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Rules (Filters)

Rules are a way to have incoming (or outgoing) messages sorted, filed, marked, or otherwise handled automatically. You teach Outlook what to look for and what to do when it sees a message that meets the conditions you've set. For example:

  • move messages from a particular address into a specified folder
  • assign a category or flag to messages with a particular word in the subject
  • forward all messages with attachments to another address

Here we'll talk about two ways to create rules:

 

Creating a Rule Manually

  1. From the Home ribbon, in the Move section, click Rules, then click Manage Rules & Alerts. A Rules and Alerts dialog box will open.
  2. On the E-mail Rules tab, click New Rule. A Rules Wizard dialog box will open, showing a list of common rule templates. You can also create a rule from scratch.
  3.  Rules & E-list Messages

    To filter e-list messages, select "Move message sent to," not "sent from." This will catch everything where the sender put the list address in the To or Cc field. (Catching the Bcc field is more complicated, but doable; see our troubleshooting tip on e-list rules.)

    In the box labeled Step 1: Select a template, select the task closest to the rule you want to create. Then click Next.
  4. This screen asks Which condition(s) do you want to check? The lower box will show a generic description of the template you selected (or will be empty if you started with a blank rule). You can add more conditions by putting checkmarks in the upper box next to the statements that apply.
  5. In the lower box, click on each of the underlined items in the description (for example, "specific words"), then pick the desired item, or type in the desired entry. When you've personalized all the underlined condition items in the lower box, click Next.
  6. The next screen asks What do you want to do with the message? Put checkmarks next to the desired actions in the upper box, and click on the underlined items in the lower box (for example, "specific folder") to set the action. When you've personalized all the underlined actions in the lower box, click Next.
  7. Now you're asked Are there any exceptions? Here you can specify conditions which will exclude a message from the rule. For example, if on the "which conditions" screen you had specified "messages from Bert Convey," on this screen you might say "except if it has an attachment." Again, click on the underlined items in the lower box to personalize them. When you're done adding exceptions (or if you have no exceptions), click Next.
  8. On the final screen, you give your rule a name and specify
  • whether the rule should be run on messages already in your Inbox,
  • whether the rule should be turned on so that it will be applied to all incoming messages in the future, and
  • if you have more than one account set up, whether the rule applies only to the current account or to all accounts.
  1. Click Finish when you've made your selections.

 

Details, Details, Details

Sometimes you'll set up a rule and the result won't be what you had in mind. Here are some reasons why, and how to deal with them.

AND versus OR in Rules

When creating complex rules, you'll need to understand how Outlook handles multiple values.

If you use more than one condition, Outlook treats them as "and" statements, that is, the rule won't be applied unless a message meets all of the conditions. So, for example, if you check the boxes for "with ‘Network" in the subject" and "which has an attachment," only messages where both those things are true will have the rule applied.

If you specify more than one value within a condition, Outlook is happy if it finds at least one of the values, not necessarily all. For example, if we set the condition to "with 'Network' or 'cable' in the subject," the rule would be applied if either word (or both) were found.

If you specify more than one action, Outlook will do them all, as you'd expect.

If you specify more than one exception, Outlook treats them as "or" statements, that is, if any one (or more) of the exceptions apply, the rule won't be applied to the message.

As with multiple values within a condition, if you specify more than one value within an exception, Outlook will use the exception if it finds at least one of the values, not necessarily all.

Putting Your Rules in Order

It's also important to know that the rules are checked in the order you have them listed, and if a message fits more than one rule, Outlook will try to take the action listed in each one.

For example, a single message could end up being filed in several folders, or be assigned to multiple categories, or have its importance changed to High by one rule and then changed again to Low by another. 

You can use the "stop processing more rules" action which, in effect, says "If this rule applies to a message, quit checking this message and go on to the next one."

You also can change the order of your rules by selecting a rule in the Rules & Alerts dialog box, then clicking the up arrow or down arrow in the toolbar.

 

Creating a Rule Based on a Message

You can create simple rules by starting with a message, rather than starting with a blank slate. This can be useful in setting up a rule for e-lists, or for people who routinely send you messages.

  1. Select or open the message on which the rule will be based.
  2. In the Move section of the ribbon, click Rules, then click Create Rule. A Create Rule dialog box will open.
  3. Select one or more of the three conditions listed. Messages that match ALL of the conditions you specify will be acted upon.

 Rules & E-list Messages

To filter e-list messages, select "Sent to," not "From." This will catch everything where the sender put the list address in the To or Cc field. (Catching the Bcc field is more complicated, but doable; see our troubleshooting tip on e-list rules.)

  • From - all messages that come from the same address that this message came from.
  • Subject Contains - this field will initially contain the complete subject line from the current message. If you choose this condition, edit this down to just the keyword or words.
  • Sent to - the drop-down list will include all addresses where the current message was sent.
  1. Under Do the following, select one or more actions to be taken when a message matches the conditions you've chosen.
  2. Click OK to close the dialog box.