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Locate and organize e-mail messages with Outlook 2003 search folders

Outlook 2003 lets you define and save search criteria or use predefined folders to organize messages in a way that makes sense to you. You don't have to physically rearrange your e-mail; just consolidate what you need in a virtual folder for quick access.

As the amount of information we have stored on our systems increases, the ability to locate it quickly and easily becomes more essential. Search folders are new to Outlook 2003 and allow you to define and save search criteria or use predefined search folders (for example, Mail Flagged for Follow Up) to greatly improve your ability to locate specific messages within an information store. This article will show you how to create and use custom search folders to find the mail items you need quickly and easily.

Understanding search folders

The search folder is a mechanism that can locate messages in your message store, based on various attributes, including:

  • The From field
  • The To field
  • Subject line and message content (key word)
  • Special attributes (such as Follow-up flags or Unread status)

The great thing about search folders is that they provide a sort of cross-indexing. For years, Outlook users have been creating custom folders for sorting and organizing their messages, and search folders don't replace that practice—but they do supplement it. Now a message can be in its assigned folder, but can also be found in the search folder whose search criteria it matches. The message itself stays in its original folder, but is also displayed in the search folder.


Tip

Search folders should be thought of as virtual folders because the messages in them are really stored someplace else. If you delete a search folder, the messages are not deleted; they're still in their original folders.


How to create and customize search folders

You can create search folders from the File menu or from the Find bar. First, let's look at the File menu method.

Creating a search folder from the File menu

Creating a search folder from the File menu is easy.

  1. Click File | New and select Search Folder, as shown in Figure A. This opens the New Search Folder dialog box, shown in Figure B.

Figure A

To create a search folder from the File menu, click File | New and select Search Folder.

Figure B

You can select a predefined folder from the New Search Folder dialog box or create a custom search folder.
  1. In the New Search Folder dialog box, you can select one of the predefined search folders from the list, or you can create a custom search folder. To select a predefined folder, just scroll to it and click it. In this example, I selected Unread Mail.
  2. In the Search Mail In: field, click the down arrow to display a list of mailboxes in which you can search.
  3. Click OK, and the new search folder will appear in your Outlook folder list. All mail that matches the criterion (mail marked as Unread) will appear in the middle messages pane, as shown in Figure C. As you can see, I have a lot of unread mail.

Figure C

The new search folder appears in your Folders list, and the messages in it appear in the middle messages pane.

Creating a customized search folder

What if none of the predefined search folders matches the criteria you want to search by? For example, you may want to find all messages sent from a particular person. In this case, go back to the New Search Folder dialog box and scroll all the way to the bottom of the Select A Search Folder list. There you'll find an option labeled Create A Custom Search Folder. Click it, and then follow these steps:

  1. Click the Choose button, as shown in Figure D, to invoke the Custom Search Folder dialog box, shown in Figure E.

Figure D

You can create a custom folder if none of the predefined ones meets your needs.
  1. Give the search folder a name. In this case, I've named it "Jeff" because I'm searching for all messages from a person by that name.

Figure E

Give the custom folder a name and then click the Criteria button.
  1. Click the Criteria button to specify the search parameters.
  2. In the Search Folder Criteria dialog box, you can search by keyword in the subject field, message body, or frequently used text fields; by the From or Sent To fields; or by the time the message was sent, received, due, created, modified, or expired. In this case, I'm searching the From field, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F

You can search by keyword, by From and Sent To fields, and time.
  1. Click OK in each dialog box until they're all closed. Your custom search folder will appear in the Folder List, and messages that match the criterion will appear in the middle message pane, as shown in Figure G.

Figure G

Your custom folder appears in the Folder List, and the messages in it appear in the middle message pane.

You can narrow the search further by clicking the More Choices tab in the Search Folder Criteria dialog box. Here, you can narrow the search in the following ways:

  • Search only within a specified category
  • Search only for items that are read or only for items that are unread
  • Search by the item's importance rating
  • Search only items with a flag of a specified color
  • Match case in your search parameters
  • Specify a message size (an exact size, within particular sizes, or greater than or less than a particular size)

If that's not enough, you can define even more criteria by clicking the Advanced tab. This will allow you to search by dozens of fields, such as conversation threads, the cc: field, and the document author field.


Tip

Once a message is displayed in a search folder, you can delete it, mark it as read, or move it to a regular folder by dragging and dropping. (However, you can't drag a message into a search folder.)


Creating a search folder from the Find bar

To create a search folder from the Find bar, you first conduct a search: Click Find on the toolbar, fill in the Look For and Search In fields, and click Find Now. After your search is complete, you can click Options and select Save Search As Search Folder from the menu shown in Figure H.

Figure H

Improved Outlook

Search folders provide a quick and easy way to locate specific items among hundreds or even thousands of Outlook messages that are stored across dozens of folders. If you tend to accumulate several thousand messages as I do (and that's not even counting all the spam), search folders can change your outlook on life.

About Deb Shinder

Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 add...

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