Searching your email in Outlook 2016

By October 17, 2016 May 22nd, 2018 Tech Tip

You may have thousands of emails in your Outlook account. That can make searching your email a daunting task. How do you find that one email from five months ago … and you think it was from Melissa in accounting?

We all have times when we need to dig through the haystack of email to find the needle. This can be very challenging even if you carefully manage emails with folders and categories.

Here are some tips for searching your email in Outlook 2016! (Note: These search instructions are for the desktop version of Outlook 2016. Need to know how to search your Office 365 Outlook? Go here!)

How searching your email works

The search bar sits in the upper right of the mailbox or folder you are looking at. For example, if you are simply looking at your inbox, it appears like this:

Search Current Mailbox field in Outlook

You’ll see it says “Search Current Mailbox (Ctrl + E)”. On the right side it says “Current Mailbox” with a dropdown box that also lets you select other options.

If you move into a folder, it will reflect this as well.

Search folder field in Outlook

In this case, we’re looking at a folder called “Company Newsletter”. The option on the right says “Current Folder”.

By default, Outlook will only search the current mailbox or current folder you are in, unless you specifically tell it to search subfolders as well.

Searching subfolders

To broaden searching your email to both the inbox/current folder and its subfolders, click in the Search field and on the right, use the dropdown box to select “Subfolders”.

Searching subfolders

Searching options

When you click in the Search field, the Ribbon will move you to the Search tab, which gives you many ways to search.

You can search by targeting who the email is From, what its Subject line is, and whether the email has Attachments. You can also filter by

  • category color (if you use them—for example, perhaps all online receipts or statements are categorized as “Yellow”, you can narrow by this color)
  • time period
  • who the email was sent to
  • whether the email is unread
  • whether it is flagged or marked important
  • and more!

All of these options can be used in combination with each other. By doing so, you can narrow your search focus based on what you remember about the email you are searching for.

For example. . .

Let’s take an email account that has 7,348 sent emails in it, and find a single sent email. We want to find a receipt we sent to a co-worker. The co-worker asks us – “I’m missing a copy of a receipt for something you purchased from Fotolia about 3 months ago—can you resend it to me?”

Why yes, you can!

Here’s what we know: We know who the email was sent to, we know the keyword “Fotolia” was used, and we know (through our experience with Fotolia) that the receipt was a PDF and had to be attached to the email. How do we find it?

  1. First, go to the Sent Items folder.
  2. In the search box, we type in Fotolia and make sure that our search area is “Current Folder“.
    This search narrows us from 7,000 sent emails to only 46!
  3. Now we select “Has Attachments” from the Ribbon.
    Now we have only 26 emails!
  4. We know it was sent to a particular person, so we select “Sent To > Sent to Another Recipient” and type in a part of the person’s name or email address.
    Now we have only 9 emails!

A finished search in Outlook

At this point, we can quickly look at the dates of the sent emails, and discover which one is from the right time period. We can click on it and forward it to our co-worker so that they have it again!

Search is powerful. Even if you don’t know as many details about an email as in this example, one or two basic filters can reduce your haystack from tens of thousands to a handful you can manually glance through.

So next time you need to find an old email—it should be easier!


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