Using Search Folders to View Categorized Mail (Windows)

Feb 19, 2011

As you know, I recommend using Outlook Categories, instead of multiple folders, if you want to file mail by topic. Once used, you would normally view groups of categorized mail in your Inbox or Processed Mail folder by clicking on the Category column header.

But you can also use Outlook’s Search Folders to view category-filed mail. Search Folders are a Windows Outlook feature that allows creation of virtual folders in your folder list. Search Folders can be used to create category folders right in your Navigation Pane. They appear within and under the Search Folder group.

For example, see the figure at left. In this sample, eight Search Folders are shown, and they are all based on category name.

Using Search folders is purely optional, but often useful. Search Folders are virtual folders that populate with an entry for every mail item that matches certain search criteria that are defined at the time the particular Search Folder is created. You create one folder for each set of search criteria. For our purposes, collecting mail that has a given Outlook Category assigned works best; but many other search approaches are also possible. Once created, clicking the folder opens a view of all matching mail in a folder view, as if it were a real Outlook folder.

So, consider using Search Folders as your way to view the mail you tag with Outlook  Categories.

Features of Search Folders
The advantage of using Search Folders to view categorized mail is this: they look and act nearly identical to regular Outlook folders. If you are accustomed to using a folder view in the Navigation Pane for manipulating saved mail, Search Folders create a very similar view for your collection of category-assigned mail. When you double-click a Search Folder, it opens just like any other folder, displaying the mail contained within. So there is a familiarity factor at work here which many find comforting.

There are, however, two disadvantages.

One is that you cannot drag mail items to the Search Folder, as you can with real folders. Rather, using our system, you need to assign categories as described above. Only then does the item appear in your Search Folder.

The other disadvantage of Search Folders is that you must explicitly create a Search Folder for each category you are using, and as you will see that takes a few steps. So if you consistently create a lot of new categories, Search Folders may not be for you.

Note:    There are two other limitations to Search Folders compared with regular Outlook folders: you cannot create nested Search Folders (no subfolders), and you cannot share Search Folders over a network.

Even with those disadvantages, Search Folders have a certain elegance; their folder-like appearance right in the Outlook folder list is quite satisfying. If you have a relatively small and stable set of categories, you may prefer this approach. Creating them in 2007/10 is easiest; in 2003 harder. Let’s start with 2003.

Creating Category Search Folders in Outlook 2003

Creating Search Folders based on categories in Outlook 2003 is a rather complex process, with four levels of nested dialog boxes to open and set criteria in. This is not difficult, though, and the full steps are shown below. Once created, they are very easy to use.

1. Select your Processed Mail folder in the Navigation Pane; this ensures the correct data store is selected in the steps ahead.

2. From the File menu in Outlook 2003, choose New, and then Search Folder. The dialog box in the next figure appears.

3. Scroll to the bottom of the list and click once on the very last item, Create a Custom Search Folder; that highlights it as shown in the next figure. Once highlighted, the commands at the bottom of the dialog box change.

4. Click the Choose… button in the lower right corner (see Figure above; note that double-clicking the Create a Custom Search Folder item has the same effect as clicking the Choose… button).

5. A small Custom Search Folder dialog box appears.

Enter the name of your Search Folder in the Name field at the top of that dialog box. This name will be displayed on the folder, so choose a name that reflects the category you will be accumulating (for this example I labeled the folder “My Projects Mail”).

6. Next, you set the source folders the Search Folder draws from. In the lower portion of this window, you will see a field named Mail from These Folders Will Be Included in This Search Folder. Next to that is a Browse… button. You use this field and button to indicate the actual folders in the parent data store from which you want this virtual Search Folder to collect. Do you want to include mail from all folders in that data store? Or do you want to only include mail from select folders there (like the Processed Mail folder)? To set choices like this, click Browse….

7. A mail folder selection window appears with the top of the folder hierarchy selected by default (see below).

Think about this carefully. If you leave this default set as it is, your Search Folder will collect items from all Outlook folders beneath it, including Deleted Items. This may not a good choice for your purposes. I recommend instead selecting only the check boxes for Inbox and ­Processed Mail, and perhaps Sent Items (see below). If you agree, clear the check box at the group level at the top of the list and select the individual folders beneath it. Then select the check box at the bottom called Search Subfolders (if you have any that you did not set yet). Click OK.

8. The Custom Search Folder dialog box opens again (shown in step 5 above). Now you need to define which category to look for. This is what really defines this particular Search Folder. Click Criteria… and you’ll see the Search Folder Criteria dialog box open (see below).

9. Click the second tab, More Choices (see below).

10. Click Categories… and you will see the by now familiar Categories dialog box. Choose the category of interest (Projects for this example), and click OK. Then click OK in the Search Folder Criteria dialog box, click OK in the Custom Search Folder dialog box, and finally click OK in the New Search Folder dialog box.

Outlook will pause a moment as it populates the folder for the first time, and then you’ll see the contents appear in your main Outlook window.

Creating Category Search Folders in Outlook 2007/10

Creating Search Folders around categories in Outlook 2007/10 is faster than in 2003 since “Categorized mail” is now one of the presets in the New Search Folder dialog box; and it follows with a simpler interface. Also, Microsoft added to Outlook 2007/10 a submenu to the e-mail right-click shortcut menu that speeds this. Here is how to do it:

1. Select your Processed Mail folder in the Navigation Pane; this ensures the correct data store is selected in the steps ahead.

2. Outlook 2007: From the File menu choose New, and then Search Folder. The dialog box in the next figure appears with the Categorized Mail option already selected.

3. Outlook 2010: From the Folder tab choose New Search Folder. The dialog box in the next figure appears with the Categorized Mail option already selected.

4. Click the Choose… button near the bottom and the by now familiar Color Categories dialog box opens where you can select which categories to include; do that and click OK.

5. The setting in the box labeled Search Mail In: should be correct, since you started this process in the Processed Mail folder. You can apply Search Folders to only one data store at a time.

6. Click OK, and the new Search Folder appears under the Search Folders section of your folders list, selected. Outlook will pause a moment as it populates the folder for the first time, and then you’ll see the contents appear in your main Outlook window.

7. The resulting Search Folder will search all mail in all folders of this data store, including the Deleted Items folder. You probably don’t want to include that, so next, to be more specific about which folders are include, do this:

a.    Right-click the new Search Folder, and choose Customize This Search Folder.

b.    In the small dialog box that opens click the Browse… button, and select the folders you are interested in (see step 7 in the 2003 steps above for more details). As there, I recommend selecting just Inbox and ­Processed Mail, and perhaps Sent Items. If you select a subset like that, clear the check box at the group level at the top of the list. Set the check box at the bottom called Search Subfolders (if you have any that you did not set yet). Click OK, and OK again to close the dialog box.

For this example, the My Projects Mail folder is shown in the first figure at the top of this article. If I were to open that Search Folder, I would see all mail that I have assigned to the Projects category.

These folders self-update, so if you assign the Projects category to more mail later, that new mail will also appear in the previously created Search Folder. Once you create a Search Folder, there is nothing you need do to maintain it.

So that’s it for how to create category Search Folders in Windows Outlook.

18 thoughts on “Using Search Folders to View Categorized Mail (Windows)

  1. Drew Watson

    Is it possible to create a search folder that looks for 2 categories (for instance “Job application Sales” and “Toronto”)? When I attempt to select 2 categories, Outlook automatically inserts “or” and I want “and” applied! Suggestions?

    Reply
  2. admin

    Drew, I see your point and that would be very useful. But no, I don’t know of a way to do it in a Search Folder. Sorry!

    You can do in in Instant Search, by the way. In Instant Search, type this search query:
    category:=”Job application Sales” category:=”Toronto”

    Hope that helps a little.
    Michael

    Reply
  3. Matt

    To create a search folder that uses AND, you need to enable the Query Builder tab with a registry key change. I found the solution here (not my site): http://www.msoutlook.info/question/276

    I would be very interested if anyone could provide some suggestions to organize search folders though – my list of search folders is out of control due to all the different ways I need to view my email on a regular basis. It would be extremely handy if we could nest search folders or even create plain folders to help categorize them. Ideas?

    Reply
    1. admin

      Matt,
      Thanks for finding that AND solution! As to your question, no, this seems to be one of the many down sides of Search Folders–no nesting–no placing in plain folders. At least not that I know of.
      Michael

      Reply
    1. admin

      Anil
      I know of no way to do that! But if you use the All Mail Search folder (see pg 257 in Outlook book 3rd ed), and group by category, just open the none category at the top. Closest I can get.
      Michael

      Reply
    2. Mark

      New search folder
      Create customer search
      Use criteria as category then “is (excactly)” and leave value blank
      I think this gives what you want.

      Reply
  4. Tyler

    Almost a year later but anywho. Go to New Search folder and at the very bottom select “Create a custom Search Folder”, then click “Choose”. Name it (I choose Uncategorized) and click “Criteria…”. Go to the Advanced tab, then navigate to Field -> Frequently-used feilds -> Categories. Then for condition choose “is empty”. Click “Add to List” and click ok!

    Reply
    1. Michael Linenberger Post author

      Tony,
      It does not matter; either way. Maybe you want to use those folders? As I recall, Large Mail folder is useful if cleaning out your account and you want to find the largest items to delete first.
      Michael

      Reply
  5. Erin

    I have nearly 50 categories and want to search my mails for multiple categories. But I can see only 15 categories when I want to make a category search. How can I select other categories than the visible ones in the frequently used categorized list? Thanks in advance.

    Best Regards,

    Erin

    Reply
    1. Michael Linenberger Post author

      Erin, I see all my 35 categories in my search pop-up list (using the categories field shown by the More button in the Search Tools tab in Outlook 2013). What version of Outlook are you using and where are you seeing the popup list of categories during the search? Michael

      Reply
  6. J

    Hello,
    I created a hierachical system for catergorizes my emails. I created a search folder for every category as MS suggested. For the folder criteria, I only selected the catergory that matched the name of the folder. For example, the contractor catergory is the only criteria for the contractor search folder. What I don’t understand is why for an email thats assigned multiple categories, for example, contractor & TP project, each search folder (contractor folder & TP project folder) duplicates the emails. For example, the contractor folder lists the email under contractor category and also the same email under the TP project category. Likewise, the TP project lists the email twice, once under the TP Project category and again under the contractor category. I would think that if the search folder criteria is only one category that just the email for the category would be listed just once under that criteria category; not also duplicated under the other associated categories within the same search folder. For example the contractor search folder would only list emails with the contractor category and the TP project folder would only list the emails with the TP project catergory. Do you have any insight as to why this is? Or is there something I can do the eliminate the duplication with in a search folder. It is making the search folder to big and cumbersome to view. Thanks

    Reply
    1. Koen Vanhooff

      Dear J,

      I’m also experiencing the same problem, and it would be nice to see if someone had found a solution.

      Regards,
      Koen

      Reply
  7. dharanesh

    Hi Guys,

    Nice post. I just wanted to categorize my mails, something like I was filtering yellow cat mails, but I saw this post , the custom folder pull out the yellow cat mails from inbox, sent items, drafts etc and stores in particular folder.
    This one is helpful

    regards,
    Dharanesh,

    Reply
  8. Matlab

    With havin so much content and articles do you ever run into any problems of
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    of exclusive content I’ve either written myself or outsourced but it looks like a lot of it
    is popping it up all over the web without my permission. Do you know any methods to help
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    Reply
  9. Satya Dev

    Almost a year later but anywho. Go to New Search folder and at the very bottom select “Create a custom Search Folder”, then click “Choose”. Name it (I choose Uncategorized) and click “Criteria…”. Go to the Advanced tab, then navigate to Field -> Frequently-used feilds -> Categories. Then for condition choose “is empty”. Click “Add to List” and click ok!

    Reply
  10. Shivraj

    Hi All,

    Do we get to know who categorized my email in the group email box folder? If yes, could you please provide the steps how to check in Outlook 2007 and 2010? Please help.

    Thanks,

    Reply

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