Why isn’t Outlook search working? Here’s why

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Microsoft Outlook is the most popular email software in the world. But there’s one thing about it that sometimes frustrates users – the search function. Today we’ll talk about a common way to fix Outlook’s search process when it doesn’t seem to be working.

MS Outlook


You know how it’s SUPPOSED to work – you type something in the little search field, and Outlook is supposed to find the emails that match that search:

Outlook search


And they give you that nice drop-down menu so you can limit where you are actually searching. It can be in the current folder that you have open at the time, or you can include subfolders, or you can search all of the folders in a particular mail account, or you can search all of your mail accounts, or you can search everything in Outlook (this would include calendar entries, contact list, etc.)

But what about those times when you KNOW you have a particular email from someone, and you have not deleted it, but you just don’t know where to find it? It could be in your “Business” folder among the other 10,000 emails in there, or it could be somewhere in your inbox, or who knows where. But you know you have it, yet when you enter that person’s email address in the Outlook search field, the results come up with nothing.

There are a couple of reasons why this might be happening:

  1. If Outlook was just installed recently, it could be that the program has not finished indexing all of your email data. In this case, you can just wait for it to finish (you can still use Outlook while it’s indexing) and eventually it will work.
  2. It’s possible that Outlook’s search index has become corrupted. But don’t worry – you can rebuild it.

It might sound a little intimidating to think about a project like “rebuilding Outlook’s search index”, but it’s really pretty easy. Here’s how you do it.

1. Open Outlook, then click on File up in the top left corner, then click on Options

Outlook options


2. This will open a new window. In this window, click on the Search tab on the left, then click on the button that says “Indexing options”:

Outlook indexing options


3. In the next window, click on Advanced:

Outlook advanced indexing options


4. In the next window, click on Rebuild. That’s it!

rebuild Outlook search index


Now you just wait for Outlook to rebuild its entire index. But fair warning – you might be waiting a while. But it’s not really a problem, because Outlook will do that rebuilding in the background, and you can continue to use Outlook to send and receive email while it’s doing that.

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