Inability to reformulate search queries

Help-Seeking Situation: Inability to reformulate search queries


Relative Importance:


Definition: This is a cognitive situation related to difficulty changing or modifying search statements, queries, or keyword terms for searching the DL to prompt an effective retrieval of items following an initial, failed search.




  • Lack of Feedback
  • Lack of Domain knowledge



Guideline or Design Recommendation

  1. Provide auto-suggestions for related words along with an instruction.
  2. Maintain the original query or provide the list of search term history. In case of “no results”, related term suggestions should provided.


Rationale and Objective:  Due to the need for precision in search terms associated with controlled vocabulary in a DL search, search queries may require reformulation to locate relevant items in a DL. Auto-suggestions are a helpful way for users to determine relevant search queries. The presence of auto-suggestions should be recognized by BVI users and activated through the use of a keyboard. In case of “no results,” auto-suggestions might provide more related or relevant terms to support users.


Techniques, Methods, and Features


Techniques and Methods

  • Implement auto-suggestions for related terms
  • Provide instructions for auto-suggestions.
  • Show suggestions directly below the search input field.
  • Suggestions should be accessible by the keyboard manipulation
  • Use ARIA markup to the input field so that BVI users can select auto-suggestions.
  • Notice the number of available suggestions.
  • Retaining the original query in the input field or showing search term history can be helpful for BVI users can modify it and know what previous search queries are.
  • Related term suggestions might be given more in case of “no results” based on a different algorithm from that for normal cases.
  • In designing auto-suggestions, a taxonomy/thesaurus can be used so that suggested terms should be related to an inputted search query. Mapping a general term into a controlled vocabulary term is critical in suggesting a related term working well for search.



  • Enhanced related term suggestions (for no results)
  • Previous query
  • Search term history
  • Related terms
  • Auto-suggestions Instruction
  • Auto-suggestions keyboard manipulation
  • Relevant number of suggestions
  • ARIA elements (e.g. aria-live, aria-activedescendant attribute, role, aria-autocomplete, aria-owns, aria-live)
  • Controlled vocabulary



    • aria-autocomplete=”both”
    • role=“listbox“


  • role=”combobox”
  • aria-activedescendant=”suggestion1”
  • aria-live=” assertive”




Related Resources:

Cifcioglu, A. (2017). Anatomy of an Accessible Auto Suggest.


Babich, N. (2017). Best Practices for Search Results,

Hu, R., Lu, K. & Joo, S. (2013). Effects of topic familiarity and search skills on query reformulation behavior. Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 50, 1-9.

WCAG 2.0 Guideline 3.3 Input assistance

Xie, I. & Cool, C. (2009). Understanding help seeking within the context of searching digital libraries. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 60(3), 477-494.

See also:

Help-seeking Situations >  Confusion about multiple programs and structures > Factors > System design > Lack of Feedback


Help-seeking Situations >  Difficulty constructing or refining search statements > Factors > User factors > Lack of Domain knowledge

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