10 tips for searching your computer

10 tips for searching your computer

Missing files don't just disappear; they get mislaid. Find out how to turn them up quickly

Usually, finding something is simply a case of looking in the place you last left it, but if you can't remember where you saved a file, or what you called it, you could easily get caught out. Thankfully, there are a number of ways you can search your computer to find misplaced files, based on what you can remember about them.

1. Start search 

You can search for files directly from the Start Menu in Windows 7

In Windows 7 you can search the desktop directly from the Start menu: click ‘Start’ and enter your search terms into the search bar. As you type, you'll see suggestions for applications, folders and files that match your terms. Click one to open it, or choose ‘See More Results’, to open a folder showing all matching results.

2. Desktop search 

Choose Computer in the left hand pane to widen your search to include everything

Open a folder in Windows 7 or 8 and try entering your search terms into the search bar in the top right. This will search the contents of that folder for files and folders that match these terms, either in the file name or in the file contents, if it contains text. Browse the different folders on your PC in the left-hand pane to narrow the search. To search your entire PC, select ‘Computer’.

3. Use operators 

Boolean operators like AND, OR and NOT enable you to refine your search to include or exclude more options. They need to be entered in upper case to distinguish them from words in the search terms. For example ‘this or that’ would return items with all three terms ‘this, ‘or’ and ‘that’, whereas ‘this OR that’ would give results including either ‘this’ or ‘that’, or both words.

4. Wildcards 

Use wildcards like an asterisk to replace multiple characters within a search

Wildcards are characters that you can use to replace some of a search term if you're unsure of spelling, or need to cast your net widely. An asterisk replaces one or more characters in the search, whereas a question mark is used instead of just one character. By searching for *2.png you're looking for any PNG file with a name ending in 2. A search for ?2.png only returns PNG file names of two characters in length ending in 2.

5. Exact Matches

Sometimes you need an exact match, where all of your search terms are present in the order in which you entered them. Enclose your keywords in quotation marks to achieve this. You need to ensure your terms are properly spelt and contain the correct number of spaces, upper case letters, etc. Everything within the quotes is included in the search results.

6. Filters

Use filters to help narrow down your results. In Windows 8, you'll see these as options at the top of the folder you're searching in, under ‘Search Tools’. Select the filter that you want to use – for example, Date Modified – and then choose the range you want from the dropdown list.

In Windows 7, you can specify a filter in your search terms at the start – for example, by typing “kind:mp3” to look for MP3 music files. Other filters you can use include Type:, Name:, Date Modified:, and Size:. When you type one of these at the start of a search, you'll see some suggested options in a dropdown list.

Filters enable you to narrow a search by date modified, file size or another property, such as type

7. History 

Your searches are stored in the search history so you can retrieve it later, if needed. To see the most recent items you’ve searched for, click inside the Search bar in a Windows Explorer window, in the top-right of the window. You'll see the three most recent searches in a dropdown list. Click one to perform that search. In Windows 8, click ‘Recent searches’ to see a dropdown of more searches. You can clear the search history using the option at the bottom of this list.

8. Search charm 

The Windows 8 search charm enables you to change the parameters of your search on the fly

In Windows 8, move the mouse pointer to the bottom right and click the ‘Search’ button. This opens the search charm, which lets you look for apps, settings or files on your computer, or to search the web with Bing. Select the search you want from the list and enter your search terms. Search results appear in tiles on the left of the screen.

9. Search settings 

The ‘Search’ charm in Windows 8 lets you search for settings on your PC so you don't have to remember where they're stored. Open the search, as above, and select ‘Settings’. Now enter your search terms and choose the setting you want to change, from those shown on the left. This takes you directly to the dialog that stores this setting.

10. Search index 

Search works quickly because it indexes the most used parts of your hard drive. You can make it more effective by tweaking the indexing options. Open ‘Control Panel’ in Windows 7 and type ‘Indexing Options’ into the search. In Windows 8, open the search charm and choose ‘Settings’ and then enter ‘Indexing Options’. To add a new location click ‘Modify’, browse to the new location and click ‘Add’. If searching isn't working properly, click ‘Rebuild’ under ‘Troubleshooting’. This recreates the full index and may take some time, but it should resolve most problems.