Improvements to hit highlighting for OWA search

Published Aug 26 2013 09:04 AM 5,120 Views

It’s no secret that the amount of email we receive increases every day. For messages that we care about, most of us take some action (read, reply, file, etc.) and then put them away. But from time to time we need to refer back to some of those messages. A convenient and fast way to dig up messages is to search for them. You enter a keyword or the name of the person who sent the message and Exchange returns the results for that query. But when the part of the message you’re looking for is buried within a long conversation, it’s a hassle to find the specific section you’re looking for.

Outlook Web App has been highlighting search term hits to easily identify where a search term is located within a long conversation. We’ve recently made three improvements to the Outlook Web App hit highlighting feature. These include:

  1. Auto-expanding conversation items that have hits in them.
  2. Auto-scrolling to the first search hit.
  3. Adding hit navigation within a conversation.

Auto-expanding conversation items with hits

When you search for a term and select a conversation from the results list, Outlook Web App opens all the items that have search hits within that conversation and collapses all that don’t contain the term, so users can concentrate on the items related to their query.

For example, the following screenshot shows a conversation with 15 items (3 unread) as it’s displayed in Inbox (before a search):


When you search for the keyword “73”, Outlook Web App automatically scrolls to the first occurrence (explained below), expands all the items that contain “73”, and collapses all the item parts that don’t contain the search term. If you want to see the content of items that don’t contain the term, you can still expand them by clicking that item. You don’t have to open each item part just to see if the word you’re searching for is there. Distraction-free search results FTW!


Auto-scrolling to the first search hit

Whenever you search for a term and select a conversation from the results list, Outlook Web App will move the scroll position of the reading pane so that the first item part that includes the search term is in view.

The following screenshot shows the same conversation displaying the results of a search for the words “low car”. Notice that the reading pane (the right-most panel in the Outlook Web App window) has auto-scrolled to reveal the first occurrence of the term “low car”. This way, you don’t have scroll up or down a long conversation just to see where the highlights are.


Added hit navigation within a conversation

The last improvement is the one we’re most proud of and we think will help users save quite a bit of time when searching. We’ve taken a useful cue from the “find in document/page” feature of word processors and browsers to implement hit navigation inside a conversation. This lets you jump quickly between search hits using a control built into the reading pane. You can see the control at the bottom right of the reading pane during your search.


Here are the components of the hit navigation control:

  • The search term is highlighted with an orange background to match the currently highlighted instance of the term in the reading pane.
  • Buttons with arrow icons let you move to up and down to the previous or next instance of the search term.
  • Numbers show the total number of visible hits for the search term and the position of the currently highlighted one relative to the others.

You can move between the search hits by clicking the previous and next buttons. The reading pane will move to the next or previous search hit depending on the button that’s clicked. The following screenshot shows what Outlook Web App user interface might look like when you search for the word “knob” and then use the new hit navigation to go to the fifth instance of the term “knob” within that conversation (by clicking next four times). As you can see, the currently highlighted term is distinguished from the all the other highlights using a different background color (yellow vs. orange). The navigation buttons work in a circular way, which means that when you’re at the tenth, clicking next will take you back to the first item.


We’ve been rolling out these features to Office365 users and our Enterprise customers can get them by applying Exchange 2013 CU2.

Kutlay Topatan

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‎Aug 26 2013 09:04 AM
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