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Get Wild with Wildcards

As we create more and more files, keeping them organized and remembering where we put them would often be impossible without the Windows Search function.  The Search function allows you to search for a file by name while specifying a location.  However, sometimes simple searches are not good enough.  With the use of wildcards you can set criteria for your search in the event that you can not remember the full name or spelling of a file or if you are searching for a group of files with a common characteristic such as file extension.

Search Basics:
First you will need to start the Search program.  Begin by clicking Start.  Select Search, then click For Files and Folders.  Begin by making sure the correct drive is selected from the drop-down box titled Look in.  In the Search for files or folders named input box, you would place the name of the file or folder.  This can include the name of the file (e.g., homework) or the name and extension (e.g., homework.doc).

Now let us review the two main wildcards, the question mark (?) and the asterisks (*).  

  • Asterisks (*) will substitute for a string of characters of any length.

  • Question mark (?) will substitute for a single character.

Asterisks Example:  What if you can not remember exactly what the name of the file or folder is.  Let us say that you named it homeworkassig1.doc, but can only remember that you started the file name with homework.  In the Search for files or folders named input box, you would insert the following criteria:  homework*
Your search will find all files that begin with homework (e.g., homeworkassig1, homeworktest, homeworksubject, etc.).  Another great example is when you want to find all files that were created with a particular program, such as Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel.  All you need to know is the three letter extension of the files that you want to search for.  For example, what if I wanted to find all files that were created in Microsoft Excel.  I know that Excel puts a xls extension on all files, therefore I would put in the following criteria in the Search for files or folders named input box:  *.xls

The question mark is good for substituting for one or more characters in a particular position in a name.  For example, if you are searching for a file called LumberRaleigh, but you can not remember if it is spelled with an ei or ie, use the following search criteria:  LumberRal??gh

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