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We have a somewhat complex search form, where the user can add search fields which search in specific database fields only (the pattern known from e.g. Thunderbird message search, and many scientific databases, e.g. this library catalogue) and click some tri-state checkboxes for filtering the results. It has a "Clear input" button which resets it to its default state.

The search results are shown below the form, not on the next page. So, when the user clicks "Clear input", the search results from the last search are still visible.

Should the button also remove the results from the previous search? Does anybody have data on what the user expectations are in this case? Also, what is more helpful for the user?

I think that clearing the whole page sounds more logical, but in case the user was unhappy with the last search, she might want to be reminded what went wrong when constructing a new query from scratch, and having the old results in front of her will be helpful.

What would you implement, and why?

Update This is a screenshot of the actual search form. Disregard the looks and unclear wording, we still haven't started doing any design, this is a junior's developer placing functional elements on a screen in a way which makes sense to him personally :) The + and - labeled buttons are what is going to become tristate checkboxes.

enter image description here

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2 Answers

It's all about the expectations of the user. I personally wouldn't expect "Clear input" to clear the search results, or otherwise the button would be named "Clear everything".

And by the way, is there any additional value in clearing the search results? It's not like I expect to be able to search only when there are no search results displayed, because that's only the case for the initial search.

The main reason I continue a search is because my initial search was not satisfying. Therefore I like having the previous search results on my screen, to remind me of what went wrong.

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I'd say that you shouldn't clear the results for three reasons.

  1. Why would you do that ? I mean, do you need the blank space ? If not, the users could need those informations so let him decide if he want to clear or not.
  2. I can't find examples of advanced search tools clearing the results while typing in the field. It'd be not usual and surprising.
  3. It looks like your users are browsing through a really complex database, one more reason to be carefull and don't make too much assumptions. Let them do.

However, if they are live results (you're displaying them as the user type in the fields) it'd be a good idea. It'd be easier to filter as he's watching to the given results.

But you could also have your search button and a "clear results" link if you really want it to be possible.

clear results link

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here is an example of such search tool : google.com –  n00b Jan 14 at 15:54
    
Well, Google is a one field search tool and is somewhat live but you're right I've been imprecise. I'll edit this. –  Zhouzi Jan 14 at 15:57
    
I think there is a good reason why Google clears it. They are too fast. If they don't clear the old results then visually there is no change and the user may not realise immediately that they are looking at the newer search results –  tim.baker Jan 14 at 16:09
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