H2. Difficulty refining search queries

Situation Definition:

A situation that arises from difficulty modifying a search statement from a prior search, particularly narrowing or broadening a search statement.

Factor(s) Leading to the Situation:

    • Inadequate knowledge:

Guideline or Design Recommendation:

    1. Explain how to refine the most recent search statement, specifically narrowing or broadening a search statement
    2. Offer assistance in refining a search, particularly narrowing or broadening a search statement

Rationale and Objective:

Because search terms associated with controlled vocabulary might generate more relevant results in a DL search, search queries may require reformulation using controlled vocabulary terms rather than uncontrolled search terms.

are a helpful way for users to identify controlled vocabulary terms and construct more effective search queries (1). The presence of auto-suggestions should be recognized by

users and activated through the use of a keyboard (2). In case of “no results,” auto-suggestions might provide additional related or relevant terms to support users. Narrowing down the search results is a step that follows the display of search results, where users attempt to reduce the number of available items. There are many approaches for narrowing down results which should be provided by the DL. User tags might be more familiar to some users; such tags can be used to display related results and support a narrowing-down of the search results. Broadening is the opposite process of narrowing results. Broadening is a less common activity than narrowing, due to the already overwhelming quantity of results that typically appear in DL search results lists. One important consideration a DL should account for is a hierarchical category design (3). Subject mapping based on hierarchical relationships might be helpful to broaden search scopes. User tags may also be used to display related results and thus broaden the search. Suggesting related search queries might help users to obtain a larger quantity of search results.

Techniques and Methods:

1.1. Provide general help information about query reformulation on a general help page
1.1/2.1. Provide

tips (e.g., search tips) for search statement reformulation
2.2. Incorporate controlled vocabularies and user tags in the

2.3. Display lists of controlled vocabulary terms and other related terms used for indexing objects in a DL
2.4. Provide a subject map showing hierarchical relationship between subjects/categories
2.5. Provide breadcrumbs to allow broadening search results
2.6. Provide related search features (e.g., find documents like this one)
2.7. Provide intuitive and accessible sorting features to narrow down search results by various types of facets or user-selected terms
2.8. Provide options to narrow search results by various types of facets, aspects, or features used to classify information (e.g., subject, date, location, and coverage)
2.9. Provide “Within search” features to narrow down results

Recommended Features:

1.1. General help (See example 1.1/1.2/2.1)

tips (See example 1.1/1.2/2.1)
2.2. User tags (See example 2.2)
2.2/2.3. Controlled vocabularies (See example 2.2/2.3)
2.3. Related terms (See example 2.3)
2.4. Subject map description (See example 2.4)
2.5. Breadcrumbs (See example 2.5/2.7/2.8)
2.6. Related search feature (See example 2.6)
2.7. Sorting features (See example 2.5/2.7/2.8)

(See example 2.5/2.7/2.8)
2.9. Search within feature (See example 2.9)


1.1/1.2/2.1. General help and context-sensitive help: Good example

HathiTrust provides general help in the top navigation bar and also provide context-sensitive help tip for search in the search section.

Top navigation bar with Search tips option beneath search bar

Search Tips menu option available within Searching and Viewing Books section

2.2. User tags

NSDL provides “User Tag” so that users can add their own term here and also use it as a next search point or search term.

Interface featuring option to add tags to item. Previously added tags include "Physics", "Polar Bond", and "Chemistry"

2.2/2.3. Controlled vocabularies: How to example

Terms from controlled vocabularies are suggested for addition to or removal from the search.

Search filters selected to refine search: keywords: welding and type: text with number of results next to each filter option

2.3. Related terms: Good example

Related terms are suggested when a user types “abraham” in the search box. A user can select a related term from the drop-down list.

Auto-completion suggestions for term typed into search bar ("abraham"), includes suggestions "abraham lincoln", "abraham lincoln papers", and "abraham lincoln monday"

2.4. Subject map description

Like a sitemap and filter, provide a subject/category page shown a hierarchical relationship between subjects.

Example of subject map for "United States" mapping to subjects, "United States. Congress Periodicals", "United States Politics and government Periodicals", "United States History", "United States Politics and government", and "United States Commerce Periodicals"

2.5/2.7/2.8. Breadcrumbs, Sorting features, faceted-based search: Good example

Library of Congress Digital Collections provides breadcrumbs, sorting features, and faceted-based search on the search result page.

Library of Congress search results page with features labeled: Breadcrumbs at top of page ("Library of Congress > Digital Collections > Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers > Search"), Sorting features above results (Relevance, Title, Title (descending), Date, Date (oldest first), Shelf Order, and Shelf Order (reverse)), and Faceted-based search to left of results (Refine your results: Original Format, Online Format, Date, Location)

2.6. Related search features

Artstor provides “Search within results” so that users can refine search result further.

Search box with option for "Search within results" to righthand side

2.9. Within feature: How to example and Good example

Provide “Search within result” feature next to the search box

Checkbox to "Search within results" next to search box

Related Resources:

    1. Babich, N. (2017). Best Practices for Search Results, https://uxplanet.org/best-practices-for-search-results-1bbed9d7a311
    2. Cifcioglu, A. (2017). Anatomy of an Accessible Auto Suggest. https://uxmastery.com/anatomy-of-an-accessible-auto-suggest/
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. WCAG 2.0 Guideline 3.3 Input assistance. (2008). Retrieved from https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/#minimize-error

See also:

Help-seeking Situations > H. Difficulty constructing or refining search