more than one project at a time, and that you store messages related to each specific project in their own folder. Now imagine that your boss tends to send you messages that talk about more than one of your projects at a time.

What do you do with those messages? Store them in the folder of the project that's most relevant? Put a copy of each message in the folder for each project? Copy the relevant information somehow?

Search folders offer another approach. You could store the messages that cover a single project in project-specific folders, and store all the messages from your boss, regardless of subject, in a "boss" folder. Then you could create a search folder for each project that finds messages containing information related to that project, regardless of where it is located.

If you do this for Project X and Project Y, and your boss sends you a message that covers both projects, the Project X search folder and the Project Y search folder will both show you that message, even though it is actually located in the "boss" folder. Problem solved.

Chapter 10 of How to Do Everything with Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 provides in-depth pages of information and procedures for using existing search folders and creating your own.

Basic Searching with Find

If you want to do a basic search in Outlook, the Find tool will get the job done for you. The Find tool is part of the Find bar, which appears to the right of the Navigation pane and above the other panes that are visible.

The "Find" bar contains several controls, including a Look for text entry box and a Find Now button. In the Find bar, the buttons appear as regular text until you point at them with the cursor.

Use the Find bar for basic (simple) searches.

NOTE: If the Find bar isn't visible, you can make it appear by pressing the CTRL-E keyboard shortcut.

The easiest way to use the Find tool is to go to the folder you want to search, type a word or phrase into the "Look for" box, and click Find Now. This causes the tool to search the current folder for the word or phrase. If the tool finds the term in the folder, it displays a list of the items containing that word or phrase.

To search in some location other than the open folder, you can click the Search In button. This displays a list of common searches, as well as an option to manually specify the folders you want to search. Choose the folders you want to search, then click Find Now to search those folders.

When you are finished with a set of search results, click Clear to return to the original view.

NOTE: The Clear button becomes active when search results are shown.

The Options button lets you control whether Outlook searches all the text in each item, or just the headers. It also gives you the option to save the search results in a search folder, or do an Advanced Search.