I've noticed a following asymmetry in search interfaces. While Google/Bing/Yahoo uses quite complicated rules for

  1. deciding if a document matches a query,
  2. sorting results

the situation is completely different in a browser or text editor when a user presses CTRL+F :

  1. a match is simply based on a string matching (no stemming, no semantic, no grammar, no proximity, ...)
  2. sorting is simply done according to position of match inside the document (not relevance, ...)

Is this asymmetry a reflection of actual user needs in these two scenarios or rather a consequence of less computing power available client-side than server-side?

Context: I'm trying to design rules for search (matching and ordering of results) within a single very long text. The text is a log of chatroom between ~5 users. The metadata includes timestamps, and usernames for each line of text. The users are professionals, who either participated in the conversation, or not, but understand the topic and language of participants. The documents are not publicly available.

  • Are you comparing between a 'search' and a 'find'? These two are different things.
    – Harshal
    May 9, 2016 at 9:10
  • Thanks @HarshalBhave. I'm not a native English speaker - what difference do you have in mind? It may be the case, that my question can be seen as a about the difference between the two and the reasons behind the differences.
    – qbolec
    May 9, 2016 at 10:08
  • We already have an answer about what I was saying. :)
    – Harshal
    May 9, 2016 at 10:45

2 Answers 2


There's a bit of difference in the problems they're there to solve.


As another responder has already said, search-within-document (ctrl-F) is typically referred to as "find". This is usually used where you know (or suspect) that the exact text you're looking for is in the document, and wish to confirm it's presence and locate it. You're looking within a fairly well defined search space (the document) and are trying to find a fairly well defined term (usually a string).

Some tools will let you fine tune this, so that you can match against substrings, delimited strings, special characters, etc... but you're searching within very established bounds for something quite specific.

It's about locating something you already know by matching it exactly within a clearly defined set of data.


Search is (usually) a bit more involved. You're not just trying to narrow down an already narrow search-space. There's also a broadening component. Where find is simply trying to look within an established space, search will typically also be more expansive.

It can often do the simple "find" action, but will usually also go further and help you expand the search space prior to narrowing it down.

It's about locating information related to search terms, which can either fulfil the user's need directly, or provide them with information on how to improve their query.

A search is effectively a two part action including a find. First, populate the search space and second, find results within it.

find vs. search


Search is different in these contexts, because in an editor, the user has created the content, knows it well, and finds it easiest to locate a piece by viewing results in the order they occur.

You may notice in some document viewers (e.g. PDF, rather than editors) where the user is reading someone else's content and is less familiar, the trend may be starting to move towards displaying results in a more results orientated manor. However, search is not the primary function of this software, so it isn't going to reach the capability of google/bing/yahoo where it is.

You haven't said much about your scenario, but I think your best option is to display a list of your search results in the order they occur within the document, but group them by the headings and subheadings under which they occur to provide useful context.

  • Nice answer. What additional details about the context should I provide to get more specific answers?
    – qbolec
    May 9, 2016 at 10:05
  • The nature of the text (length, what type of information, how is it organised, any metadata, etc.) and who the users are (e.g. professionals, academics, general public).
    – Paul S
    May 10, 2016 at 9:01

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