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Its probably a very subjective question, but here it goes....We're building a website that will provide basic and advanced search criteria. The advanced search criteria will be upto 50 fields, checkboxes, textboxes, etc.

I had a look at some popular websites, and a few of them like http://www.google.com/advanced_product_search do not have a clear button. I can't decide if there should be a clear button and the case for or against it.

I do understand that we have a lot of fields and the users could potentially want to clear all the fields that they entered. I know that these requirements should come from the client, but they can't decide if they want one or not.

So what would be the case for or against it? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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Similar question and answers: Is a cancel button necessary in a web form? –  Bavi_H Mar 3 '11 at 2:57
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4 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Personally, I've never once user the Clear button. Usually, I want to modify a single field, not all of them. But like you said, it's very subjective.

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But if you look at ebay's advanced search, then they do provide a clear button. The problem is, that I can see its use, when you've selected a lot of criteria and don't want to sit there and clear it one by one. But most of the websites I see, don't provide that functionality. So we do want to go with the more popular approach, but want to know the reason behind it. –  Divi Mar 3 '11 at 2:02
    
FWIW, my opinion of eBay's usability isn't very high. Also, in most websites, you can have the search criteria cleared by re-clicking on the search button or link (Refreshing the page used to work too, but browsers are now getting smarter and repopulating the fields for you). –  Hisham Mar 3 '11 at 4:30
    
Thanks. I think everyone is pretty much of the same consensus. It does help. –  Divi Mar 3 '11 at 5:13
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Like the Insert key in older word processors, Clear buttons are usually accidents waiting to happen. For forms like registration forms, the user has almost no reason to ever use it. It’s not like they’re going to decide to register as someone entirely different. So users click Clear more often by accident than on purpose, resulting in the user blowing away a significant amount of work.

Long complex Advanced Search forms (e.g., with over five fields) are an exception. While users usually want to redo a search with only a small modification to the criteria, occasionally they need start over from scratch to conduct a completely unrelated search. Clear saves the user the effort of clearing each criterion one at a time, which can be a significant savings for a complex Search. Without Clear, users can accidentally forget to clear a criterion from the previous search (maybe it scrolled out of view), resulting in erroneous results. Users aware of this potential will spend extra time scanning and re-scanning the form before submission making sure they’ve cleared everything. A Clear button provides users a fast and guaranteed means to ensure they’ve a clean slate.

Nonetheless the risk of accidentally hitting Clear is still a concern for long Advanced Search forms. It’s still the case that users usually want to keep most of their criteria from a previous search. The risk of accidents can be reduced by the following:

  • Put the Clear button at the top of the form, not the bottom. Users don’t fill out a form then decide to clear it. That makes no sense. Users return to the form sometime later in the session to conduct a new search. Putting Clear at the top potentially saves users the effort of scanning and scrolling for Clear and, more importantly, saves them from having to distinguish the Clear from the Search buttons at the bottom after they complete the form.

  • Also provide an Undo feature, perhaps with the same button. When the user clicks Clear, re-label it “Undo” (or “Reverse Clear”?) and make a second click bring back the criteria. This would also be handy for power users that want to toggle back to their original search criteria after searching on a completely different criteria.

The button should be labeled “Clear” or maybe “Clear All.” Some web apps use “Reset” but “Reset” means reverting the form to the last used values, not wiping out all the fields.

Note that the value of a Clear button depends not only on the raw number of fields on the form but on the number of fields users typically use. You may have 10 fields in Advanced Search, but if they're functionally exclusive (users almost always use only one), then you've little need for Clear.

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+1: thanks for your help. We've decided to provide a clear button only when the user is coming back to the search screen from the results page, which means that they have the option to start a new search or change the current search by adding/removing filters. –  Divi Mar 4 '11 at 7:30
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Jakob Nielsen's Reset and Cancel Buttons advises not to use a form-clearing button.

In general, accidentally pressing a Clear button is very frustrating, and users usually don't need to clear the form, so leaving out a Clear prevents frustration.

Nielsen notes one exception: If someone needs to repeatedly go back to the form and make signifigant changes to the items each time, a Reset (or Clear) button may be useful.

(If they really need to, a user can clear a form by using the browser's Reload or Refresh button, so there's still some way to do it.)

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+1 Thanks for your help. –  Divi Mar 3 '11 at 5:13
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Before I answer your original question I want to bring up something about advanced search interfaces like the one you're suggesting.

There are two common approaches:

  1. Build two separate pages: an advanced search page, and a search results page, e.g. http://www.autotrader.com
  2. Build one page: a search results page with advanced search controls built-in, e.g. http://www.newegg.com

It's a great exercise to try each search engine and try to explain what's good and bad about each. But I'll just tell you my opinion is that 9 times out of 10, approach #2 is easier and much faster to use. The simple fact that you don't have to keep going back to the "search page" is a huge time saver.

With approach #2, however, there's little use in having a "clear" button dedicated to clearing all search criteria at the same time. I say that because there's usually more clever and useful ways of getting the same result.

It is of course nice to have an easy way to remove things from your search filter individually. Newegg does a good job of that with their breadcrumb approach. They have traditional looking breadcrumbs above the search results. But they've included little x's to remove filters... enter image description here

The extra cool part is the "Speakers & Headsets" link. Effectively that's your clear button. Clicking "Speakers & Headsets" would show all Speakers & Headsets. It's a simple and elegant solution when trying to combine advanced search functionality with your search results page. And it works well.

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+1 Thanks for your help. –  Divi Mar 3 '11 at 5:13
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