Microsoft

Enable natural language search in Windows 7 to produce better results

Greg Shultz shows you how to take advantage of the natural language search feature in Windows 7 to get more accurate results.
Back in March of this year in a blog post titled "Taking Advantage of Search Filters in Windows Explorer," I showed you how to take advantage of the Search filters built in to Windows Explorer's Search Box in Windows 7. As you may remember, to access the Search filters you just click in the Search box and you'll see a drop down that shows the Search filters in blue, as shown in Figure A. I then explained that by using Search filters you can quickly and easily narrow down the results and find what you are looking for.

Figure A

The Search filters will appear at the bottom of the Search box.

While I find that Search filters are a great tool, I was recently reminded that Windows 7's Windows Search supports a natural language search feature that really makes it easy to find what you are looking for because it enables you to search for things using a more natural sentence structure.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll show you how to enable the natural language search feature in Windows 7. I'll then show you how to use it to your advantage.

How it works

The natural language search feature works similarly to Search filters, in that it can use filter-like words, but it doesn't require the adherence to the rigid syntax. For example, rather than typing kind:music INXS you can just type music by INXS.

The natural language search feature is designed to recognize the keywords that you type in your phrase, strip out the unnecessary words, and then conduct the search operation. For instance in the above, the natural language search feature will strip out the word by and search for the keywords music and INXS.

Enabling natural language search

Before you can use the natural language search feature, you must enable it. Click the Start button and type Folder Options in the Start Search text box. When it appears in the result, just click it. Once the Folder Options dialog box appears, select the Search tab. Now, locate and select the Use Natural Language Search check box, as shown in Figure B. Then click OK.

Figure B

The Natural Language Search check box is found on the Search tab of the Folder Options dialog box.

Other examples

Once you enable the natural language search feature, you'll need to experiment, but you'll quickly get the hang of it. For example, I can now use the following searches:

  • Email from Greg --> Any saved email messages from Greg
  • Pictures of Greg --> any picture files named or tagged with Greg
  • Documents created last week --> Any documents created last week
  • Documents by Greg --> Documents where Greg is the author
  • 4MB MP3 --> MP3 files that are under 4MB in size
  • "Adobe Acrobat Document" created last month --> Any PDF documents created last month

What's your take?

Do you think that using the natural language search feature will be helpful to you? Are you already using the natural language search feature? What do you think? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

10 comments
snlunawat
snlunawat

Does anybody know whether you can implement natural language search in a CHM file or webhelp. If yes, any guidelines on the same?

Craig_B
Craig_B

One pitfall that I came across is that natural language filters have to calculate what is a search filter and what is a search. With NL filters on, a search of TO DO returns nothing as the filter see's those as key filter words. Of course if I search for "TO DO" (with quotes) it will find all the items OK. Though now I have one more thing to watch out for.

8string
8string

It seems NS takes up about 8 MBs on my W32 machine, much less on W64. MSFT is very touchy about the "bloatware" charges by the Linux and IT world (folks like those here!). So it's likely off by design, because of that. And since they don't control the hardware, it seems that the vendor's don't bother toturn it on. Tuning Windows for the consumer market needs to be done, as Apple has amply shown.

mudpuppy1
mudpuppy1

Since this isn't on by default, how resource-intensive is it?

mig25jet
mig25jet

Remember how easy it was to search within files using WinXP? I can't find find how to do it in Win7. Please tell me how to do this? Anybody? chrisk-at-bell.co.za

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Have you tried to use the natural language search feature? How well did it work?

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Try reposting this in the 'Q&A' forum. The 'Discussion' forum is for matters of general discussion, not specific problems in search of a solution. The 'Water Cooler' is for non-technical discussions. You can submit a question to 'Q&A' here: http://www.techrepublic.com/forum/questions/post?tag=mantle_skin;content There are TR members who specifically seek out problems in need of a solution. Although there is some overlap between the forums, you'll find more of those members in 'Q&A' than in 'Discussions' or 'Water Cooler'. Be sure to use the voting buttons to provide your feedback. Voting a '+' does not necessarily mean that a given response contained the complete solution to your problem, but that it served to guide you toward it. This is intended to serve as an aid to those who may in the future have a problem similar to yours. If they have a ready source of reference available, perhaps won't need to repeat questions previously asked and answered. If a post did contain the solution to your problem, you can also close the question by marking the helpful post as "The Answer". . [b]That way you are more likely to get a response rather than posting a question to a 2 year old thread.[/b] Col

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

...searching for just TO DO doesn't technically constitute a NL type of search. However, something along the lines of: documents TO DO or email TO DO would qualify. Try this and let me know your results.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

by right-clicking a drive or folder, selecting Properties, then selecting 'Allow files to have contents indexed..." Otherwise, try reposting this in the 'Q&A' forum. The 'Discussion' forum is for matters of general discussion, not specific problems in search of a solution. The 'Water Cooler' is for non-technical discussions. You can submit a question to 'Q&A' here: http://www.techrepublic.com/forum/questions/post?tag=mantle_skin;content There are TR members who specifically seek out problems in need of a solution. Although there is some overlap between the forums, you'll find more of those members in 'Q&A' than in 'Discussions' or 'Water Cooler'. Be sure to use the voting buttons to provide your feedback. Voting a '+' does not necessarily mean that a given response contained the complete solution to your problem, but that it served to guide you toward it. This is intended to serve as an aid to those who may in the future have a problem similar to yours. If they have a ready source of reference available, perhaps won't need to repeat questions previously asked and answered. If a post did contain the solution to your problem, you can also close the question by marking the helpful post as "The Answer".