Searching through Outlook email can prove to be a tough task if you are someone like me with multiple PST files and tens of thousands of emails spanning decades. Most corporate environments use Outlook for email and many people end up having business and personal email stored in Outlook.
In older versions of Outlook, you needed third-party add-ons like Xobni for searching your email quickly. Thankfully, since Office 2010, Microsoft has created a usable search function that actually works and lets you find emails quickly using a wide variety of filters. You can search for text, addresses, attachments, senders, etc and you can filter by date, size, subject, importance and more.
In this article, I’m going to show you how to make sure all your emails are indexed by Windows and then how to perform different types of searches depending on what you are looking for.
Note that this article assumes you are working on Office 2010, 2013 or 2016 as those versions are the best for searching.
Turn On Indexing
Before you can perform lightning fast searches in Outlook, you need to make sure all of your emails have been indexed. To check this, go ahead and click in the search box that you see at the top of your email mailbox.
When you click in the search box, you’ll see the Search Tools tab appears in the ribbon. At the far right, click on Search Tools and then click on Search Options.
Under Sources, click on the Indexing Options button.
This will bring you to the Windows Indexing Options screen where you can pick and choose the various locations you want indexed. If you don’t see Microsoft Outlook in the list, you need to click on the Modify button.
Go ahead, check Microsoft Outlook and then click OK.
Windows will start indexing the emails immediately and you can check to see when it’s done by clicking on Index Status under Search Tools like shown above.
You’ll see a message indicating how many items are left to be indexed and once completed, it’ll say that Outlook has finished indexing all of your items. Now let’s learn how to search in Outlook.
Performing Searches in Outlook
To get started searching in Outlook, click on Inbox or click on a specific folder. If you click on Inbox, you’ll notice that the box will have Search Current Mailbox listed. You can click on the little dropdown to the right and choose from other options like Current Folder, Subfolders, and All Outlook Items.
When you click on Inbox, Current Mailbox is automatically selected. This will search all mail in the entire mailbox including everything under Inbox, Sent Items, Deleted Items, Outbox, etc. If you click on a specific folder, the search box will default to Current Folder, which will only search the email in that particular folder not including sub-folders.
If you have a folder that has sub-folders, make sure to select Subfolders from the dropdown in order to search only the sub-folders.
Now that we understand that, let’s learn how to perform various types of searches in Outlook. There are two ways to go about it: using the Search ribbon or using the search query syntax. As you might be able to tell, the latter option is more technical, but allows you to create some complicated searches.
Using the Search Tools in Outlook
Let’s start with the easier method that will work just fine for most people. Click in the search box once you have chosen Inbox or a folder and then click on Search Tools in the ribbon. Let’s take a look at all the different options.
At the far left is the Scope, which is the same as the dropdown box that I mentioned above. Next is Results, which won’t be active until you perform a search. By default, Outlook will only show you the most recent items that match a search and may not show you all the results. You can click Include Older Results to show all the results or scroll down to the bottom of the search results and choose Show More.
Refine is where we can really drill down and find exactly what we are looking for. Firstly, how do we go about searching for exact text in Outlook? Let’s say you want to find all emails with your SSN or with a specific word. In these cases, you just use double-quotes.
Above, I searched for the word sherlock by putting it inside double quotes. If the word is in the subject line, it will be highlighted in yellow. When you click on any of the emails, you’ll also see the word highlighted for you, which is convenient.
That’s one of the most common types of searches. Another common search is by sender. This is really easy to do in Outlook. Simply click on the From button in the ribbon and start typing in the name of the person or the email address.
If you want to add more search criteria like only seeing emails from a particular sender that has attachments, you would simply click on the Has Attachments button.
You can keep adding more filters to reduce the result set of emails. Most of the other options are pretty self-explanatory like Unread, Flagged, Important, etc. If you want to search by date, you can click on This Week and you’ll get a couple of options like This Week, This Month, This Year, etc, but that’s about it.
If you want to search by date or do something like find the oldest emails in Outlook, you have to use the Advanced Find option or the query syntax. Let’s start with Advanced Find. To get to it, you have to click on Search Tools again and choose Advanced Find.
Note that this search only searches the current folder you have selected by default. If you want to search everything, you have to click on the Browse button at the top right.
If you want to search everything, select Inbox and then check the Search subfolders box at the bottom.
Now on the main search screen, you’ll see Time at the very bottom, but it gives you only the same options as dropdown in the ribbon. To do a more advanced search, you have to click on the Advanced tab.
Here you have to build you own search criteria. Click on Field,then go to Date/Time Fields and select Received. Now click on Condition and scroll down to the bottom until you see other options like on or after, on or before, and between.
If you choose between, then you can type in dates like 01/01/2005 and 12/31/2005 and then click Add to List. Here is what my search looks like.
Note that you can keep adding more criteria to the list in order to narrow down the results. In my example above, I’m just going to get all emails in that date range, which will probably be too many.
If you want to find the oldest email in Outlook, choose the on or before condition and then just type in any date that you think is fairly old.
Adjust the date depending on how many emails you get. It should be fairly easy to find the oldest email in your entire Outlook file using this search.
Another popular search is to look for the largest email in your PST file. To do this, click on the More Choices tab in Advanced Find and you’ll see an option for size at the bottom. Choose greater than and then type in a value in kilobytes. If you want to find emails larger than 5 MB, for example, you would type in 5000.
These are just some of the searches you can perform using Advanced Find. In addition, you can type all of this into the search box using search syntax and get the same results. For example, I can simply type in messagesize:>5MB and get the same results.
I won’t go through all the different search options in this post because Microsoft has a page that lists out all the different search syntax options. Hopefully, using the tools above, you will be able to find the email you were looking for. Enjoy!