I have a search form that contains two sets of checkboxes (along with other elements). One set will result in an OR search (Item has checkedbox1 OR checkedbox2) - the second will result in an AND search (Item has checkedbox1 AND checkedbox2).

Is there any evidence to suggest a user expects one behaviour over the other?

Would listing the choices like this be of use?

"What things would you like the thing to have?"

[] thing1
[] OR thing2
[] OR thing3

"What doodars would you like the thing to have?"

[] Doodar1
[] AND doodar2
[] AND doodar3

Obviously running some tests would help - wondered if this has been covered before..

Having 'OR' in there would perhaps suggest that you can only pick one item even though they're checkboxes..

5 Answers 5


I think the expected behaviour really depends on the categories of option available & the language of the answers themselves could be enough to prompt the user on what to expect.

For answers that fit in the same category, users would normally expect an OR search:

What type of take-away would you like?

  • Chinese
  • Mexican
  • Pizza

Since all answers are 'types of cuisine', it feels more obvious to search for "Mexican OR Pizza" rather than some type of fusion Mexican pizza.


What type of room features would you like?

  • Non-smoking
  • Lake view
  • King-sized bed

Since they are all separate categories of answer, a user would naturally presume an AND search, rather than bringing back single rooms with a lake view, or non-smoking rooms without a window.


I don't like repeating AND OR.
What if one of those items actually began with one of the terms.

I like the two headers
Any, All

Have also see And Or as the header

If the user can specify Any, All then put that in a radio button
Either above or below the question


You should probably only have a search for AND.

Generally, people have an idea of what they want, doodar1 and doodar3, and they want to make sure that they get it.

Having a search for OR may be less useful. I think it's rare to want either thing1 or thing2, but not be particularly concerned if it doesn't actually have thing1 or thing2 - as long as the other is present.

However, in this situation, you should make it easy to do a subsequent search. i.e. user searches for thing1, nothing decent shows up, so uncheck thing1, check thing3, and do a new search.

This is how a lot of search checkboxes work on major websites.

  • I think you might be right on the expecting 'AND' to be the default. I am actually wondering if just simple wording of the question, plus the actual answers would be enough - for eg: "What situations are you open to?" being a checkbox choice, and having the choices seem mutually exclusive ('Town Center' or 'Countryside'), might mean the user would infer it as an OR search as there's little chance the same result would tick both boxes..
    – Guy Bowden
    Oct 8, 2014 at 15:54
  • 1
    On the contrary, by entering more keywords in a search bar, I expect to get more terms in a wider, and looser, search. But, so differ our perceptions as users. That's why this is a good question.
    – Gutblender
    Oct 9, 2014 at 4:14

Since your question is, specifically,

Is there any evidence to suggest a user expects one behaviour over the other?

I will answer that, and not say "do this one instead of the other", also because I can only speak for myself, and my perceptions.

When I read the choices, I was on the fence. Does it mean "I want the thing(s) to have this, and this, and this, and I won't be happy until I have all of them" or does it mean "I am interested in this, and this, and why not this--please show me the things that have one or more of these qualities".

What would clear it up for me at least, is:

  • To imply an OR search, say "Check all that apply."
  • To imply an AND search, say "Check items to refine your search."

In both of these cases, I could see using checkboxes or radio buttons. Which one you use should be based on whether you want multiple terms in your AND/OR logic. I could see using checkboxes for either case.

  • yep - this seems sensible.
    – Guy Bowden
    Oct 10, 2014 at 8:28

Well, I think the solution here is quite straightforward: use both checkboxes and radio buttons.

I think the functionality and difference between the two has been proved and vastly used throughout web design and user experience for many years without disappointment.

I would absolutely use radio buttons for the first options array, the OR selection, and checkboxes for the AND ruling.

Unless you want to create a new type of element or a personalised look checkbox, I don't think it gets better than defaults (which are customisable, too!) that the user has already seen before and knows how to use.

  • 1
    If a radio list is used for the first group, how do I say I want 'thing1' OR 'thing3'? The OR options are not mutually exclusive in this case, if I've understood the requirement correctly.
    – Matt Obee
    Oct 8, 2014 at 14:42
  • 1
    What he said. Radio buttons wouldn't allow you to pick more than one of the first things - and so wouldn't be able to do an OR search using them.
    – Guy Bowden
    Oct 8, 2014 at 14:51

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