Refine Your Searches In Outlook 2007

Despite its reputation as a search slug, in its most recent incarnations Outlook has some handy ways to filter messages and find what you need fast. Here's the most useful operators to apply to your Outlook 2007 searches.

I've been a full-time Outlook user since around 2000, but it wasn't until Office 2007 appeared that I seriously started using its built-in search capabilities. Earlier releases had search functions that at best worked exceedingly slowly, and at worst didn't work at all. Various plug-ins could improve that performance, but it wasn't until the 2007 release that searching a standard desktop PST file became a realistic prospect using just Outlook alone.

While I'll cheerfully admit that Gmail has even faster search services and plenty of tricks of its own, Outlook's other features (such as better BlackBerry integration and easier offline working) have kept it as my favourite mail client. If you prefer Outlook, or have to use it in a work environment, it's worth investing time in learning the basics of search.

Searching in 2007 is pretty straightforward: just click in the search box that appears near the top of every view (Inbox, Calendar, Contacts, Tasks and Notes) and type your search term. Outlook instantly begins searching in the relevant view for items that match your criteria. You can speed the process further by using the Control-E shortcut to access the search box. After the results appear, you can also sort them by the usual criteria (such as clicking on date or sender in the Mail view). You can also use typical search operators such as double quotes to enclose an exact phrase (which can help narrow down individuals), and the words AND, OR or NOT (which must be in capitals) to apply multiple criteria.

One feature that Microsoft doesn't heavily promote, however, is the ability to further filter your results even before the search begins by using a series of keywords. There's a full list on the Microsoft site, but here's the ones which I generally find the most useful. (Replace the generic terms enclosed in single quotes such as 'name' or 'term' with the search term you need.)

  • received:'criteria' Find items received on a date. You can use =1/4/2010 to match an exact date, or use individual words such as today, tomorrow, yesterday or last week, as well as names of months or days.
  • about:'term' Find items which feature the search term in the subject, body or attachment.
  • subject:'term'Find items which feature the search term in the subject.
  • cc:'term' Find items which feature the search term (either a display name or email address) in the cc: field. You can also use bcc:'term' for the bcc field.
  • from:'name' Find items sent by a particular person.
  • messagesize:size Add the terms tiny, small, medium, large or verylarge to restrict your results to messages of a particular size.
  • hasattachment:yes Only find messages with attachments. Unsurprisingly, hasattachment:no does the opposite.
  • attachments:'filename.doc' Find messages with a particular attachment.

One final note: Outlook uses Windows' built-in search services to power its own search, so if you've switched that off to try and improve system performance, you won't be able to use these techniques. That's not a sensible move, by the way -- on a modern Windows PC, the benefits of system search across the board will easily outweigh any putative performance gains from turning the service off.

Lifehacker 101 is a weekly feature covering fundamental techniques that Lifehacker constantly refers to, explaining them step-by-step. Hey, we were all newbies once, right?


    I've been blessed with using Thunderbird's search capabilites but was recently forced to use Outlook at work. (Exchange Server with no IMAP)
    What an eye opener! Outlook search is appalling!
    Hopefully this will help me out some as I've grown to rely on search rather than folder management to keep track of old mail.

    Good article except, I'm inclined to take the easier path.

    Simply click the double down arrow next to the serach box and hey presto ... a dropdown with all of the filter choices listed above (and more)appear.

    Hi there!
    For those of you who are interested in a good and furthermore fast search tool for Outlook, I'd like to recommend Lookeen. It's an search add-in which had a great impact on how I work with Outlook now and the way I deal with the masses of emails per day. Have a look for Lookeen.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now