Outlook: Search Folders and Smart Folders

Search Folders often elicit an “aha!” moment for attendees in Outlook Advanced training. Many people discover these handy folders can take the place of their existing complicated folder rules. Let’s see how these special folders work.

New Search Folder View

Exercise File

Hey there is no exercise file for you today! Just open up your Outlook and follow along.

Oh, and if you are a Mac user and think this won’t apply to you, think again! I have a solution for you toward the end.

PC Users: Create a Search Folder

On the left side of your Outlook mail, you likely have all sorts of folders. Scroll all the way down to the bottom, and you will find Search Folders

Search Folders on left menu

1. Right click on top of Search Folder and select New Search Folder.

right click menu, new search folder

2. A popup screen will appear with a plethora of options. Lets start with one toward the top: Mail Flagged for Follow Up. Select this option and press OK.

New Search Folder View

3. A new folder appears on the left side of your screen under Search Folders. Click on it, and here is a shortcut to all the mail you have flagged for follow up.

Don’t have any messages flagged for follow up? No problem, we are going to create some more folders.

For Follow Up Search folder visible on left side of screen

Create Another Search Folder

1. Follow step 1 above, and this time select Mail from and to specific people.

2. Toward the bottom of the popup, press Choose to search for a person.

New search folder view, choose button circled.

3. You will be taken to the old familiar search screen (blurred out here for WSU employees’ privacy). In the upper left, type the last name of someone who emails you often.

Global Address List

4. When you find their name on the list, select it, and press OK.

5. Now you have a folder of all the emails in your inbox from this person.

More options

It is worth your time to look through all the Search Folder options. Popular Search Folders include:

  • Unread mail
  • Mail flagged for follow up
  • Important mail
  • Mail from specific people
  • Categorized mail
  • Mail with attachments
  • Mail with specific words (think about form results that come to you with the same title)
  • Custom Search Folder: if all else fails, you can completely design your own
New Search folder view, mail with attachments selected.

Since most of us have a lot of activity on the left side of our Outlook screen, if you want to draw attention to your new Search Folder, you can add it to favorites by right clicking on it.

Right click menu, add to favorites circled

In this way, and a couple other ways, Search Folders are going to behave very much like other folders. But there are some important differences.

A Word About Search Folders

Since they behave similar to regular folders, it is easy to forget that Search Folders are a different type of animal.

A shortcut to search

A search folder is a shortcut to search, nothing more. It is a window into what could have been an advanced search. This is important for several reasons:

  • The mail in the folders still only exist in your inbox, not a separate folder within the inbox.
  • Deleting a search folder will not delete the contents, just the search window.
right click menu, delete folder circled.

If you delete a search folder, you will even receive a message that tells you as much.

warning message indicating that items items in the folder will not be deleted if folder is deleted.

Note: be careful when you do so that you are selecting Delete Folder, not Delete All.

Mac Users: Smart Folders

Mac users, it is finally your turn! While you don’t have Search Folders, you have something arguably cooler. They are called Smart Folders.

1. Start by clicking into the Search bar in the upper right. This will activate the contextual Search tab.

2. Click on the Search tab, and create a customized search: perhaps email from a specific person, then plugging in their name underneath.

3. In the upper right of the Search tab, press Save Search.

Mac view: search tab circled, save search button circled

4. A new folder is created in your Smart Folders, all you have left to do is name it!

New folder appears in Smart Folders on the left.

In a lot of ways, the Mac Smart Folders are more user friendly than the PC Search Folders, but they both accomplish the same task: they give you a very special window into a search of your inbox.


What do you think? Will you find a use for Search Folders or Smart Folders? Will this eliminate the need for some of your folder rules?

Congratulations, Power Users!

Congratulations to our newest Power Users! For the full gallery, and more information about the WSU Microsoft Office Power User Program, please visit: wichita.edu/poweruser