To set up Outlook Subcategories

Last reviewed on March 31, 2012   —  4 comments

You can supplement Microsoft Outlook’s built-in Categories field with your own Subcategory field, or use a category naming convention to allow you to better organize and group “subcategories” together.

Method #1 | Method #2 | Method #3 | More Information

Method 1 – Custom Keyword field

Add a new Subcategory field to a folder like this:

    Create a keywords custom field

  1. Open a Contact.
  2. Click the All fields tab
  3. Select User-defined fields in folder.
  4. Click New.
  5. Define your new field as follows:
    Name: Subcategory
    Type: Keywords
    Format: Text

The Keywords type allows you to apply multiple subcategories to each item.

Limitations of this method:
You cannot group by more than one Keywords-type field in a view. This means that you cannot have a view that groups by Category then by Subcategory. You can create a filtered view for the Category then group by the subcategory.

Because you can’t create a custom email form for incoming items, if you need to apply subcategories names to email items, you can either create a custom keyword field in the Inbox (use in-cell editing to add keywords) or use two category names and filter so you only see items assigned to the main category name, then group by category to group by “subcategory”. Or use the naming convention method below.

Method 2 – Naming Convention

Another method is to name your categories so they include subcategory information — for example, Business – Local, Business – Regional, Business – International, etc. When you use this method, you can sort by category name and group by category, so that the categories will be grouped alphabetically, with all of the Business categories together (from our example).

Method 3 – Colors

Use Outlook’s Color Categories feature to “group” categories together. Each color is the “master category” and the category names are the subcategories. This method is less useful because you can’t group or filter by colors.

Use color categories to sub-categorize

More Information

About Diane Poremsky

Diane Poremsky
A Microsoft Outlook Most Valuable Professional (MVP) since 1999, Diane is the author of several books, including Outlook 2013 Absolute Beginners Book. She also created video training CDs and online training classes for Microsoft Outlook. You can find her helping people online in Outlook Forums as well as in the Microsoft Answers and TechNet forums.

Please post long or more complicated questions at Outlook forums by

4 responses to “To set up Outlook Subcategories”

  1. Scott Aldinger

    Diane, I love categories and use them a lot. Thank you for your writings. when I open contacts and sort by category, is there a way to quickly go to a category, for example, WYC is way at the bottom of the list and I have to scroll down, and or shrink each category to get there. Scott

    1. Diane Poremsky

      Try pressing W - this will jump you to the first item (category in this example) in Outlook 2010's Category dialog. This trick works to jump around many Outlook views and dialogs, but not all.

  2. Raj

    How to add multiple subcategories for single category??

    1. Diane Poremsky

      You'd need to use this format for the category name: cat - subcat1, cat - subcat2 etc.
      Another option is use colors to identify a "family" of related categories and category names for the subcategory: create these categories, all using the red color: subcat1, subcat2, subcat3.

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