I have a proposal in front of me for a government organsiation requesting a review of their search 'interface.'

I have warning bells right away from reading one of the requirements:

Is there confusion between qualification quick finder, unit search and main search

So right there they have three search boxes powering the search function...

I need to be able to cite reseach that will back up my assertion that 'multiple search boxes confuse users' and that 'a simple, clear search function is preferable.' Can you post some links if you have them?

On a side note, maybe an observation, I suspect that the multiple search boxes are there because they are using different datasources.

  • having worked in .gov land, I'd agree with your last statement. UX is a luxury given the threadbare IT teams they usually have, and they are often trying to smash APIs and software products owned by different agencies together as best they can. So, good luck!
    – DA01
    Apr 28, 2011 at 14:13
  • You might take a cue from shopping sites, and have one search box with a drop-down menu to search by "department" (see WalMart.com,Target.com,Amazon.com,etc).
    – Tester101
    Apr 28, 2011 at 14:56
  • that seems to be the consensus in the thread so far and somthing that I want to recommend.
    – colmcq
    Apr 28, 2011 at 14:57
  • Here are a few articles that might help you: - useit.com/alertbox/20010513.html - useit.com/alertbox/20040816.html There's another link but i'm new :( I'll post it in another answer if i can. Apr 28, 2011 at 16:37

4 Answers 4


Here's a solution that I've used for providing search options:

enter image description here

I agree with others; one box is the way to go.


The only thing on this I've seen is from usability.gov:

Designers may want to allow users to control the range of their searches. However, users tend to believe that a search engine will search the entire Web site. Do not have search engines search only a portion of the site without clearly informing users which parts of the site are being searched.

If possible I would limit it to one box, and maybe give them some check boxes (default to all checked) so they can focus their search.

These will need to be well-labeled to make sure the audience understands what each is for.

  • You beat me with the "one box" idea. +1
    – gef05
    Apr 28, 2011 at 14:01

An old but worthwhile article by Nielsen about multiple searches says:

What matters [...] is not the implementation, but the user experience.

Regarding your observation about different datasources: if that is the case, it would be relatively easy to combine a single search box with a datasource selector (e.g., one search box but a selector with options like []Search Users []Search documents []Search Projects).

  • that's great Gary; from that article I strongly think that the single box approach may be they way to go inso far as users are not likely to be experts or repeat users ... but lets see.
    – colmcq
    Apr 28, 2011 at 13:56

In my experience using several search options or filters, it seems to be best to use radio buttons or check boxes to refine the search criteria.

I was able to find an interesting study on Visual Searching vs. Text Searching which you might find useful.

  • I'm printing that out and will read on train. thanks!
    – colmcq
    Apr 28, 2011 at 14:16

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