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How To Use Search In Outlook To Find Emails Fast (2023)

In this post, I will show you how to use search in Outlook to find emails properly. We will learn how to narrow your search criteria for better searches in Outlook. You can use Outlook to search for words in attachments, search by email size, by date and a lot more.

One of the problems I have with Outlook is the time I spend looking for stuff. In the past, I used a multilevel folder structure to archive emails that I wanted to keep but I realized that organizing it, like in the old days, like a filing cabinet with lots of different drawers is not how it should be used. So I started to use certain Outlook features, but they didn’t work the way I wanted them to. I’d get hundreds of results back, which I tried to visually filter. You can imagine the frustration there. At some point. I realize there is much more to searching than just dropping a word in the search box and pressing enter. He can actually find exactly what you want. You just have to know how to ask it the right way.

How do I use search in Outlook?

  • Microsoft updated the search functionality in 2019 for Office 365. The search is now faster and the search itself was moved to the very top of Outlook, in the title bar. This is now the same for the desktop app and Outlook on the Web to use search.
  • Just click inside the search box with your mouse or use the shortcut keys Alt + Q or Control + E. This will open a dropdown where Outlook will make some personalized suggestions based on your recent activity.
  • I don’t find that particularly helpful, but in case you want to repeat a search, this may be useful for you.
  • In the past, I typed my search words and got hundreds of results back but that’s like driving your car in first gear only. It’s going to take forever to get anywhere.
  • There are two ways you can use search, instant search and advance search. I’m going to show you both.

Instant Search in Microsoft Outlook

Let’s start with instant search. Let’s say I am looking for something with the keyword test. I just type it in the search box, press enter and get all the results. To narrow down the results, I can go to the search tab with additional buttons.

I can refine my search step by step. You can narrow or expand the scope of your search. You can find the fields below.

  • Current Mailbox: The default is mailbox. I’m going to show you later how you can change your default if you need to.
  • Current Folder: Another option to restrict your search is to narrow it down to just the current folder. This means the inbox, excluding subfolders.
  • Subfolders: If you select subfolders, you include the inbox and every folder below it.
  • All Mailboxes: If you have more accounts, you may want to expand your search to all mailboxes.
  • All Outlook items: All Outlook items is as broad as you can get. It’s going to search in all mailboxes and not just in mail, but also in your calendar and contacts.
  • From: Your search may take longer this way, but you get to really narrow down your search results. The message I’m looking for is for me. I can click on from and type the sender name and hit enter this way. It searches for everything with the keyword Excel plus where the user is the sender.
  • Subject: I can click on subject and add that to my search.
  • Has Attachments: I know that the message had an attachment so I select has attachments and maybe I also know that the word course was included in the subject line.
  • Categorized: If you categorize your emails, you can restrict the results to a certain category with this dropdown or you can search by recipients.
  • Flagged: You can search for mail that you flagged
  • Important: You can search for mail that you marked as important. These options really help you find what you’re looking for.

Advanced Search in Microsoft Outlook

  • The second method is to use advanced search. Now, this is a more efficient way and it’s going to give you even more options instead of sequentially narrowing down the search like we did in instant search. You can do it all in one.
  • To get it, click inside the search box and then click the dropdown which will open a dropdown with predefined search fields.
  • You can define where to search based on whether what you’re looking for has an attachment or not.
  • Basically, all the search options we saw on the search tab you can also find here and you even have more choices. For example, with attachments, you can directly look for keywords that you know are in the attachment of the message.
  • Let’s say that I know that the message I’m looking for has an attachment that contains the word Set 1. I put it in quotation marks because I want an exact match. We will cover search syntax towards the end of the article, so stay with me.
  • That’s pretty cool. Also, you’re not limited to the predefined search fields that we saw in the dropdown. Let’s go back to advanced search and notice the button that has more options in the corner.
  • We get to the advanced search options, where we can enable additional search fields. Let’s say I want the option to specifically search for recipients in BCC, check the BCC box and click on apply. Now we are available for searches. Remember these additional options. Whenever you can’t find the fields, you need to restrict your results to now.

Settings and Indexing for Search in Outlook

  • Let’s talk about options and indexing. As always, with office products, there are some standard application options we should explore.
  • Go to File, select Options, and then select Search. Under results, you can define a default folder for the instant search. The second option is that you can choose to include deleted items when you’re searching for all items. Typically, I don’t enable that. You can also change the highlight color. That’s the color used to highlight the search terms in the results at the top.
  • We also have indexing options. This is an important topic when it comes to search. Indexing helps you get faster search results.
  • It’s not just relevant for Outlook search, but for any search that you’re doing in Windows, essentially indexing is going through your files, your messages and any other content on your PC. It’s cataloging the information.
  • When Outlook’s search doesn’t find what you’re looking for or just gives you incomplete results, indexing is not working properly.
  • There is a lot more on indexing, but there are two important things to remember. When we click on indexing options, we will get the current status. Make sure that indexing is complete. Number two is to make sure that Outlook is included as part of the indexing. Under index these locations, you should see Microsoft Outlook. If not, choose modify and click to enable it as a last resort.
  • If you’re still having trouble with accurate search results or indexing doesn’t finish, you may have to rebuild the search catalog. This will restart the indexing of your data files.

Outlook Search Syntax and Operators

  • Finally, let’s talk about search syntax. Now that we understand the technicalities of Outlook search, Let’s cover some basics about search syntax.
  • Outlook search uses prefix matching. If you type plus in the search box, it will find messages that contain plus pluses and plushie, but not excel plus or surplus. Also, it’s not case sensitive, so it will find plus in the proper case and plus in other cases.
  • Well, we already saw that if you want to look for an exact phrase, like set 1, you need to put it in quotation marks. If you don’t, it will return all variations.
  • You can also use logical operators like and, or and not in your search but you need to use uppercase letters. For example, if you search for Leelah and Garani, it will return items containing both Lillah and Karijini, but not necessarily. In that order, Lillah or Garani will find items containing Lailah, Leyla’s Garani or any other combination of uppercase and lowercase letters. Lillah not Kirani will find all items with Lillah that don’t include the word Garani.
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  • You can even use comparison operators like greater than or smaller than size. For instance, if you type message size, then put a colon and then the greater than sign 5 MB in the search box. It will return items that are larger than five megabytes.
  • Pretty cool, right? If I use the syntax received greater than June 1st 2023, it will return all emails received after June 1st 2023.

For more information about search syntax and operators, visit the Microsoft website.

That’s how you can use search in Outlook to find emails quickly.

Also read: Overview of Office 365 Archive Mailbox

Now it’s your turn:

Which finding from today’s report did you find most interesting? Or maybe you have a question about something that I covered.

Either way, I’d like to hear from you. So go ahead and leave a comment below.

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