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Are Kindle books searchable?

While trying to find a phrase in a Kindle book, the longer the process takes, the higher my blood pressure tends to go. So I sought for ways to search the Kindle quickly.

Kindle books are searchable using the title, the author, and the words in the body of the book. You can search books within your library, in the Kindle Store and other locations by clicking on the search field in the top menu bar.

As an example, the paragraph I am looking for has the word "attic" in it. So while I have the book open, I type that word into the Search field and it yields the following results:

Clicking on each of the items leads me to the actual paragraph.

Exhibit A: A little puzzle. In the text above, Sherlock Holmes talks about the merits of deliberately choosing to be ignorant on some subjects. Which of the following is he ignorant of: Chemistry, Astronomy, Music, Geology or None of the above? Clues are found throughout this post and are marked with {!}.

How to search across Kindle books

If you search from inside a book, the Search field will only look within that particular book. But if you search from the Home screen, you can find text across all the books in your library. It looks like this:

The first section, "Your items", shows books that have the keyword in the title or author's name. Other sections show books from the Kindle store, the Audible store and Goodreads.

Further down, you'll see "Text in Books". Clicking on this will list books in your library that mention the keyword in the book's actual content. Not just in the title.

By default, the results are sorted by number of hits. You can change this by clicking on Sort on the upper right. Other options include: Sort by Title (alphabetical), Author, and how recently you've opened the book.

Note that this page will only search for books that were downloaded to the Kindle eReader. It will exclude books that are in your library but were not yet downloaded.

And from here, clicking on a row will drill-down and search the specific book for the keyword. It would show the same screen as if you began the search from inside that particular book.

{!} Search within a book

Clicking on each search result will lead you straight to the page where the keyword is found.

A limitation with this method is how sluggish the Kindle's on-screen keyboard could be. You'd need plenty of patience if you were to do lots of searches. And being that patience isn't always in abundance, let's look for other alternatives.

Search your Kindle books using the Amazon Website

Another quick way to search for your books is to go to your accounts page in the Amazon website itself.

Go to amazon.com, and under "Account", click on "Manage content and devices". A shortcut is to use the following link:

After passing a few ads called "Digital Deals" (which can be hidden), you'll find the search field near the right.

Note that this method does not search the actual content of your books, it only searches the title and the author names. Despite that limitation, it's much easier to type here compared to the Kindle device, so you can perform multiple queries rapidly.

Also, you can filter based on Type such as books, magazines, documents. It's also easier to sort the results. You can arrange them by title, author or date.

The website also shows you which Kindle devices or apps have downloaded the particular book. And it gives you the option to send to a particular device without having to leave the page.

Curiously, aside from searching in the Kindle device itself, this is the only other method that allows fuzzy phrase searches. Meaning you can type words not necessarily in the exact order whence they appear. More on this later.

Searching within PDFs in a Kindle

By default, PDF documents sent to the Kindle are searchable only through the titles and author names, not the actual content.

To enable a search on the actual content, the PDF document must be converted to a Kindle format. Click here to see how you can do this.

Regular PDFs are treated as images and therefore not searchable. If you convert them, the document is re-rendered as text, but it loses the original layout of the PDF. The columns, fonts, and other design elements will all be removed.

Still, if such a trade-off is not ideal, an alternative is to send both the original and converted versions to the Kindle. You'll have two files, one for searching, and the other for viewing.

Searching with the Kindle App

The kindle app can do a basic search on titles and author names. There are also quick filters that can aid simple queries.

However, unlike the Kindle eReader, it cannot do a fuzzy search even on the titles. This means you need to be exact with the search phrase or just stick to single words.

Don't be confused with how the app displays the search results. Books from the Kindle store appear first, which is labeled as "Results from Kindle". Afterwards, the books from your own library will appear (if there are any hits).

There is also no way to search the actual content across all the books. You would have to open each book one by one and perform the search from there.

{!} Search with the Kindle App

Searching with the Kindle Cloud Reader or Kindle for PC

The Cloud Reader can also do basic searches on the titles and author names. But like the Kindle app, it cannot search across the actual contents of the book yet. Nor can you do fuzzy queries even on the titles.

If you need to search the contents, you'd need to open the book and search from the inside. However, I find that there is a delay in this method as the Cloud Reader would need to index the book first. And that process is not instantaneous.

But the Cloud Reader has a feature that can be quite handy for searching within the notes and highlights of a specific book.

To do this, click on the notebook button in the toolbar.

This will open a new tab and display all your notes and highlights for a specific book. And because the Cloud Reader is a website, you can take advantage of the browser's built-in find tool by hitting Ctrl F.

The browser's find tool will then go thru all your notes and highlights as if it was a normal webpage.

The Kindle for PC has similar characteristics with the Kindle app. It's useful for basic queries, but also has the same limitations in not being able to search across all books in one go.

{!} Search using Kindle for PC

What is the X-Ray feature on Kindle and can it help with searches?

The Kindle X-Ray feature shows an index of key people, terms and images in the book. It provides a quick way to browse passages that mention those key names and terms.

This could be useful if you do not recall the words, but have a general idea of the person or term associated with it, and around which part of the book it appears.

To access X-ray, open the top menu bar, click on the three dots on the right. You will see the X-Ray menu in the drop-down list.

X-ray is also accessible via the Kindle App.

More Tips for Searching in a Kindle

  • Capitalization doesn't matter. "Detective" and "detective" will show the same results.
  • Asterisks aren't necessary as a way to do a fuzzy search on titles. For example, "knowledge * attic" is the same as typing "knowledge attic".
  • Boolean searches don't work. For example, typing "knowledge OR attic" would not show books with either "knowledge" or "attic", and will instead search for all three words.

  • Search expands to related words. For example, "play" will show results for "playing", "played", "plays", etc. There doesn't seem to be a way to turn this off.
{!} Search expands to related words
  • There are no keywords for genre, year, etc.

  • A possible workaround to search by year or even month, is to use the sort option in the Kindle eReader or Amazon website. Simply sort by date, and jump to the results closest to the date period you are looking for.

  • There is no way to search only by author. Whatever you type will be cross-referenced to titles and author names at the same time.

  • The Kindle on-screen keyboard support special characters. To activate these characters, press and hold any key, and a new row will appear on top of the keyboard.

  • If you only need to search across highlighted notes (and not books), another way is to export all those notes into the computer first. Save them into a folder and perform a search as you would on normal files. See this post for more information on how to export notes.

These are the various ways to quickly search in a Kindle. Do you have a Kindle or eReader question you need investigated? Please don't hesitate to drop us a line.

P.S. Here's the answer to the Exhibit A puzzle:

{!} 1st clue: Knowledge about identifying soil (Geology)
{!} 2nd clue: Laboratory work (Chemistry)

{!} 3rd clue: Ignorance of the Solar System (Astronomy)
{!} 4th clue: Playing the violin (Music)

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