How to search smart in Google's Gmail?
I've been using Gmail for years now, and have a huge archive of messages. Very helpful, but sometimes when I'm slogging through hundreds of matches for a search, I kind of wish I was a power searcher, a gmail search ninja. Can you offer some tips on how to be more effective with my google mail searches?
A "gmail search ninja". Love it. Of course, if you were a search ninja, no-one would ever see your search patterns, the results would just mysteriously show up and be perfectly targeted for what you sought, even before you fully realized what you needed. Right?
I'm tempted to give you my invisible ninja result, but, um, that wouldn't be helpful, would it? Instead, here's some actual useful information. :-)
Google's a master at search, so it should be no surprise that there's quite a complicated search language available for us Gmail users. I have over 4GB of email on my Gmail account, by the way, so regular searches haven't really cut it for a long time.
The most basic search upgrade is to use quotes. Search for tom cruise and a message that had the sentence "remember that cruise last year? Did you and Tom enjoy it?" because both words show up. Add quotes, so the search is "tom cruise" and that message is no longer a match and you'll have a far easier time finding those messages about your Mission Impossible casting call.
If you know the sender or recipient of a message, or recall a word or two from the message subject, you can use one of the advanced search operators "from:" "to:" or "subject:". For example, a message from me about the superbowl?
The results are much more constrained than just searching for the two words "taylor" and "superbowl" and in that context quotes won't help much, as you can imagine.
You can also click on the tiny triangle next to the search box in Gmail (it'll say "Advanced Search"), which brings up a box with lots of helpful prompts that build the type of search we're talking about here. Think of it as training wheels :-) as shown:
Let's go a bit further and say that you and I talk a lot about the superbowl and the message you seek is one I sent last January, 1/2012, and that any messages not sent during that month shouldn't be considered valid matches.
Google search lets you specify date constraints, but the trick to succeeding with them is to remember that the date has to be specified in the rather unusual YYYY/MM/DD format. So...
A bit awkward, no doubt, but to get every message from January, 2012, we need to specify messages that were before Feb 1, 2012 and also after Dec 31, 2011. Who won the Superbowl last year anyway? Oh, Google could tell us that. Try "who won the 2012 superbowl".
If you use the handy "star" feature to mark important messages, you can search by that constraint with is:starred and if you have tons of messages unread, you can either search for those that you have read with is:read or those that you haven't with is:unread.
More useful, if you want to be able to search through your spam messages and those that you have tossed into the Gmail trash, you can do so by either specifying in:spam and in:trash or you can use the helpful shortcut in:anywhere.
Looking for a starred message that you might have accidentally thrown away from me? Try this:
from:taylor is:starred in:anywhere
Finally, there are some basic structural elements to Gmail searches that also apply to regular Google searches too: put multiple words in quotes and you'll require matches to have them adjacent to each other in that same pattern, and a combination of () and OR can give you much more complex search patterns, in case you're testing for a typo, etc:
from:taylor (superbowl OR "super bowl")
That'd cover your bets in case we had spell check "fix" things for us.
Want to learn even more about Gmail search syntax? Smart. Look here: http://support.google.com/mail/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=7190.
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I do have a comment, now that you mention it!
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