Finding Mail

Trying to find the right email can sometimes be a painful task. Browsing aimlessly through folders, searching by person but getting too many results to check them all or simply wondering whether you have gone mad as you cannot spot the email you are sure you had sent.

We have spent time examining how people search and noticed that it is a very frequent activity. People will try and look for emails multiple times per day and use very different approaches. Here’s our simple advice on how to turn searching into finding!

Kicking off your search with Ctrl+E (or Ctrl+F)

A bit obvious, but it will definitely help you to grow the habit of using keyboard shortcuts to become more efficient. Also, as the search bar moves to different spots in different screens when this method is used in Outlook, it stops you from having to look for it. Do note that most programs use Ctrl+F to search, but Outlook uses Ctrl+E as the universal search key (Ctrl+F is ‘Forward’ in Outlook).

You can also use the search tool in your Calendar or Contacts. Again, just type Ctrl+E (in Outlook) and the name of the person you are seeking (or place or anything else your remember about the meeting or contact) and you will receive a short list of all meeting/contacts that contain that word.

The Spacebar is your biggest search friend

This may sound odd, but the most efficient search keyword in Outlook is a space. Often people only use one word or name to search, but when you add a space you are actually saying you would like to filter emails that contain the first word AND the second word, in no particular order. By combining multiple words in the search bar you will make it a lot easier to dig up the right items. Think about the context of your email and come up with more words that are in it – of course you can keep adding third or fourth words, etc.
Keep in mind that Outlook searches all of the following elements:

  • The subject field
  • Name fields
  • Date fields
  • The body of the email (text)
  • Searchable attachments*

This means that, if you can remember words from the text or even attachments, you can use that as part of your search query. This can be very helpful if you know product codes or invoice numbers that make the email you’re searching for relatively unique.

See the videos above for an example of how this works.

Too many and the minus trick

Every now and then you might find that search results are blurred by too many other emails from a certain source (newsletters) or name. In this case it might help to add a minus to a word you would like to exclude from your search results. Note that this trick also works in Google!

If you are still getting too many emails as a result you can easily filter out emails using the search ribbon, which only appears when you are in search mode in Outlook. For example, you can click the attachment button to eliminate all emails that do not have an attachment – which is very handy if you are searching for the file attached instead of the email!

Too few and the blue line

Now, what if you have entered a couple of good search terms with spaces in between and still can’t find the email you are looking for? At the bottom of the search results you will spot a blue line saying Search again in all folders. By clicking this link you will do the same search query on all mail folders in your mailbox (including sent items, trash, etc.) This is a very quick and easy way to avoid having to think about where the email may be filed.

Turning on conversation view

One of the new features in Outlook 2010 is the conversation view. It is turned off by default, as it can be quite confusing, but for many people it can be a real timesaver to have all emails from a thread gathered together in one thread (regardless of where you filed them). This means you see all emails of one conversation grouped together, which is handy if you need to check the history of the conversation. You can turn on this feature in the View tab.

Note that if you use conversation view and you file or delete the most recent email, the rest of the conversation might jump place to a different spot in your inbox or folder (to the time of the next-most-recent email in the conversation).

Building confidence in your email program and understanding how it searches will help you become more effective and can reduce the need for time-intensive filing.


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