With the passage of time, personal computers tend to become clodded with a myriad of folders, subfolders and files which are extremely hard to find, especially when you actually need them. This is the universe trying to tell you that you need to organize files better and keep a tidier PC. Even if you make a point of having a clean folder structure with every file in its rightful place, after a while it will still be hard to come by one in particular.

Microsoft was kind enough to make file search fast and easily accessible in Windows 7 and now 8/8.1. This capability is granted by the indexing service which constantly scans files and keeps them ready for a user enquiry. With that being said, Windows 8 is somewhat different when it comes to fast file search, as the familiar Start Menu hasn’t made the cut from Windows 7 and so the very useful search bar is now a charm which to be honest, doesn’t do justice to its predecessor. But all is not lost, as users can still find their long forgotten files with ease by using these tips and tricks for a more efficient file search in Windows.

Tips and Tricks for Fast and Efficient File Search in Windows

tips and tricks for fast and efficient file search on windows

Some of these file search tips will work in Windows 7 as well so depending on what operating system you are running, you will be able to implement them and improve your efficiency when searching for files.

Easily Search for Settings, Windows Tools or Apps

search settings windows 8 search charm

Microsoft has improved the way users can gain access to the integrated utilities in Windows 8. Using the Search charm for finding Windows tools has never been easier, as you’ll see next. To open the Search charm, point to the upper right corner of your screen (or swipe from the right side if you are using a touchscreen device) and select the search icon.

When the search feature opens, you have the option to select from the drop-down menu what type of search you want to conduct. This option is great for filtering out unwanted results, but at the same time it will return results slightly faster (if you’re the type who wants to shave off every extra nanosecond). While this trick won’t do wonders to search speed, it will make it more efficient, as you will only see the desired results and not other files or unwanted information.

Note: This tip will also help you view more results, as it will search for all the Windows tools containing your keywords 

No matter where you are in Windows 8, you will have access to the Search charm (pressing Windows Key + S will also open it) and if you wish to quickly fire up an app, then you only need to type in its name. This feature works in Desktop mode as well as in the Modern interface. However, if you are using the Modern UI and you want to search for anything, just start typing and it will automatically open the Search charm and show results.

If you’re running Windows 7, then you can quickly search for settings and utilities using the Search bar located in the lower part of the Start Menu. Even though this search isn’t optimized to display only a particular type of results, it returns results very fast.

Windows 8: Use the Search Ribbon

tips and tricks windows 8 file search search ribbon

Microsoft decided to implement the Office ribbon in Windows Explorer, which I think was an awesome idea, as you now have all the options usually needed in one place, very easy to access. While I can’t say I agree with some of the features found in Windows 8, I applaud Microsoft for adding this feature. It can be very useful in a number of instances, but when it comes to fast and efficient file search, it takes it to an entirely new level.

You’ll notice that the Search tab isn’t shown by default, but it will instantly appear once you’ve clicked in the search box found in the upper right corner.  In this ribbon you will be able to find multiple options which will help you find files quickly and easily. The ribbon offers users to option to search within subfolders or filter the results by:

  • Size
  • Name
  • Type
  • Date modified

Under “Advanced Options”, you will find an option to search for files which have been compressed and stored as archives, as these files are not indexed. This type of search will take a bit longer, as the utility will have to “look” inside each archive for the files you want.

Using the Windows 8 file search is both comprehensive and fast; if you have a large hard drive filled with files, it will narrow down your search quite extensively. But if you look closer, you’ll find that it pretty much does things the way Windows 7 did, granted this way is much more user friendly. But if you are running Windows 7, you can still apply these search filters.

Windows 7: Apply filters to file search

windows 8 keyword file search filter sort

File search in Windows 7 can also be improved by adding filters, but unlike Windows 8, there is no utility which allows you to so, but rather you have to manually type them in the search box. If you remember just a few of them, it will help you search your hard drive much easier. Here are a few examples if search filters you can apply in Windows 7:

Search Filter Example Description
Name: Name:example This filter will only look for files which have in their name the given keyword
Size: Size:<5MB The Size: filter will allow you to search for files which have a certain size, you can use the “<” or “>” tell the utility to look for files smaller or greater than a specific size in “KB”, “MB” or “GB”. Also, you can use keywords such as “Empty“, “Small“, “Large” etc.
Modified: Modified:4/20/2014 Applying this filter will only show files which have been modified on a particular day. You will have to input the date in mm/dd/yyyy format
author: author:John Only shows the documents which have been created by a specific person (on a specific account)

These are a few examples of search filters you can apply in Windows 7 (or Windows 8). Apart from these, there are boolean filters, which help you combine different values (example: london AND trip will return results containing these two keywords) or disregard others (london NOT trip will only show results containing the keyword “london” but not “trip”). There are lots of other boolean filters as well as other regular filters which can be used in both Windows 7 and Windows 8/8.1, and for a complete list, do take a look over this page.

Turn on Natural Language in Windows 7

Natural language is a tool which helps users search for files using a more familiar input language. For instance, if you are looking for music by Beethoven and Mozart, you’ll have to write the filter in the following way: kind: music artist: (Beethoven AND Mozart), but once Natural language is turned on, you’ll be able to use this much simpler version: music Beethoven or Mozart. To enable this feature, navigate to Control Panel -> Appearance and Personalization -> Folder Options and under the  Search  tab, you will find a checkbox labelled “Use natural language search”. Once you’ve checked this box you should be all set.

Search within documents

search within documents widows 7 windows 8

This option is particularly useful for students or users who own lots of documents. If you usually don’t rename your documents to something easy to find, then you might have some difficulties finding the one you’re looking for. A solution for this problem would be to search within documents, which can be achieved in both Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. To enable this feature, you have to open “Folder Options” and under the “Search” tab, check the box labelled Always search file names and contents (this might take several minutes).

Note: As the name suggests, this feature will slow your search down, but it still beats going through all your documents one by one

Find all files of a particular type

This is probably the best known Windows search tip of all. It allows users to find all the documents of a particular type with only one search. The syntax is pretty straight forward: just type “*” followed by the extension of the filetype you want. For example, typing in the search box “*.txt” will return all the .txt files in that folder.

Add your most used folders to Favorite

While this feature doesn’t necessarily improve your search time, it is very useful when you want to get to a folder quickly. If you have a few locations on your hard drive where you usually go to, then it makes sense to pin them in a place where you have easy access to them. If you save files in that location, then you can quickly jump to that particular folder and search for the files you need.

The navigation bar containing your favourite folders is always shown, therefore you can quickly jump between folders, and you can add as many folders you want to this sidebar just by dragging and dropping it where you want it to be.

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