Question: What problems exist in the search engine user interface?

Question: What procedure should I follow when using search to avoid problems in the search UI?

NOT a feature / change request

I was having quite a few problems and wondered what to do. I realized that a good portion of my difficulty centered on some issues with the search engine user interface.


a) Selecting a tag from the search results clears your search text.

b) The tag list on the right does not show at all times.

c) The tag list on the right is cleared by a non-existant tag.

d) The tag list on the right is cleared by a search with no results.

e) The tag list on the right is cleared by hitting to get your results.

f) You added text to the list of tags in your search text. Clicking another tag clears your text (but not the tags.)

g) Clicking a tag from your list of already selected tags clears your search.

h) The tag lists on the right is cleared by adding any text to the list of tags you have built.

i) Search text only expands when you are typing, if you text was cleared you might not know.

I needed an immediate solution independent of any improvement that might be made to the search. I came up with a procedure I use that appears in my answer below.

I found quite a few tags that might apply:
[search] [tags] [community-wiki] [bug] [feature-request] [asking-questions] [question-quality] [new-questions] [searching] [similar-questions] [advanced-search] [search-results] [help]

  • 6
    I don't think newbies like reading a wall of text. Jul 22 '13 at 17:37
  • 4
    Could you please highlight your issue by answering "What exact problem are you having?" and placing that answer in the title?
    – animuson StaffMod
    Jul 22 '13 at 17:38
  • @animuson Oops, the title wasn't even from the same post. Done
    – DHorse
    Jul 22 '13 at 17:46
  • 8
    So. Shouldn't the question be a question, and be provided with this lengthy discourse as answers? =)
    – J. Steen
    Jul 22 '13 at 17:47
  • @doubleDown I doubt newbies even read the FAQ (until they get in trouble). I put the procedure first for that reason but it should probably be by itself. I combined the two here for the benefit of the power users (to work towards a final version).
    – DHorse
    Jul 22 '13 at 17:49
  • 1
    If it's intended for other people to edit the original, you should mark it as community wiki. Though I don't think you can in questions, hence why answers are better... :)
    – Joe
    Jul 22 '13 at 17:50
  • @J.Steen I screwed up adding the title. I hope it is OK now.
    – DHorse
    Jul 22 '13 at 17:51
  • 4
    I'm not downvoting, I don't really see the point. However: You should probably followed the established format of QUESTIONS followed by ANSWERS. So write a question. Then answer it. Like everything else here on the Stack Exchange network. =)
    – J. Steen
    Jul 22 '13 at 17:54
  • @Joe Ok, so I should replace the bugs tag? and... I'm not sure I know what to do from there.
    – DHorse
    Jul 22 '13 at 17:54
  • @J.Steen Can other people edit my answer? I looking to allow more experience people to be able to alter it.
    – DHorse
    Jul 22 '13 at 17:55
  • 3
    If you have a question you think needs answering, then post the question-part as a question, and then post the answer-part as an answer. It's perfectly fine to answer your own question. I have no idea why this would be feature-request or bug, as it seems like it is discussion.
    – Joe
    Jul 22 '13 at 17:56
  • 1
    Edit privileges apply to questions and answers, fairly equally. However, if they weren't similar that wouldn't be a valid reason to not follow the established question/answer format. =)
    – J. Steen
    Jul 22 '13 at 17:56
  • 3
    You're trying to propose an FAQ? Jul 22 '13 at 18:07
  • @J.Steen I made the changes very quickly (Question followed by Answer) Hope it is OK.
    – DHorse
    Jul 22 '13 at 18:08
  • @doubleDown FAQ? No, there is good documentation. The idiosyncrasies in the search UI can lead to mistakes that you don't even notice. I was trying to produce a procedure to follow and solve my own difficulties in a way not dependent on any decisions SO might make re the search UI. A work around because anything they decide will take time.
    – DHorse
    Jul 22 '13 at 18:11

Here is my workaround for problems with the search. Click Ask A Question, and compose your question the best that you can. But do not click the button to actually post the question to the site. Instead, stop and examine the links that appear above your text.

This search is way better than anything you can get by carefully thinking of keywords and tags and entering them into the search box. This is especially true on Meta, but has worked for me on Stack Overflow also. It eliminates all your issues a through i and is generally quickest, too.

You can then open any of the links in a new tab, and discard your post, since you no longer need to make it.

  • That is a good point. That is in fact what I do first and then I proceed to the search screen from there. I wasn't sure if it belonged in the procedure. Given the up votes I think is should be added. Thanks. I did find that I often fail to find an answer that I can later find in the search by adding tags and experimenting.
    – DHorse
    Jul 22 '13 at 19:02
  • Note: Although I left that out because it wasn't strictly an issue with the search engine window and it's issues, it definitely belongs in the procedure. Bad call on my part, thanks again.
    – DHorse
    Jul 22 '13 at 19:12

I use Google.

It works great, and as a bonus, it finds the answer even if it isn't on a Stack Exchange site!

If I'm absolutely confident that I saw the answer on a particular Stack Exchange site, I use Google's site search feature:

search keywords site:meta.stackoverflow.com

I confess to frequently wondering why individual websites even bother with a "search" function. I know there are all kinds of variously-valid reasons, but talk about re-inventing an inferior wheel.

Aside from all of that, it looks like most of your recent activity and duplicate-question-closure experiences have occurred on Meta. In that case, allow me to remind you that Meta is a very unusual place, inhabited by unusual people with a near-obsession with how Stack Exchange sites operate and an apparent uncanny ability to remember nearly everything that has ever been discussed here.

I vote to close a lot of questions as duplicates here, and sometimes I amaze myself at my ability to find duplicates. Sometimes it's memory, sometimes it's search-fu, and other times it's just the persistence that comes with knowing that something must exist. The one thing it is not is a commentary on the person whose question I vote to close.

So you should not feel bad to have your question closed as a duplicate, especially on Meta. It doesn't mean that you did anything wrong, and it doesn't necessarily mean that you put an insufficient amount of effort into searching for your question. Obviously there are exceptions to that, like the 900th time we get a "why am I blocked from posting questions on SO?" question; we're all tired of that and express our distaste with downvotes. But as a rule, it can be difficult for the uninitiated to find what they're looking for on Meta. For example, sometimes question titles are written for humor and play up inside jokes more than the content of the question itself.

One of the great things, I think, is the amount of collective experience here that can dig up these gems and point people in the right place. That's just as good as getting an answer, in my opinion, if not better.

  • The site:xxxxx is a great suggestion and I would like to add it to the procedure. The post here was originally intended as a work around for the UI issues on SO. That said, I am highly oriented on providing solutions that solve the person's problem, regardless. Like Kate's answer, that's what this does. I should say that I later found the answer to my object literal question in ten seconds on Google, and wouldn't you know it, it was on SO. :)
    – DHorse
    Jul 23 '13 at 10:26
  • Details: I should add that my original problem was on the SO site on the first four questions. It was only after continuing to have problems on meta-SO that I noticed my hidden text was actually gone. Though I had never felt offended, warning bells were ringing the whole time and I become quite curious.
    – DHorse
    Jul 23 '13 at 10:38
  • Concerning new users: As you probably know, I was quite quickly question blocked on SO. Re my highly inflammatory post on how new users can avoid being blocked, it addresses how to be insanely cautious on the SO site. Reading every scrap of documentation on the site could still lead to a newbie getting blocked, particularly with these search UI issues. Thanks.
    – DHorse
    Jul 23 '13 at 10:41
  • I have not marked this as the answer yet because I would like to see if any other good answers come in. Regards.
    – DHorse
    Jul 23 '13 at 10:47

Here is a work around procedure that will help avoid UI problems with the search. it is my hope this might be a collaborative effort so please feel free to revise it.

FIRST: Try going into "Ask Question" and typing in your title. A list of existing answers appears. You can try playing with your question and will likely find the answer. If that fails, before your asking question attempt a more thorough search by placing your search in the search box at the top right of the screen. This will take you to the search page. (From: Kate Gregory)


i) Type your search text (without tags) into the window at the top right of the page.

ii) Copy this to the clipboard. Either +A +C or X.

iii) This takes you to the search page. Clear your text if needed. Start with a blank box.

iv) Open another window/tab for a view of tags. Right click "Tags" near the top, Open a new tab / window. You are going to use tags and this will help to narrow the relevant results.

v) Now start choosing tags. Type your first tag. Make sure it exists first. Now you get list of tags on the right.

vi) Continue selecting tags until you have all you want.

vii) Now add your texts. Probably with an existing answer.

viii) No? Try variations on the words. Similar words You may have made a poor choice.

ix) Still no existing answer? Remove phrases like "How do I" "What is the" "Is there any". Just use key words.

x) Still didn't work? Try broadening your terms by using very few words that are central to your questions. You will get a lot of results but try going through a few pages to see if they are close to your needs.

xi) If all of the above has failed, trying ask the meta-so community. They will either help you rephrase your question or possibly just answer it if has a short answer.

  • 8
    Is searching really this complicated? And what's the point of step 2 or step 3? Or even Step 4? Maybe this it's the cough medicine talking, but I can barely follow this. Jul 22 '13 at 18:33
  • 1
    @LBT The constant clearing of the text along with the text being cleared off screen can lead to some real problems if you are new. Once you are aware of that, it isn't so bad. That is a very long list though that in each case leads to annoyance.
    – DHorse
    Jul 22 '13 at 18:38
  • @LBT (STEP 2) Copying your text to the clipboard addresses it frequently being cleared (if you don't know what to avoid).
    – DHorse
    Jul 22 '13 at 18:39
  • @LBT (STEP 3) People generally start their search with text and you need to enter something to get to the search page. However, you also need to start with the tags first and add the text later. The tags are important for narrowing results.
    – DHorse
    Jul 22 '13 at 18:40
  • Thanks to LBT for actually asking for rationale and explanation. I am trying to keep that in the comments to avoid polluting the procedure,
    – DHorse
    Jul 22 '13 at 18:47
  • Re the procedure. I should point out I tested the search carefully. I willing to bet money there will be a lot of down votes without any alternate solution that really solves these issues. As in "You don't need to do all that, this sucks... down-vote" We'll see.
    – DHorse
    Jul 22 '13 at 18:48
  • Clarification: (Steps 1 - 5) You already are familiar with tags or do not need them for you search? You can get your results by just typing in the little window and your done. However, new uses don't know the tags and entering non-existent tags is also problematic.
    – DHorse
    Jul 22 '13 at 18:56
  • Vote for Kate Gregory! She took the time to offer a critical first step. Very constructive, it's now in the procedure.
    – DHorse
    Jul 22 '13 at 19:10

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