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Searching for Office Files

The Open dialog box displays a list of all files in the current folder. Searching for a specific file can be tedious if the folder is full of files with similar names, or if it's organized into many subfolders. Office includes a powerful Search tool, available in the Search task pane, that enables you to search for files or Outlook messages—even Web pages—by using almost any criteria. If you can remember a few scraps of information about the file—part of the name, a date, or even a word or phrase that you remember using in the document—you can probably find it.

For example, a sales manager might look on a shared network file server for all presentations that have been updated in the past week. Or, a legal secretary might search for files that include a specific case number and that are not marked as completed. If space is at a premium on your local hard drive, you can search for all Office files that were last modified more than six months ago, and then move them to a new location.

Compared to previous Office versions, the Search tools in Office XP are dramatically improved and far more usable. To display the Basic Search task pane (see Figure 3.8), click the Search button on the Standard toolbar, or choose View, Task Pane, and select Search from the drop-down list at the top of the pane.

Figure 3.8 Search for a file or Outlook message by using simple search criteria in the Basic Search task pane.


Office XP, unlike its predecessors, does not allow you to save and reuse search criteria. You can bring back the most recently used Search by clicking the Restore button, but there is no capability to store searches within Office XP programs. For that task, run your search in Windows Explorer instead, and save the search as a shortcut.

Basic searches are quick and simple. Advanced searches, on the other hand, can be complex, with sophisticated logic and multiple criteria. To switch to the Advanced Search task pane (see Figure 3.9), click the Advanced Search entry at the bottom of the Basic Search task pane.

Figure 3.9 Be careful when using AND/OR logic in the Advanced Search task pane. The correct order affects your search results.

You construct a search by adding criteria to a list. Each entry in the criteria list consists of three pieces:

  • Property—Includes file system properties (name, date created, and file size, for instance), statistics (such as the number of slides in a PowerPoint presentation or the number of paragraphs in a Word document), and Office custom properties.

  • Condition—Defines the comparison that you want Office to make. The list of available conditions depends on the property you selected previously.

  • Value—Defines the specific text, number, or other data type for which you want Office to search.

A pair of buttons (And, Or) at the left of the criteria definition boxes enable you to combine criteria, and you can specify that Office search multiple folders and subfolders.

Criteria can be extremely simple—for example, all files last modified this week. For more sophisticated searches, combine criteria to quickly filter a huge group of files into a manageable list. After you enter the first set of conditions, click the Add button. After you've entered all your search criteria, click the Search button. Options at the bottom of the pane let you restrict file types and locations using check boxes.

Finding Files or Messages by Content

To conduct a simple search by content—whether you're looking for a file, a message, a contact, an appointment, a task, a note, or a Web page—bring up the Basic Search task pane and follow these steps:

  1. Type the text (content) that you're looking for in the Search text box. You can use wildcards: ? stands for any single character (m?t searches for met or mat, but not meet); * stands for one or more characters (b*m searches for bam and blam but not ban).

  2. In the Search In list, specify where you want Office to look. You can narrow the search to specific drives or folders in My Computer, or Outlook; you can also limit search to specific locations in My Network Places.

  3. In the Results Should Be box, specify which types of Office files and Outlook items to look for; you can also search in Web pages.

  4. Click the Search button. The matching items appear in a list. If you click once on a filename, the appropriate Office application opens the file. You can also choose from a drop-down list to the right of the filename if you want to create a new file based on the selected one.

Using Document Properties to Locate Files

Use the Search task pane in conjunction with file properties to construct a powerful document-management system. It takes training and discipline for a group of workers to routinely enter the correct information in file properties. You can automatically add some of these details by customizing templates or using Visual Basic for Applications. For example, you might use simple AutoNew, AutoOpen, and AutoClose macros, which run automatically when you open or close a document, to prompt the user to enter specific details about a document.

All built-in file properties are available from the Property drop-down list in the Advanced Search task pane. To search for properties that you've added to the Custom tab, you need to manually enter the name of the property.

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