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I am struggling improving our internal applications searching usability. It's a proven issue that is costing significant amounts of money in wasted time.

The problem stems from an inconstancy in identification. By this I mean we often have to search for things based on partial identifiers. Furthermore, some records have 1 identifier and some records have 4 identifiers. The only requirement here is that they must have at least one.

My solution is to add the ability to search through search results.

Here is an example of what I mean:

Search for the primary identifier of HU1287778 This turns 1 million results because the last 3 digits are missing.

I now want to display a box that says filter results by: --------(select identifier from DD) and enter XXXXXX This turns 500 thousand results.

I now want to display a box that says filter results by: --------(select identifier from DD) and enter YYY This turns 50 results.

I'm curious if anyone knows any example of this type of searching. I've seen multiple search criteria applied at the initial search, but I don't think I've ever seen it in the form of searching the search results.

I'd be open to allowing multiple criteria from the start, but do to the inconsistency of identification, I'm afraid over specifying search criteria will result in the opposite issue - aka returning 0 results.

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It is a classic information science/search & retrieval debate. Freestyle (partial-match) vs. Boolean. To directly answer your question, this paper references LEXIS/NEXIS's Freestyle as an example of partial-match search.

Your filtering approach could work. My recommendation would be to ensure the filters aren't too technical and match users' "mental models" of how they would think about the information. For example, perhaps some user-friendly metadata could be associated with each result so that users do not only have to think about the results in terms of raw data/numbers. This would provide more intuitive filtering options.

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I figure that this is a tool for professional users who use this UI regularly. If so it would be more convenient to find the right items in one search instead in three different searches.

If it is not possible to figure out which identifier the user want's to search for by the format of the identifier the user will have to provide that information (as he does in your example.

If the user could type just one search string like: '#ID1:HU1287778 #ID2:XXXXXX #ID4:YYY' and then start the search might improve the time spent. This only works if the user nows the ID types. You could even provide a dropdown if the user presses # to give the user some help.

If it is not necessary to make the user provide the id type it would be preferable not to bother the user with this input and let the user type all ID's without the type like 'HU1287778 XXXXXX YYY'.

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ELASTIC SEARCH with prioritization

The problem you are facing is seen in many organizations, even Amazon. The real question is "how can make my search results effective".

  1. Leverage ElasticSearch. This allows prioritization and retrieving results more effectively than simple SQL searches. You have the ability to even RANK your search results by default with elasticsearch.

This should solve most of your issue. Once this is done, move towards UX... give them ADVANCED FILTERS or FACETED SEARCH like amazon left pane.

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