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We produce a fairly large medical reference site with a couple of thousand or so pages. Each page has a number of sub-headings (which can be nested down several levels).

In addition to a full-text search, we have a "suggestion" drop down based on a manually curated index. These indexes are inserted at the sub-section level (because they are also used for page references in a printed book version).

As users start typing in the suggestion box, we match indexes based on the partial string as they type and present a short list of indexes (for example, "ele" could return "elephant", "electricity", "electrical" - if we had those words indexed). Indexes are also document/section specific - so there may be multiple "elephant" indexes - one that links to the "elephant" section of an "africa" document; one that links to the word "elephant" in the "mammals" section of a document titled "animals"; or one that links to a specific "elephant" document.

The suggestions for "ele" would look a bit like:

Elephants
Elephants (in Africa)
Elephants (in Animals / Mammals)
Electricity
Electrical
...

If a user clicks on a suggestion result they are currently taken to the sub-section where the index has been placed.

My question is - in an electronic environment, with some documents running several A4 pages long, is it good practice to link people to the sub-section (there is a concern that important medical information prior to that sub-section is being skipped) or should we link them to the top of the document only?

What is the common practice?

  • I'm not sure I understand. If I search for "elephant", I want to be taken to "elephant", not he section or the document which will mean I have to still search for "elephant". What am I missing? – Izhaki Jun 5 '14 at 0:54
  • sorry - I hope I've cleared that up with some more details – HorusKol Jun 5 '14 at 1:22
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The best solution, if you wish to link to the top of the document, would be to open the document with the term hi-lighted, then include a search box with prev/next arrows so that the user could quickly jump to each instance of the term.

In terms of actual practice, your best example is probably to look at how Google Books solves it. Here's an example, using Willie McCovey in an old issue of Life Magazine. In this case, Google jumps to the first instance of our keyword (optional in your case). At the top of the page, we have the arrows to jump to the next/previous instance.

I actually don't think the next/prev arrows are very well labeled, from a usability perspective. I also think that the default to use partial matches instead of phrase matches ('willie' vs 'willie mccovey') is a bit off-putting, since they don't explain why it's happening.

With a couple usability tweaks though, there's a lot you can learn from Google's approach.

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