Windows

Tag your files for easier searches in Windows 7

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, Greg Shultz shows you how you can Tag your files in Windows 7 using tools built into Windows Explorer.

In a recent Windows Desktop Report, "Take Advantage of Search Filters in Windows Explorer," I showed you how to use and take advantage of the Search filters built in to Windows Explorer's Search box in Windows 7. As I told you in that blog post, as soon as you begin typing text in the Search box, Windows immediately begins sifting through the search index for that text in folder names, file names, the contents of the file, and file properties, such as Tags. I also showed you how you can narrow your search by creating your own filters based on file properties such as Tags.

In my example, I showed you that if you wanted to find files that have Invoice in the Tag, you can use the Tag: filter by typing the following in the Search box:

Tag:Invoice

Since that blog was posted, I have received several emails from readers asking how you go about tagging files so that you can search on Tags.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll show you how you can Tag your files.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic download.

What are Tags?

As you probably know, every file on your system has a set of attributes called file properties that includes such things as the name of the author or the date that the file was last modified. Tags are another type of file property, designed to be customized by the user. Tags are great for making searching easier because you can use words or even phrases that make sense to you. You can think of Tags as keywords.

While you can add Tags to many different types of files, you can't add them to all file types. For example, you can add Tags to Microsoft Office documents and most picture files, but you can't add Tags to text files or bitmap files.

Tagging files as you save them

When you save files from within certain applications, you'll have the opportunity to Tag your files. For example, Word 2007's Save As dialog box provides you with the ability to Tag a file. In fact, all Microsoft Office 2007 applications will allow you to add Tags from the Save As dialog box.

As you can see in Figure A, right below the Save As Type drop-down menu is the Tags feature. Just click Add a Tag and a text box will appear where you can type your custom keyword or phrase.

Figure A

The Save As dialog box in Word 2007 allows you to Tag files as you are saving them.

You'll notice that as soon as you start typing, a semicolon appears at the end of your Tag. This indicates that you can add a second Tag if you wish. To do so, just click the Tags text box again and you'll be prompted to add a second Tag. You can add multiple Tags if you wish.

As a time-saver, Word 2007 will monitor what you are typing and will display a list of recently used Tags, as shown in Figure B, that match what you are typing. Just select the adjacent check box, and the Tags you select will be instantly added.

Figure B

Word 2007 will display a list of recently used Tags that match what you are typing.

Tagging files from the Properties dialog box

You can Tag a file from within its Properties dialog box. Again, keep in mind that not all file types can be tagged.

To do so, just right-click on the file and select the Properties command. When the Properties dialog box appears, select the Details tab. If the file type can be tagged, you'll find the Tags property. When you click just to the right of the Tags label, a text box will appear, as shown in Figure C, and you can type your Tag.

Figure C

You can add Tags from within the Properties dialog box.

Just like in the previous example, you can add multiple Tags if you wish. You'll also discover that Windows 7 will monitor what you are typing and will display a list of recently used Tags.

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Tagging files from within Windows Explorer

You can also tag a file from within Windows Explorer. Again, keep in mind that not all file types can be tagged.

When you select a file that can be tagged, you'll see the Tags property in the Details pane at the bottom of the folder window, as shown in Figure D. You'll discover that you can add multiple Tags if you wish and you can see a list of recently used Tags.

Figure D

You can find the Tags property in the Details pane of Windows Explorer.

You may have to enlarge the Details pane in order to see the Tags property. If the Details pane isn't displayed, access the Organize menu on the Command bar, select Layout, and choose Details pane.

When tagging files from within Windows Explorer, you can tag multiple files with the same keyword at the same time. Just press and hold down the [Ctrl] key and then select the files you want to tag at the same time.

Using Tags

While I started this article by touting Tags as a way to make searches easier, they can also come in handy when you use the Arrange By, Group By, and Filter features that I covered in my recent blogs posts:

What's your take?

Are you currently using Tags? If so, do you find that they allow you to keep your files better organized? If you are not yet using Tags, will you begin to do so? 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.

25 comments
1000025070
1000025070

I have the same problem as sadiekay 502, in that I can assign tags but the search function won't find them.  Frustratingly neither the original article nor the comments seem to recognise this problem.  It would be very useful if someone could explain why this is and what we're doing wrong.

sadiekay502
sadiekay502

Useful article, but I must be missing something. I have assigned tags to documents both when creating a document and in windows explorer, but when I search for any of those tags I am told there are no results. When I click on the document I'm searching for I can see that the tag is there, so I'm not sure what the problem is. Any thoughts?

jina
jina

I use tags effectively in outlook and I am always looking for ways to use tags in files also. Unfortunately, it is not possible to tag all files (for example, PDF files can't be tagged). Your article provided a very good information on how to use tags.


But until the limitation tags (like only some file types can be tagged), is overcome, it can't be used effectively and I would not use it. Also windows has to make it more user friendly to assign tags and search. For example there should be an user interface for search and tagging just like program "Taglocity" (which I use in MS Outlook) then it makes sense to use TAGS.


I am only hoping that some day this issue will be resolved and then we can effectively stop using manual folder like structure and graduate to simple effective and modern Tagging system which will allow us to tag and search very easily.

getRummage
getRummage

Great article, typically well written by Greg.

My company believes in the power of tags but feel no one has done it right yet!

As a results we are creating our own tool.  I would love to get in touch with anyone that feels that tagging is a great way to stay organised.  The alpha is out soon and we want to get as much feedback as possible. 

jyyl
jyyl

Thanks for yoru article. It's been very helpful. However, I ahve one question about the tagging options that come up. In your article, you said that it will monitor what you are typing and display a list of recently used Tags. For me, the list that comes up aren't even tags that I have used before or even related to what I've typed. Is there a way to clear the memory/define a set of poptions that come up?

aaawwwhhh
aaawwwhhh

Nice Column !!! Liked you in facebook. Context: Word 2007, Windows 7 added tag, saved file searched (search box accessible through windows button) syntax tag:xxxx explorer couldn't find the file. Repeated several times with different tags over a period of a couple days. Feature is just not working. Any thoughts ??? Thanks, George San Diego

xavierlh
xavierlh

Tags will remain unused (and what a shame that is) until they are available across all file types. The fact that only a few file types can be tagged means that when I search on a tag, I only get partial results. I should be able to open folder, select all files, right click, choose "tag" and assign them one or more tags. In fact, there should be an automated migration feature that tags all files with the existing folder names. Until that level of functionality is in place, tags are a useless feature for me. Here are further thoughts on what this may look like: http://storizabautpipol.com/2012/04/17/organizing-our-growing-personal-data-files/

Deborah Mattila
Deborah Mattila

In my organization we want to use tags so that team members can easily find documents created by others to aid in their work. Tags will also be useful to help us cross-list each document, so we can search by type of document, topic, client and year, for example. We haven't yet found a tagging tool that we can use for file types other than MS Office and that works well on a server.

TAPhilo
TAPhilo

So is this saying that when you "tag" a file you are actually writing the info into the Keyword extended file system properties? It would have been nice to know EXACTLY where this is being written. Course if to the keywords - or any of the extended file attributes - this is only valid on NTFS formatted file systems so they stay when copied. If moved onto a FAT32 (which a lot of flash drives are initially formatted to) all that info disappears - and Windows warns you of it. It would be better to actually organize you own file system to match the way you think - categorize - than to go through ALL the extra work required to add tags into them. There is VERY little benefit doing so if you are organized. If you store EVERYHTING ever crated in a single folder - THEN there is benefit - since there is no categorization and the tags are the only way to then sort / find items.

techrepublic
techrepublic

Tags are nothing more than additional data saved within certain file types by applications that create or modify them. They're not file attributes at all; not like Read Only, Hidden, System, or Archive. You can add your own data to many of the other types of files, such as TXT and PDF. Then, all you have to do is search for text within files. While tags may be useful for some people, they're not useful at all to me. I generally don't use a feature that isn't applicable across the board.

Jaqui
Jaqui

that whole concept needs to get flushed.

n.champaigne
n.champaigne

I search mainly for system files and folders, and other hard to find folders. I know where everything else is! Tagging would be the most redundant chore possible. Why would I want to do anything so stupid? Why would I want anything less than a totally unrestricted Windows XP style search engine?

lakespringer
lakespringer

Tagging files one by one would be a chore, but if I could tag by command-line, I could think of how such a process could be integrated into business workflow. On a tech site like TR, it would be good to discuss how Microsoft implements this - is a part of the file structure itself, or stashed into auxilliary files/registry? I suspect the former given jeremy's comment that it doesn't work on many file types. I also agree - tagging should be universal or it will just be another ignored feature-bloat.

jeremy.wagstaff
jeremy.wagstaff

Thanks for the article. I agree that tags are very powerful but their usefulness is limited in Windows 7 by the fact that only certain file types are supported. Even PDF, PNG, etc files cannot be tagged.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Do you use the tag feature in Windows 7? Do you see a potential benefit for file organization and retrieval?

huhbot02
huhbot02

@getRummage right now I have had to stick to sqlite dll which emulates a tag database on top of a hierarchical file system, but it's a bad solution whatsoever.

huhbot02
huhbot02

@getRummage Hi there. I am working on my tags program too. It is rather devoted to visual exploration of tagged data. But a good tag solution is a must with it. So I would love to take a look at what you guys have created so far. Please provide more information on how to try it.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

and see if you get menu with a 'Delete' option. Or try using the arrow keys to move the cursor to the unwanted tag then press the Delete key. It's a two year old article; don't expect a response from the original author.

Jaqui
Jaqui

some brainless fan of tags voted both of us down. :) after all, not likeing nd not using the idiot things is a valid opinion, unless one is a brainless fan on them. :D

pvbrandes
pvbrandes

I wish Windows had a utility like Macs have, where you can colorize folders, assign a category to them, and then be able to search and sort the categories. It provides many organizational options.

douglas.gernat
douglas.gernat

I used tags galore at home on our massive photos public folder, and have even introduced them for clients, and it has had a remarkable effect. As more and more users abandon the traditional folder tree for hunting down files, and rely more on metadata, indexes, and file property searches, I see this as becoming VERY popular!

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