How To Effectively Search Old Emails In Gmail

by Rohit Khurana on July 28, 2012


Email is an important communication tool these days and if you are reading this article, probably you also use it actively. In this article, I am going to talk specifically about Gmail service and how to locate important old email without reading through hundred of email titles. My Gmail account is over 5 year old and I have over 10,000 emails in my account. When you have lots of emails in your account,  searching an old email becomes really challenging as there are many search results on the similar search terms. In short many of us are not able to locate or search old emails in Gmail. Let me explain this problem using an example.

I needed to search my email inbox for some emails which I sent to my friend abhishek related to some tax information. Now most typical Gmail users will search with a term “abhishek tax” and I got 59 search results.

gmail search results

I was searching for a specific email and I found 59 results because Gmail usually searches every part of the email with the words you search with. Even if these emails were sent by someone else, or to someone else, if they contain a combination of these two words, these show up in my search results. A normal user may have to browse through the subject of all these 59 results (or very large number depending on search query) to locate the correct email he/she is looking for. But these are much more intelligent ways to precisely locate the emails which you are looking for and it does not require much time to learn to use these simple ways.

Writing Intelligent Search Query To Locate Emails Faster

Gmail does offer intelligent operators which are like special words for searching emails in your Gmail inbox. For example, in the above problem, I could refine my search and narrow down by specifying that I sent this email to abhishek and the subject line had word tax in it. So using the Gmail operators, the search query will become

to:abhishek[full email address here] subject:tax

When I search with these advanced query, it shows me only 3 results which is far easier to manually check compared to the 59 results with the query without operators. These operators are words to be used in query and they end with a colon symbol :

gmail search refined


Now to effectively use these operators, you need to use some basic operators like subject: , this helps you search for emails with specific words in the subject, from:, this operator helps you search mails sent from a specific person of email id, to: operator lets you search emails which you sent to a specific name or email id. Similarly there are more advanced one like is: , in: etc. For a complete list of these operators, refer to Google’s Official support page.

Making Gmail Search Options Write Queries For You To Search Emails Faster

If you are one of the persons who does not like framing queries and find this stuff too geeky, Gmail has options to simplify this even further for you. Simply click on the small arrow symbol at the end of the search text box and  an option shows up which says “Show search options”. Just click on it and it will show a form wherein you can just fill the details and it will automatically create the search query based on your inputs.

show gmail search options

For example I ask the form to search all mails from my email id to abhishek which have word tax in it. When I click on the blue coloured search button below this form or box, it automatically created a query accordingly which will be filled in the search box and it will search relevant emails for you.

advanced search options

This way Gmail created the text query itself and you get to the emails you were searching quickly and easily.

search query created

You can check out some more useful Gmail Tips by Troublefixers.

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