Searching effectively in File Explorer

Nov 16, 2023 | Windows 11 Hints and Tips

How many times have you saved a file and then not been able to find it again so you recreate it from scratch?  It always makes sense to be careful to store the file in the correct place and to give it a meaningful name but if you still can’t find it then what can you do?

Using the Search box

The search box sits in the top right of the File explorer pane and will search the folder (and subfolders) you are currently selected on.  So if you can guess roughly where your file is then this is a good place to start as it narrows down the search.  If you have no idea then This PC will search everything but it may take a very long time!!

Search box windows explorer image

The word you have searched for is highlighted so you can see whether it is in the title or location.  If nothing is highlighted then it has found the word in the body of the file.  You can also search using the word NOT to eliminate the word.  For example, ‘event NOT grand’ would search for files that contain the word event but not the word grand thus eliminating these from the search.

Sorting the files and folders

The quickest way to sort is by firstly changing your View to Details view.

  1. Click on the View icon on the toolbar
  2. Select Details

The files and folders can now be sorted by clicking on the heading of any of the columns available.  By default Name, Date modified, type and size can be used.  Clicking once on the heading sorts into alphabetical, numerical or date order.  Clicking again reverses this order. Note that the folders will always stay together and the files will always stay together even when you sort.

Extra columns can be added by right clicking on an existing heading and selecting an additional column to add.  This can then be used to sort in the same way.

By sorting the files and folders it sometimes makes it easier to find what you are looking for.

If you are not in the Details View then you need to use the Sort icon instead.  This requires more mouse clicks so only use this if there is no alternative.

Sort icon windows explorer image


The files and folders can be grouped by clicking on the Sort icon and selecting Group by.  Type is one of the most useful of the options here because it groups the file and folders into folders, Excel, Word, PowerPoint etc.  To turn it off return to the Group by option and select None.

Group by windows explorer image

Jumping to a file or folder by typing in the first initial

If you have a long list of files it can be fiddly to scroll down to the location you require.  By typing in the first letter of the file or folder you are looking for it jumps straight to that location in the list.  If there are a number of entries starting with the same letter then repeatedly pressing the same letter rotates around the options.

ASIDE:  Have you ever wondered why some people see file extensions on the file names and others don’t?  From the View icon, select Show and Tick or Untick File Name Extensions.

Further Reading

If you’ve enjoyed reading about searching effectively in File Explorer, there are some other blogs below that you might find useful:

Want to learn more about Windows 11? Then email to discuss how I can help or have a look at the Microsoft Courses I run.