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The situation is as follows: the user types in their search term (e.g. "pneumonia") in a text box and hits enter. The matching results of this search are presented in a vertically scrollable results list. These results are presented alphabetically (e.g. as below)

  1. acute pneumonia
  2. chronic pneumonia
  3. community acquired pneumonia
  4. pneumonia
  5. seasonal pneumonia
  6. ..etc...

All of these results are valid, and could be selected by the user. But we want to highlight the single, exact result match (in this case, item (4) in the results list). What is the best way to do this - bearing in mind that the exact match will very likely be way down the list and mean that the user has to scroll to see it ?

Do we automatically position the scroll-bar so this exact match is positioned to display in the visible results list ? Do we put this exact match to the top of the results list - like having a secondary results list for this single result, like adding USA to top of list of drop-down countries ? Or another idea ?

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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The best match should always be on top (as the rest of the list should be ordered by relevance too).

Auto-scrolling is confusing, like throwing the user into the middle of the nowhere, with them having to figure out why they're here (ah... it's alphabetically ordered...). The user trusts you to present the most relevant results of the search, not just dump everything on them.

If for some reason ordering the this way is unacceptable, you can try having two lists - exact matches (short list, on the top) vs. approximate matches (all the list, alphabetically ordered). You can also have filtering, i.e. show results by "relevance", "alphabetically", "most recent".

But in the end, I think this has to be very simple and most valuable to the user - i.e. show him first what you think is the best match.

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+1 for two lists. I don't completely agree about the user expectations part though. Also, IMDB has a nice way of presenting exact matches and approximate matches in two lists. –  Vitaly Mijiritsky Apr 21 '11 at 20:07
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if there is an exact match it is possible to refer the user directly to that page. Wikipedia uses this tactic pretty well, and I like it, so long as there is an option to disambiguate.

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