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.

By Greg Shultz

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.