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I always wondered where I should draw the line, ie. how much tabular data a human may visually process until the site becomes a visual mess and the user cannot get any useful information out of the mass of records presented to him.

Historically, the sites and apps I worked with were either too focused (resultsize rarely went over 10) or the only search parameters led to unique results. Now that I actually have a site that could potentially present throusands of records, the question came up again.

Some pages offer customization of the number of search results, ie 25, 50 or 100 per page, an approach which might suit some users, but I find a bit apologetic (the "whatever you want" approach).

Is there some kind of good rule of thumb? I guessed I'd rather ask before just setting the limit anywhere, and either confusing the user with information overload or frustrating him by having to click "next page" too often.

Note: The user does not know what he wants. I talked to them, the answer was technically my question directed back to me.

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  • Use a dropdown box and default to the smallest value. Most users will just use that (which will limit the amount of resources your server has to use) and a few will raise the limit. Make the size part of the URL so it can be bookmarked. Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 10:54

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It depends on the type of data, but...

your assessment that offering multiple options is "apologetic" seems a little unfounded. If users don't even know how many they want, how are you supposed to know?

The example that comes to mind is Google Analytics (GA). If someone asked me the question you've asked, but about GA, I'd have the same response - I'm not really sure. But at the same time, I regularly change the number of the visible rows, depending on what I'm looking at.

Offer a selection, monitor, and adapt

If neither you nor the users know the answer, let the users' actual behaviour show you.

  • Offer some reasonably practical options e.g. 10, 25, 50, 100, 500, 1000, and use an analytics tools to assign event tracking to each of buttons used to change the value.

  • Monitor for long enough to be able to confirm a regular usage pattern (could be as little as three weeks, depending)

  • If you see that no one ever changes the number of rows, or you see that one particular option is chosen most, or that all options get used equally, then you have the only type of data you can realistically use to answer this question in the context of your app and your users.

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Based on my user observations, these pages typically don't show enough items. I see a lot of (my) users select "Show All" as soon as they come to these lists, or navigate to the next page.

I'd suggest you observe your own users and notice what they do. (Don't ask them; watch them.) Figure out what the minimum should be, then make the minimum double that.

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