Take advantage of Search filters in Windows Explorer

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, Greg Shultz shows you how to use and take advantage of the Search filters built into the Windows 7 Explorer Search Box.

I recently received an email from a reader who was frustrated with the Search feature in Windows Explorer. His complaint was that the Search feature is good in Microsoft Windows 7, but it always turns up too many results, so it is hard to find exactly what he wants.

Of course, I agree that the Search feature built in to Windows 7 is great. However, it also has a terrific Search filtering system built right in to Windows Explorer's Search box, of which he was unaware. Unfortunately, it is very easy to overlook the Search filters feature if you aren't looking for it.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll show you how to use and take advantage of the Search filters built in to Windows Explorer's Search box in Windows 7.

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

The Search box

Let's begin with an overview of the Search box, which appears in the upper-right corner of Windows Explorer, as shown in Figure A. When you begin typing text in the Search box, it immediately begins sifting through the search index for that text in folder names, file names, the contents of the file, and in file properties. It then displays the results in Windows Explorer.

Figure A

The Search box appears in the upper-right corner.
For example, I typed Invoice in the Search box in the Documents Library and instantly turned up 653 items, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

The Search process is fast and efficient.

As you can imagine, manually weeding through 653 files to the find the ones that I want would be a very time-consuming task. Fortunately, I can use Search filters to do the work for me.

Using Search filters

By using Search filters you can quickly and easily narrow down the results and find what you are looking for. To access the Search filters, just click in the Search box and you'll see a drop-down menu that shows the Search filters in blue, as shown in Figure C. The filters that you see by default are actually context sensitive in that the filters that display are targeted to the content in that folder or Library. For example, in the Pictures Library, one of the default filters is Date Taken.

Figure C

The Search filters will appear at the bottom of the Search box.
Returning to the Invoice search example, when I want to find an invoice from an exact date, I select the Date Modified filter and I see a calendar, as shown in Figure D, where I can select a date or date range to narrow down my search. If I wasn't sure of the exact date, I could select one of the predefined filters such as Earlier This Year or Last Week.

Figure D

The Date Modified filter provides you with a calendar where you can select a date or date range.
You can even combine filters by selecting one and then clicking the Search box again and selecting a second one. For example, I combined the Date Modified filter with the (File) Type filter, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

You can combine filters to more thoroughly narrow down your search results.
If while you are composing a search, you decide that you want to clear out the current filters and start again, just click the close button in the far-right corner of the Search box, as shown in Figure F. When you do, the filters will be removed from the Search box and the display will return to normal.

Figure F

Click the close button to clear the filters.
If you want to save the Search so that you can use it again in the future, just click the Save Search command that appears in the Command Bar. Once you save a Search, it will appear in the Favorites list, as shown in Figure G, where you can easily run the Search whenever you need it. If and when you no longer want the saved Search, just right-click on it and select the Remove command.

Figure G

Once you save a search, it is added to the Favorites list in Windows Explorer.
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Custom Search filters

As I mentioned, as soon as you begin typing text in the Search box, Search sifts through the index and displays results that contain that text in folder names, file names, the contents of the file, and in file properties. Fortunately, you can narrow your search by creating your own filters based on file properties.

For example, if you want to find only files that have Invoice in the file name, you can use the Name: filter, as shown in Figure H.

Figure H

You can create custom filters based on file properties.

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:


If you save links to Web sites in folders and now you want to find any links that contain the word Gates, you can use the Kind: filter by typing the following in the Search box:

Gates Kind:link

You can find a whole slew of these types of custom Search filters on Microsoft's Windows Search Advanced Query Syntax page.

Search Again

While Search filters can help you at the beginning of your search, there is another little-used feature called Search Again that can help you filter your results after your search. When you scroll to the bottom of the search results, you'll see a panel named Search Again that lists several additional locations, such as Homegroup or Internet. However, you'll also find a Custom button that brings up the Choose Search Location dialog box, which is basically a Browser that will allow you to pick and choose other locations, as shown in Figure I. When you click OK, your existing results are filtered down to the location that you selected.

Figure I

Using the Search Again feature allows you to filter your results after the fact.

What's your take?

Have you used any of these Search filtering tools? If so, what is your favorite feature? 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.