Do You Speak ‘Search’?
The New Outlook’s web-based email client has powerful search functions to help you cut through the sheer volume of messages we store and don’t always sort. Taking advantage of them will require you to learn about “search” language, which has its roots in Boolean searches that offer precise options to find information. They use AND to expand a search, OR to introduce options, and NOT to exclude information.
Boolean searches are rooted in an algebraic method developed in the mid-19th century by the English mathematician George Boole. It’s fundamental to modern computing, and today’s database searches are based mainly on Boolean logic, which allows us to specify parameters in detail. If you think of your email inbox as a database, Boolean concepts apply to your searches.
Fortunately, we don’t need to remember our high school or middle school algebra to search our Outlook inboxes. Cheap data storage (it really is cheap even if you balk at paying for it) lets us keep messages for years…and years…and years. We can have hundreds of thousands of messages in one big folder or dozens of subfolders across several email accounts.
In a typical search, you likely type in a statement (the instructions for the search) that consists of the sender’s name, and often you’ll see a list of options that ties the sender to a subject line or specific content. The computing power harnessed by AI presents you with choices based on what your computer thinks you are looking for. It’s not an efficient way to search your emails for specific information. It’s more like using terms like “hot” and “cold” when looking for a hidden object.
Using Boolean terms, you can give your computer more specific instructions. For example, if you have written me emails for advice on antivirus and malware software, you can pinpoint my responses by typing Norman Rosenthal AND antivirus into the search box. You can also type it in this way: Norman Rosenthal +antivirus.
If you’re not sure whether the subject was spelled antivirus or anti-virus, you can type in: Norman Rosenthal AND antivirus OR anti-virus. If we had email exchanges about antivirus software or malware and want to restrict it to just antivirus, you could type in: Norman Rosenthal AND antivirus NOT malware or Norman Rosenthal +antivirus -malware.
That’s essentially how Boolean searches can work in your email boxes, but they’re not the only kind of search you might need. You can use a statement to find all the unread emails in your inbox. Unread emails can cover several days and pile up when you’re especially busy.
Note that the same search techniques and languages apply to searching your Sent Items.
The New Outlook has removed Unread as a category of messages you can click on. But you can still find them by typing this into the search box: isread:no. This will give you a list of unread messages. There is also a prompt for unread messages when you open the search box, but the list may differ from the list generated by the isread:no statement.
With the increase in the use of email, email manageability and security will become more tightly intertwined, especially for offices with multiple people collaborating on servicing the same accounts, clients, or patients. Good practice for subject lines on outgoing emails will help manage searches for your inbox and messages you’ve sent. The subject line may also influence how email spam and security filters handle your email (see Quarantined Messages and Email Security).
We’ve hit the highlights here. Every organization or person has specific email handling needs. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us with specific questions about email management. We all have a ton of emails; don’t let them weigh you down.