I'm adding an ASP.NET Ajax combobox to one of our internal web apps. The combobox combines a dropdown list and a text field into the same control, allowing the user to either choose one of the existing entries from the list or to enter a new value not in the list:

enter image description here

We use comboboxes in other parts of our app, but in no other cases do the comboboxes allow the user to add a new entry to the list if their desired entry is missing (in those other cases the ability to type directly into the combobox is provided simply as an "autosuggest/autocomplete" feature for the dropdown list). Because of that, I'm adding an "information" icon with a tooltip explaining the usage:

enter image description here

In the tooltip, which of the following wordings is most appropriate:

  • type in your own value
  • type your own value
  • enter your own value
  • ...something else?

I had also toyed with various other wordings, such as one that would inform the user that any custom entries they entered would be permanently added to the list for future selection, but I was concerned about getting too wordy. In this scenario, would you put more information in the tooltip or is a simpler wording sufficient?

Incidentally, this combobox appears on a screen where the user enters a bunch of data in various fields then clicks a "Save" button as their final task.

3 Answers 3


Remember that condition statements (like: if not listed then do that) are easy for programmers but non-programmers may need more mental resources to process the statement and reach a conclusion.
So I would suggest something sorter and with clear actions message like:
Choose a source from the list or type a new source. (in general do that or X)


Ideally our interfaces shouldn't need the use of a help tooltip, but in real world we may have to use one. Also as a general rule try to inform the user only when he/she needs to be informed; in addition a tooltip is always there even if we don't need it.

Now for your problem I would try to indicate that the user can add a new candidate while typing (but it would require a bunch of javascript).
Also think of a scenario when someone wants to use a source such as job.com and only jobsforyou.com, jobsofuture.eu exist in db. I believe that we can safely assume many of the users wouldn't know what to do then. So instead of a tooltip I would go with an action flow like the following.


download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

A similar approach but with less coding(just some css and less than 10 lines of js) would be something like the following


download bmml source

What do you think?

  • I like your ideas and you make some constructive points. However I have settled on the UI that I described in my question and it is working well for the users. The only issue that remains, in my mind, is the choice of wording in the tooltip, thus my question.
    – RSW
    Commented Jun 11, 2015 at 13:24

I prefer "enter your own value" because it is more generic than "type". The user might after all also paste or ink (tablet) the value.


To answer your question, I would include the phrase "add a new" somewhere in your tooltip to be explicit to the user as to the action they're taking. For example:

"If the Candidate Source is not listed, add a new one by typing the source's name in the box below"

However, if you're able to change the UI, I would split it into 2 separate actions/widgets:

Choose an existing source: Combo box with autocomplete

Or add a new source: Text Box

Alternatively, you could have the text box to enter a new source only appear if an "Add a new source" option is selected in the combo box.

  • I believe this approach seems to assume that the user would have to know or check all of the existed sources (which is ok if we have just a few sources). Do you think that using only a text box would led on smoother experience?
    – gpelelis
    Commented May 29, 2015 at 17:45
  • Thanks for the input. As I mentioned in my comment to gpelelis, I have settled on the UI that I described in my question and it is working well for the users. The only question that I still have concerns the choice of wording in the tooltip.
    – RSW
    Commented Jun 11, 2015 at 13:25
  • Then in that case I would be as explicit as possible: "If the Candidate Source is not listed, add a new one by typing the source's name in the box below"
    – J. Dimeo
    Commented Jun 12, 2015 at 19:39

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