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Search improvements in Word, Excel and PowerPoint

Microsoft is again changing the way Search works in Microsoft 365 and also (surprise!) Office 2021 to expand the results beyond the document or Office features.  Now you can search for definitions, media and even web results from the top bar of Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

The most recent announcement is about Office 365/2021 for Mac, we’ve expanded that narrow boast to cover the latest search changes for both Windows and Mac versions of Microsoft 365 and Office 2021.

Search then and now

Back in the day, there were two places to search in Office.  The traditional Find in the document (Ctrl + F or Cmd + F)  and more recently the “Tell Me” box on the title bar to find commands.

Microsoft has changed that concept so that a single search box gives different types of results, matches in the document or actions.

Click on ‘See more results’ to open a side pane.

Source: Microsoft

The media and web search results come from Microsoft Bing, of course.

Keyboard Shortcuts

There are keyboard shortcuts to quickly jump to the Search box.  There’s a useful reminder in the box itself with Office for Mac (if only that would be expanded to other Office for Mac tooltips).

There are three shortcuts, each to a different type of search in Office

Open Search dropdown

Puts the cursor in the Search box on the top Title bar.

Windows:  Alt + Q

Mac: Cmd + Ctrl + U

Find in document

Windows: Ctrl + F

This opens the Find left-side pane except for some recent Insiders who will get a right-side Search pane (optional, see the ‘Use the new Find’ option at bottom of the pane).

Mac: Cmd + F

Opens a small ‘find in document box.

Open Search pane

In Word 365 recent releases, Ctrl + F can open the right-side search pane.

Windows:  Ctrl + F

Opens the side-pane for searches

Mac: Cmd + Ctrl + L

The latest enhancements are:

Recent and Suggested Actions

Some suggested actions and other prompts appear as soon as you click in the Search box.

Source: Microsoft

Though sometimes the initial list makes little sense and bears no relation to what the customer has done.  Check out these ‘Recently Used Actions’ and ‘Suggested Actions’ from Peter Deegan’s machine.

Peter hasn’t used the Hyphenation nor Show Clipboard features for many years (if ever) so they are far from being ‘Recently Used’. It’s hard to see any logic behind the Suggested Actions either.

Making the Search box more accessible with improved VoiceOver support and better keyboard navigation within groups. This seems related to the already announced changes to navigation of pull-down menus.

Searching more than text

According to Microsoft there’s also “Supporting searching for more than just text in your document” but since that’s already in Microsoft 365 it’s not clear what they are referring to. Perhaps Microsoft is boasting about something already available, it would not be the first time.

These constant changes to Search would be a lot more useful if Microsoft improved the actual search results in particular finding commands and options in Office.

Changes to Search haven’t ended, clearly there’ll be more moves to integrate wider searches into Office apps. In particular, trying to get people to use Bing services.

Who gets it?

According to Microsoft these changes are in the Office 365 for Mac Beta Channel with v16.74 build 23043001 or later.  Similar features are already in Office for Windows beta releases.

Office 2021 too!

An unexpected surprise that Microsoft Office 2021 for Mac users also get these Search enhancements.   Update your Office 2021 (Mac and maybe Windows too) and see what appears in the Search box.

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