If you use Apple’s Mac Mail app, and particularly if you are on more recent versions of OS X, such as Snow Leopard, Lion, and Mountain Lion, you may have found that the search function is not working properly (or, as you think it should) when you search for email within the Mac email program. It used to be that searching your Mac email archive was dead easy; now there are hundreds of threads in forums seeking help with Mac mail trouble shooting – many of them related to the search function. The Internet Patrol is happy to share with you the least well-documented feature of searching your Mac email archives. It is a game-changer, particularly if you have a huge body of email (as do we).
Here it is: the Mac mail search function uses Boolean operators.
What does this mean?
It means that you can search your Mac mail archives in a highly specific way, using the operators “AND”, “NOT”, and “OR”.
By stringing together search terms, and by excluding other search terms, you can quickly drill down to the emails for which you are searching.
It all starts with your Mac mail search box:
Let’s say that we are looking for a certain receipt for a payment through Paypal. Here is what happens when we search simply for the term “Paypal”:
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Over 30,000 results!
Now, let’s add the modifier “AND receipt”. That simple modification yields a much smaller number of emails, but still too unwieldy:
Part of the problem is that we have several internal reports that are emailed daily, and that often include the terms “paypal” and “receipt”.
Also, for the purposes of this exercise we’re going to assume that the receipt for which we are looking is from iTunes.
So, now we add the modifiers “AND itunes” and also “NOT report” (this can also be expressed with a minus sign with no space between the – and the term you are exluding, so in this case “-report”):
Ah, much more manageable – down from 30,360 results to 87! Were this an actual search we were doing, at this point we could easily find the receipt for which we were looking.
Boolean operators are a flexible and powerful way to make your Mac’s email search function much more useful.
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