A great number of users have reported not being able to search for a blank category (no value set) inside Outlook.

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Here is what one user had to say about this issue on the Microsoft Answers forum:

In Outlook 2016, search does not show flags or categories in the results list.  These columns are blank even for emails assigned to a category or are flagged.  Flags and categories are still seen in the preview pane.  This is only a problem with search; when looking at the inbox or other folder without searching flags and categories show in the list as they should.

For these reasons in this article we will explore some of the best methods to try and fix this issue once and for all. Read on to find out how to do it.


How to search for a blank category in Outlook?

1. Choose a single view

laptop on desk - outlook search for blank category

  1. Open Outlook.
  2. Select the View tab.
  3. Click on Change view -> choose Single.
  4. Now, if you search for the emails, you will see the flags and categories in the search results.

2. Use brackets in your search query

dude at desk - outlook search for blank category

  1. Click inside the query field and add open and closed bracket characters instead of the value you would normally search for.
  2. In order to achieve the opposite results, and find items without any value whatsoever, use NOT before using the brackets.

Here are some examples of this method:

  • To find messages without a subject – subject: [ ]
  • To find messages with no category – category: [ ]
  • To search for messages which have any category assigned – NOT category: [ ]
  • For contacts without a birthday specified but from category ‘Family’birthday: [ ] category: Family

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3. Use the Advanced Find option (applies to Outlook 2007 and previous)

Laptop on desk - outlook search for blank category

  1. Open Outlook.
  2. Press Ctrl+Shift+F keys on your keyboard to open Advanced Find.
  3. Click the Advanced tab.
  4. Type in the query you need and set the condition to ‘is empty’, or ‘does not exist’.

4. Rename all existing categories

laptop and phone on desk - outlook search for blank category

  1. Rename all the existing categories to contain either a specific word or number (the same in all categories).
  2. Under your search folders -> create a new one.
  3. Under Criteria -> select Advanced -> add the Categories field.
  4. From the drop-down menu -> select ‘Does not contain’ -> type the value set earlier in the right-side box.
  5. Click Add to list -> click OK 2 times.

In this article, we explored the best methods to deal with the issue caused by your Outlook software not being able to search for items without values.

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Please feel free to let us know if this guide helped you solve your issue, by using the comment section below.

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