We are developing an XML DITA content system that allows users to view their search results in a paginated form and navigate through these results backwards and forwards, page by page and we have placed the "next" and "previous" links in this format:
Previous Search Result Next Search Result
Our customer has now asked for the order of these two links to be reversed so that the Next Search result precedes the Previous Search result.
Next Search Result Previous Search Result
We and our customers are both English speaking companies and we feel that the obvious and correct way to display these links is the back link to the left and the forward link to the right. The same as if you were reading a book and wanted to go to the next page. Or the undo and redo buttons in applications eg Microsoft Word.
But, I have seen some people state that the primary function, which is Next, should be the first button/link as this is what users will be looking for and using most. Also for those users with screen readers or who are tabbing through the page it is easier this way round. But.... "Previous" being placed to the left of "Next" is such a strongly accepted convention in Western culture that I feel changing it will confuse a considerable proportion of our users.
In the same vein, we could ask about the form buttons: clear and submit. I always expect the clear button to be on the left and the submit submit to be on the right but as filling out a form is a linear process and I always Tab through the fields, would it not make more sense to have the submit before clear so you can tab once from the last field and submit?
I know this is a bit of a subjective question, but it is key to web usability and I was wondering if anyone can point me in the direction of studies that give credance to either view. Or is there an overwhelming yay or nay from users?