It happens all the time: You know you saved a file on your computer but you simply can’t remember what you named it or where you stored it. Fortunately, with a little detective work and computer know-how, you can find those illusive files.
First, you’ll need to open Windows Explorer. Windows Explorer is a built-in file manager that is part of the larger graphic interface of Windows. Not only can you use Explorer to explore your computer’s folders, it has filter, sort, and search features that you can use to fine-tune your searches and find that missing file.
To open Windows Explorer, simply right-click the Windows Start button and choose Explore (or Open Windows Explorer if you have Windows 7). Alternately, you can click on Start and choose My Computer. Once Windows Explorer launches, you’ll want to decide how to progress. You can either manually look through folders in hopes of stumbling across your file or you can enter a search term in the search box.
While manually looking through folders may seem low tech, it’s not a bad idea, especially if you have a general idea of the type of file it is, its creation date, and most likely location. For example, if you’re looking for a Word document that you created two months ago (let’s say November), you can use that information as a starting point. After all, you know that you are looking for a.doc file created in November. Before you begin randomly looking for documents created in November, think about the most likely folder where you would have saved it such as “Work Documents” or “My Documents.”
Now, go to that folder and click it. Notice the labels above each column (Name, Date Modified, Type, and Size). Each of these columns can be sorted and filtered. Click the File Type label and restrict results to display only the type of file you want to find (in this case, Word 97-2003 documents). Next, click the Data Modified label to sort the files by date last modified. Since you know the document was created in November, you’ll be able to look through the list of files created from that point forward in search of the document you need.
The search box is also useful, especially if you have a general idea of the file’s name. For example, if the document that you are looking for is a press release and you normally name all press releases with the “PR” prefix such as PRnewproduct.doc or PRdecembercoupon.doc then you can enter “pr*.doc” into the search box and view all files that start with “pr” and end with “.doc.” From there, you can scroll through the results to find your exact file.
Depending on your version of Windows, when you hover your mouse over a file in the results pane, you should see a brief excerpt or preview of the file. Like other files listed in Windows Explorer, the search results can be sorted. The sorting feature is a bit different, though. Instead of clicking the label, find the “arrange by” option and choose either “top results or date modified.”
When you deal with a lot of documents, it’s inevitable that you’ll forget a filename or two. However, if you store your documents in folders that make sense (such as having separate folders for work and personal documents) and know how to use Windows Explorer, finding illusive files isn’t too difficult.