Extract from Outlook Book Edition 4: Better Outlook Searches

Dec. 12, 2013

Here is an extract from the new 4th Edition of my Outlook book. This extract is on how to use Window Outlook Instant Search in a more powerful way. Instant Search is simply the search box that sits above the Inbox in Outlook. There is a lot more power hidden in this box than you realize! This extract comes from pages 127-129 in the new book.

Why read this? Effective use of Outlook search saves you a lot of time. And once you get good at this, you can do a lot less topic-based filing (which also saves you considerable time). Macintosh Users: the book shows you how to use Mac’s Outlook 2011 search tool as well; I just don’t show the extract here.

Using Field-Based Instant Searches in Outlook 2007, 2010, and 2013

I showed you earlier how to use AND and OR to narrow your search results. An even better way to narrow your results is to use field-based searches. I find if I use these I can nearly always find an item I am looking for, even if my first simple search yields far too many results.

Figure 5 5. 2010 Search tab; 2013 is similar.

For example, let’s say you are looking for a bill you received and Instant Search returned too many results on the word Invoice. It occurs to you that you know this particular vendor probably puts the word Invoice in the subject (title) of all its e-mails. Wouldn’t it be great if you could search only on e-mails with Invoice in the Subject field? You can.

In Outlook 2007 you do that by opening the Query Builder; you reach it by clicking the down-pointing chevron at the right of the search box—that results in Figure 5.6 (notice the chevron highlighted in that figure).

Figure 5.6 Instant Search Query Builder.

Here you can limit the search by entering additional search terms specific for various e-mail fields. For example, in Figure 5.6, you could enter person’s name in the From box and a keyword in the Subject box. The default field list you see may be different from that in Figure 5.6. You control that either by using the Add Criteria button at the bottom, or by changing the title of any existing field with the drop-down arrow next to each. I recommend you play with this query tool and teach yourself how to search on various field combinations; it’s fairly intuitive.

Note:    If the extra fields just described for Outlook 2007, or the More button in 2010 (which I describe ahead), are grayed out, see the section ahead “Troubleshooting Windows Instant Search.”

In Outlook 2010 and 2013, you can pick specific field values with the commands in the Refine group on the Search tab (see Figure 5.5). You can indicate that you want to search on the From field, Subject field, on particular date ranges, and so on. But I don’t like the way these buttons work because the design forces you to edit the values in the search box and that can be confusing. I prefer using the older Outlook 2007 interface that gives you a separate box for each search criterion (as in Figure 5.6). You can get to that in Outlook 2010 and 2013, too, by clicking the More button at the lower right of the Refine group on the Search tab (it should have a green plus sign next to it as in Figure 5.5) and selecting a field name from the context menu. You can click that More button several times to add multiple fields to narrow the search even more.

Note:    If you use More fields often in Outlook 2010, I recommend turning off Search While Typing because that feature can lead to frustrating behavior when entering field values. For example, if you pause too long, the cursor jumps out of the box you are entering.

Narrowing the search as just described (with Query Builder in 2007 or the More fields in 2010 and 2013) actually edits the search phrase itself in the search box. You’ll see a phrase like “iPad received:this week” where iPad is the search term, received refers to the date field, and this week is the date value. What you are doing is building a text-based query. The various fields and controls you click are just helping you do that. You can then edit that query directly. In fact, you can build that entire query manually, by typing the query directly in the search box, with the Instant Search query syntax. Let’s look at that now.

(End of extract from 4th Edition, Total Workday Control Using Microsoft Outlook, Copyright 2013, Michael Linenberger)

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18 Responses to Extract from Outlook Book Edition 4: Better Outlook Searches

  1. Richard Rubin says:

    Thanks for this. Have you ever considered a book just dealing with Outlook for Mac? An e-book dealing with all of the idiosyncrasies, syncing options, etc. would make it easier when setting up new machines, and for ready reference.

    • Michael Linenberger says:

      Hi Richard. You know, I have to pick my battles/ focus, and have chosen not to focus too much on the Mac. Mainly because it’s not my primary OS. Good OS, just needed to pick one. Thanks for suggestion! Michael

  2. Rob Kennedy says:

    Can you explain the OR and AND syntax? Consider a phrase like:-
    sent:this week AND hasattachments:true OR subject:”new claim”
    Do these commands act like a math equation with brackets around adjacent phrases, if so which takes precedence in a string as above? Is the phrase translated in the math form “(1 & 2) or 3”, or “1 & (2 or 3)”?
    i.e. Will or won’t this query result in emails with “new claim” in the subject, that have not been sent ‘this week’? What’s the logic behind this?

  3. Rachel Garrett says:

    I loved MYN 2nd edition and just got the 4th.

    Outlook starts displaying search results as soon as they’re found. Unfortunately, it displays oldest results first, when you’re probably searching for more recent messages.

    Is there a way to make it show you the most recent matches first, instead?


    • Michael Linenberger says:

      Hi Rachel. You, know, my results appear immediately and are sorted newest at top. I wonder if your indexing is not fully active. At the end of the Troubleshooting section that starts on pg 129 in Ed 4, I mention that. Study that section, see if it helps. Also, you can limit the date range of your searches by adding the Received field to your field-based search (per newsletter) and then typing a phrase like “this month” or “this year” in there. Just an idea. Hope that helps. Michael

  4. Darryl DLima says:

    Thanks Michael, you might also want to explain that the Search tab is not visible by default (at least in 2013) and only shows up when one clicks in the search field. To be displayed all the time, the ribbon has to be customized to install “Search” as a custom tab so that is is permanently displayed. Regards, Darryl

  5. Michael Linenberger says:

    Darryl: good point. It’s sort of mentioned at the bottom of pg 122–that just wasn’t in the portion I extracted for the newsletter. Thanks for mentioning! Michael

  6. Whyvon says:

    Hi! I have Outlook 2007 and do not have those options when I click the down arrow of the Search Box. My options are:

    Recent Searches, Search all Mail, Search Desktop, Indexing Status, Search Options and Help.

    Search Options are simply related to Indexing and which Folders to search.

    I can do something similar when I go to TOOLS, Advanced Search.

    I wonder if this Query Builder is not available in 2007 or … ?

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