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Quickview: Tag Your Way to Efficient File Search

Windows and Mac let you tag documents to speed up file search and retrieval.

Bill Winterberg, 04/24/2014

Financial advisors collect and store large amounts of information in electronic files. Any growing firm likely has tens of thousands of word processing documents, PDFs, spreadsheets, slide decks, photos, and more stored on a combination of desktops, laptops, servers, and cloud-storage services.

At first, straightforward file folder structures and file-naming conventions help advisors keep documents organized, but as the volume grows and more people add and modify files of their own, advisors soon lose the ability to quickly find the information they seek.

One way to cut down on time spent searching for documents in a labyrinth of folders is to tag them with important, unique keywords. Both major computer operating systems, Windows 8 and Mac OS X, offer the ability to tag documents with unique labels.

Windows users can add tags to documents in several ways. First, the "Save As" dialog window allows tags to be added to the file being saved. Directly beneath the "File name" and "Save as type" fields, users should see the "Tags: Add a tag" label where tags can be entered. Tags are supported for Microsoft Office documents, pictures, and music files.

Windows users can also add and modify document tags using File Explorer (formerly called Windows Explorer). With File Explorer open, users click on a file type that supports tags, and the document's tags are displayed in the Details pane in the lower right-hand corner. (You first might need to enable the Details pane by clicking View in the menu bar and then check Details pane.) Clicking on Tags will allow tags to be added, deleted, or modified; multiple tags must be separated by a semicolon.

In Mac OS X, tags can be added to files of any kind, not just Microsoft Office documents and photos. The Mac OS X "Save As" dialog box offers a similar field to Windows where tags can be entered manually or selected from a list of existing tags.

Also, right clicking any file in Mac OS X Finder opens a menu with "Tags…" as one of the options. Clicking "Tags…" once again allows users to type in a tag or choose from a list of existing tags. Additional tags can be added by pressing the comma key or space bar (no semicolons required), but tags are limited to one continuous string (i.e., multiple words cannot be used as one tag). Another easy way to add tags to a file is to simply drag and drop any file in the Finder window over the desired tag in the left-hand sidebar.

Tagging documents with keywords makes searching for documents a snap. In Mac OS X Finder, the left sidebar displays the most popular tags, and clicking on any one of them shows the documents matching the selected tag. Also, entering tags into the Spotlight search bar displays all files tagged with the keyword.

Search by tags is fairly easy in Windows, too. Typing a tag into the Search field of File Explorer results in documents that are tagged with the requested search. Also, in the Details view of File Explorer, the Tag attribute can be added to the header bar to view files and their associated tags. Unfortunately, Windows lacks the list of tags in the left-hand navigation menu found in Mac OS X, so you will need to first know what tags your organization uses before you search for files.

Tagging files with keywords is an example of adding metadata to documents, and robust document-management software applications such as Laserfiche, Cabinet, Worldox, NetDocuments, and more all support basic file-tagging along with more powerful metadata features.

So if you find yourself wasting time hunting and pecking for important files saved across your computer and server, tags may be the one feature that will speed up your searches. Start adding tags to your files and see if they help you find that needle of a document in a haystack of files.

Bill Winterberg, CFP, is a technology and operations consultant to independent financial advisors. His comments on technology have been featured in a variety of financial industry publications. You can view more information about Bill and see his schedule of upcoming speaking engagements at his Web site, FPPad.com. The author is a freelance contributor to MorningstarAdvisor.com. The views expressed in this article may or may not reflect the views of Morningstar.

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