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2 ways to search for files in SharePoint

Posted on December 23, 2015

One of the great advantages of SharePoint over file shares is its ability to search and find the content you are looking for. Network drives, file shares, DropBox are great if you want to store content. However, how do you find your content (documents)? With this blog post, I would like to explain the available options for searching and finding the documents in SharePoint.

How to search for files in SharePoint

Option 1: Site search box

I am sure you have seen this and I am sure your have used this already. Every site has this search box in the upper right-hand corner, which allows you to surface up content based on what you have typed in.

How to search for files in SharePoint using Site Search Box

  1. Navigate to the Search Box in the upper-right handcorner of your SharePoint Site
  2. Type the text/keyword you are looking for
  3. Hit Enter

Search Box


  • Works out of the box
  • Searches for keyword typed in in file name, metadata and text inside of the files (Only MS Office and readable PDF files)


  • By default, searches in a site + subsites that reside under the site where you typed in the search text. That means that sometimes, depending on keyword typed in, might return too many irrelevant results, as the scope is usually the whole site collection (unless the search has been specifically configured by your SharePoint Administrators)
  • By default, might not return all the relevant results. SharePoint makes an assumption about some of the files and might think they are duplicates of one another – so they won’t even show up in search results. Reference this blog post for more info, courtesy of Mike Smith.
  • By default, searches for all types of content, not just documents. So in other words, the search results will display any content (folders, events, tasks, contacts, whole sites and libraries) that match whatever keyword/term you typed in. So unless the search has been specifically configured by your SharePoint Administrators – the search results might be a bit overwhelming for end users. See an image below for what I mean… You also might want to check out related blog post “SharePoint Document Library – one or many?” to see what I mean.

search results all

Consulting Assistance2

Option 2: Document Library Search Box (my favorite)

Despite its presence for quite some time (the feature became available in SharePoint 2013), not many users know about it or get to use it. Every Document Library in SharePoint 2013 has a search box located just above the documents themselves. The beauty about this search box is that it allows you to search for documents just within the specific document library.

How to search files in SharePoint using Library Search Box

  1. Navigate to the root of the Document Library
  2. You will notice a search window present in the header portion of the document library (to the right of where all the views are
  3. Type the text/keyword you are looking for
  4. Hit Enter

search box library


  • Works out of the box
  • Just like the “global” search in Option 1, the document library search box surfaces up content based on file name, metadata, and text inside the files themselves
  • More precise search results. Since you are searching within specific document library, you will only get results that are documents and not other junk (sorry, I meant content) located on your site


  • If you have documents located in multiple libraries/sites, this option won’t help much. You will need to search separately in those document libraries or rely on Global search listed in Option 1.

Bonus: Wildcard Search

Another cool search feature you can use with both Options 1 & 2 is wild card search. That is when you don’t know exact keywords, only a portion of the text you are looking for (i.e. first few letters). In the example below, I am searching for the same keyword I searched for above (vehicle), except now I am searching based on first few letters. As you can see, I am getting same results!


For wildcard to work in SharePoint…

  • You have to start with the first few letter of the word. In other words, in a word “vehicle”, you can’t search for text “ehic“, it has to be “veh
  • The wildcard character in SharePoint is “*“. You have to put the asterisk (wildcard character) after the first few letters, not before. For example, veh*, not *veh
  • You can use SharePoint wildcard search with both Options (global search and library-level search)


About Me

I’m Greg Zelfond, a U.S. based SharePoint consultant, and I provide affordable out-of-the-box SharePoint consulting, training, and configuration assistance to small and medium-sized businesses all over the world.

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