Tech Tip: Outlook Email AutoComplete Gotchas

MS Outlook

Autocompleting email addresses is one of the best time-saving features Outlook has. That being said, it can be one of the easiest ways to accidentally send an email to somebody you didn’t intend, leading it even be banned by the Bank of England. But autocomplete isn’t evil, and can be tamed and tweaked in Outlook to make it work better for you. Read on for how you can make better use of, edit, or completely disable Outlook autocomplete.

Autocomplete is such a time saver that it’s sometimes hard to see it going wrong. However, just have a look at this screenshot:
b2ap3_thumbnail_letterb.png

After typing the letter “b,” I get dozens of suggestions. Some are co-workers (like our CEO and our bookkeeper), others are clients, others are media outlets. What if what I were to send an email intended for our CEO to a media outlet that contained something private? That wouldn’t work out well.

To complicate matters, Your Outlook address book and your autocomplete list are not directly connected. Depending on your version of Outlook, the autocomplete list is stored in a separate file or database. If you update an Outlook contact, it doesn’t update the associated autocomplete entry. The autocomplete list is just a list of previously used addresses, similar to a web browser showing you a list of URLs when you start typing in a link.

If you’re looking to make sure your emails don’t go to the wrong places, there are a few things you can try:

Hit the Check Names Button:

To force the name you’re trying to pull from the matching contact in your up-to-date Outlook contact, press the “Check Names” button on the menu in Outlook (or press “Alt-K” on your keyboard).
b2ap3_thumbnail_checknames.png

That will then check the name you typed against Outlook contacts and global address books and not from autocomplete. That also assures that as long as your contacts are up-to-date, you should be sending to the correct email.

Deleting Auto Complete Entries:

There are two methods to delete autocomplete entries in Outlook (these tips work in Outlook 2010 and newer):

  1. You can flush out the list entirely by going to Options in Outlook. Select “Mail” and then scroll down until you see a button that says “Empty Auto-Complete List.” That works in Outlook 2010 and newer (older versions you have to manually find and delete the nickname file — which can get tricky).
  2. You can delete individual entries off the list as you’re typing them by hitting the little “x” next to the name:
    b2ap3_thumbnail_removeautocompleteentry.PNG

Edit Autocomplete entries:

If you’re wanting to edit individual Autocomplete entries, you can use tools like NK2Edit. It’s a bit of a technical tool, but is able to edit the autocomplete entries for Outlook 2003 and newer on Windows 2000 and newer. 

Turning Off Autocomplete Entirely:

If you need to go the route of turning autocomplete off entirely, you can go into the Outlook options, select “Mail” and then scroll down to uncheck the box to “Use Auto-complete List to suggest names…”. It’s right next to the earlier mentioned button to empty the list.
b2ap3_thumbnail_autocompletedisable.PNG

There are also ways to turn off and control Autocomplete via Group Policy to it will disable it for your entire organization, but it’s a bit more complicated and requires use of the Office Administrative Templates and somebody (like us) who know their way around group policy.

Has autocomplete bitten you in the backside or is the time it saves worth the hassle? Share your thoughts below.

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    1 comment
    • Nic
      January 1, 2016 at 4:58 PM

      There are commercial ad-ins that can solve this like SafeSend.

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