Searching Mail

When tons of messages appear in your different mail accounts every day, it is sometimes not easy to find some messages when you need to read them immediately or to find the exact sentence you are looking for in one message.

I’ll cover all you need to know to search messages in Mail, from the basic options to search some text (a knowledge you can apply to text from any application in Mac OS X, including web pages viewed in Safari) to the new options in Panther to search in some specific Mailboxes at once. You’ll also learn how to mark your message once your found them, using any color if you want.

Basic text search on a single message

Searching a single opened message works basically as in every Mac OS X native (Cocoa) application. You can access the search options through the Edit menu.

Options on Find menu under Edit menu

You’ll notice that there are many options here, and having an idea of each one’s purpose (as well as the keyboard shortcut that matches it) can really help you searching text faster in any application.

First, the basic Find… command (Command-F) will bring up a search window that should look familiar to you :

Cocoa applications Search window

This window allows to search and replace words in you message (useful when you are composing a new message), and from this panel you can also decide if you want your search to be limited to a text selection or to be done on the entire message. The ignore case option will allow you to search words with either capitalized letters of not.

Whether or not you keep this window open during your search, you can always display the Next (Command-G) sentence where your word was repeated or the Previous one (Command-Shift-G) (if it applies). This is useful when you want to keep searching until you find the right sentence you were looking for. Notice that both shortcuts only differ from the use of Shift key; using Shift key is somehow common to achieve the opposite of another shortcut. Both methods will cycle through your document when the end is reached, that is Find Next will start again from top of the message, and Find Previous will do the same from the end. Keeping a look at the scroll bar will help you know where you are in the message.

If you don’t want to display the find window at all, but want to find where a word you just read is repeated, you can select it and choose Use Selection for Find (Command-E). Then either Find Next (Command-G) or Previous (Command-Shift-G) should give you a result.

When you know you selected some text but don’t want to grab the mouse and search where is your selection in the message, use Jump to Selection (Command-J).

These methods can only be used on a single message, therefore are only useful when you found the message you were looking for. The rest of this text will explain how to find some specific messages from all your messages in Mail.

Tell Mail where to search

The first step to a good search is to decide where you want to search. Don’t worry, if you don’t know where to start, searching “anywhere” is still possible, but the better you restrict where to look, better the results will be. Most of the time, your search will be done on your In box, where new message are added or in your Sent box, where sent messages are usually kept. If you already know where you’ll search, you can skip to the next section.

If you have multiple Mailboxes, with some dedicated to specific subjects or people, then you should select the appropriate Mailbox. Selecting a Mailbox that contains child Mailboxes will not look into those child Mailboxes unless you tell Mail you want to do this by selecting both parent and child Mailboxes.

If you are not exactly sure in what Mailbox you should search, then you can select more than one Mailbox. You can click each Mailbox you want to select pressing the Option key to select separated boxes or Shift key to select boxes that appear one after the other. Similarly, you can select the parent Mailbox and its child by expanding the folder, clicking the parent and Shift-clicking the last children box. You’ll now see every messages those boxes contain in a single list. The results will be displayed using the same window. Notice that you can have a New Viewer Window (Command-Option-N) at any time, if you need for example to read a new message you received while doing this search.

Define your search

Note : recent Mail version modified the behavior detailed below: you should first input a word to search, then specify in which mailbox or in which field the searched should be narrowed down to. The general idea remains the same though.

Now it’s time to tell Mail what you want to find. This is done from the search field on the Toolbar (if this field doesn’t appear, click the right arrows at the right end of the toolbar to see hidden parts of the toolbar, and if there is no Toolbar at all, click the toolbar button in the upper-right corner of the mail viewer window to show the toolbar.).

Mail's toolbar search field

This field allow different kinds of search to be done, and you need to click the loupe icon on the left to choose one. The menu is divided in two parts, with the same options. You select an option on the top if you only want to look in the Mailbox (or Mailboxes) you previously selected or you select an option on the bottom to search anywhere (All Mailboxes). In both cases, you can search in the Entire message (excluding the subject) if you know some words that were in the message, you can search messages that were From a person or To a person, or you can search the Subject (message title).

Search field options

If you want to quickly get every messages From the same person, To the same person or with the same Subject than another message you have in the list, you can do this quickly be first selecting the message, and then choosing a search option from the search field. Mail will automatically type the name or the subject from the message you selected, and pressing Enter will show the results of this query.

Once you choose the kind of search, you’ll see results as soon as you type some letters. It is not necessary to enter full words here, but adding more letters will probably return fewer messages and removing some letters will probably show more messages.

As Mail help tells, you can use the words “and,” “or,” “not,” and parentheses to refine your search:

“cat and dog” finds email containing both “cat” and “dog”

“cat or dog” finds email containing either “cat” or “dog”

“cat not dog” finds email containing “cat” but not “dog”

“cat and (dog or newt)” finds email containing both “cat” and “dog” and email containing both “cat” and “newt”

Mark you results

Once you’ve found what you were looking for, you can mark the messages so you’ll be able to retrieve them quickly afterwards. This can be done using two ways : Flags and Colors.

Flags are icons that appear in their own column in Mail viewer. You add them using Message > Mark menu. Notice that you can also mark messages as unread, if this option is useful to you. You can then click the header of the flag column to sort messages by flag.

Any color can be used to Mark messages. This is done by selecting the messages you wish to color from the list, showing the colors palette using the Format > Show Colors menu, and choosing a color to apply. You can select a pencil to make a quick color selection, or keep you favorite colors by dragging them from the big field at the top (beside the loupe) to the small squares at the bottom. Notice that choosing a color that is too dark will make info hard to read from the Mail viewer.

Colors palette

If you then want to sort messages by color, you use the View > Sort By > Color menu command.

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    < a href = “http://cn.artistnote.ru/?p=12&lol= mulling@macedon.catinari”>.< / a >…

    good….

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