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Using Windows Search


Most people use only the most basic functions of the Windows Search tool and wind up spending considerable time scrolling through screens  of search results trying to find the specific file they are looking for.  But the Windows Search tool is actually more powerful than that, and if used properly, can help you quickly find exactly what you are looking for . This article is intended to introduce some of the many search tools built into the Windows operating system, and how to use them more effectively.

A Brief History Of Windows Search

The Windows search tool is nothing new to the Windows operating system, though it has matured since the days of Windows 95 and 98 when it was called “Find” and it was tucked off to the side of the Start menu or not shown in the menu at all. Find was a basic search tool with limited functionality and it was slow. The search tool  didn’t change much  until the release of Windows Vista the Find tool became the Search tool and found a permanent home on the Windows menu.

Windows Vista introduced a more powerful search tool.  Instead of scrolling through programs lists to find and launch an application, you could simply type the name of the program like ‘word’ or ‘excel’  and then you could launch the program from the search results in the Windows menu.  Windows Vista also improved the way we searched for files by allowing up to search date ranges or by file types or dates modified.

Today with Windows 7 and Windows 8, the search tool is even more important and powerful. You can find more things in more places—documents, email messages,  music—and do it faster. You can quickly narrow down your search by categories (Documents, Music, Pictures, Video, etc.) or quickly narrow your search results to specific file types,  specific dates, and one of my favorites, by date modified.

Using Windows Search

Windows Search Will search files and folders from the directory that the search is opened in.  Typically, when you start a search from Windows Explorer, the search will be conducted in the Libraries directory which will search Documents, Music, Pictures, and video. If you need to conduct a search across the whole computer, you should conduct your search from My Computer. If you need to search another hard drive, or a network location, navigate to those locations and conduct your search there.

To conduct a basic search for a program for library, you can simply click the Start Button and type the name in the search box, and the results will appear above in the Start menu. This works great only have a handful of results, but If you are searching a document or picture or something like that, you will do much better to open the search in a new windows.

There are two ways to bring up a search in a new windows with Start. The first, you click the Start button, type your search term, and press Enter. The second, you right-click on the Start button and select ‘Open Windows Explorer’.  Both methods will open a new window where you can see everything much easier, and where you can use different tools to more affectively find the files you need.

Using Wildcards

Wildcards are used to replace names or characters from a search term.

The ‘?‘ wildcard can be used to replace a single character in a search term, such as if you had a grouped of dated filenames For example, you need all the files from the month of August  from all files  ‘20140801-001’ through ‘20140801-165’, you could use the ‘?‘ wildcard  like this: 201408??-001. The results from this search would produce all records for the month of August.

The ‘*‘ wildcard can be used to replace the entire filename or extension of a search term. For example, if you wanted to find all documents created in Microsoft Word. Using *.doc as a search term will search all the files in the current directory and list every file with a .doc extension. You can also use and ‘*‘ to replace the extension of a file name such as ‘triptoseaside.*‘ to find every file or folder named triptoseaside, regardless of its file extension.

You can also use both ‘?‘ and ‘*‘ together. In fact, you can use wildcards with any of the search functions in this article.

Using Search Filters

Search filters are a new feature in Windows 7 that make searching for files by their properties (such as by author or by file size) much easier.

To add a search filter to your search:

  1. Open the folder, library, or drive that you want to search.
  2. Click in the search box, and then click a search filter (for example, Date taken: in the Pictures library).
  3. Click one of the available options. (For example, if you clicked Date modified:, choose a date or a date range.)


There are other filters as well, including:

  • Kind: Provides a drop-down list of different file types such as Calendar, Contact, E-Mail, Folder, Instant Message, Game, Journal, Link, Movie, Music, and other choices.
  • Type: Lets you specify a file type and only returns matching results for that file type.
  • Name: This will return results that match the name of the file you are searching for, regardless of file type.
  • Folder Path: You can use this to specify a particular folder path to search in.

You can also create your own custom search filters. Say for example that you want to search for any file with a specific string like HR-Reports. In the search field, you type Name:HR-Reports. Only files with HR-Reports will show up in the search results.

Using Operators

One way to refine a search is to use the operators AND, OR, and NOT. When you use these operators, you need to type them in all capital letters.



Use this to

AND trip AND seaside Find files that contain both of the words “trip” and “island” (even if those words are in different places in the file, such as in a spreadsheet or document). In the case of a simple text search, this gives the same results as typing “trip  seaside.”
NOT trip  NOT island Find files that contain the word “trip “, but not “seaside.”
OR trip OR island Find files that contain either of the words “trip ” or “seaside.”

Using Keywords To Refine A Search

When searching large amounts of data, it is often helpful to use keywords to refine the search. For example, you are looking for  files whose name begins with the word ‘seaside’. You can use a keyword search to show only files that start with the word ‘seaside’.

System.FileName:~<“seaside” Files whose names begin with “seaside” The ~< means “begins with.”


Example search term

Use this to find

System.FileName:~<“keyword” Files whose names begin with “keyword” The ~< means “begins with.”
System.FileName:=”quarterly report” Files named “quarterly report.” The = means “matches exactly.”
System.FileName:~=”key” Files whose names contain the word “key” or the characters pro as part of another word (such as “keyword” or “donkeyworks”). The ~= means “contains.”
System.Kind:<>picture All file types except for pictures. The <> means “is not.”
System.DateModified:05/25/2010 Files that were modified on that date.You can also type “System.DateModified:2010” to find files changed at any time during that year.
System.Author:~!”james” Files whose authors don’t have “james” in their name. The ~! means “doesn’t contain.”
System.Keywords:”seaside” Files that are tagged with the word seaside.
System.Size:<1mb Files that are less than 1 MB in size.
System.Size:>1mb Files that are more than 1 MB in size.

Well, that about wraps it up. I hope this article is useful to you. I may come back to it sometime and update or add to it. So if you think this article is useful, please consider subscribing to my website, and you will receive an e-mail notification when I add new posts. I promise I won’t spam you or sell your information, and I will not send you any offers or unsolicited material. You have my word!

Thanks for reading, and Peace!

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