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13:21 Use Open Lists to Select One from Many

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13:21 Use Open Lists to Select One from Many

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Strength of Evidence:

Strength of Evidence rating of 2 out of 5

Document Type: Guideline


Controls and Widgets


Use open lists rather than drop-down lists to select one from many.


Generally, the more items users can see in a list (without scrolling), the faster their responses will be, and the fewer omission errors they will make. Ideally, users should be able to see all available items without scrolling. Open lists tend to elicit faster performance primarily because drop-down lists require an extra click to open. However, if a list is extremely long, a drop-down list may be better.


  • Bailey, R.W. (1996). Human performance engineering: Designing high quality professional user interfaces for computer products, applications and systems (3rd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  • Fowler, S. (1998). GUI Design Handbook. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Marcus, A., Smilonich, N., & Thompson, L. (1995). The Cross-GUI Handbook. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Poor Example:

In this example, radio buttons should have been used.


In this example, radio buttons are not recommended because of the number of options. However the list box with only three lines visible is not ideal because it limits what the user can scan. Either a dropdown or a longer scrolling list box would allow users to view and scan the items with greater ease.


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