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Advanced Search Tips: Proximity Searching

Tips for narrowing your searches in academic databases and search engines.

Proximity Searching

Similar to searching for phrases, proximity searching is a way to find two keywords in close proximity to each other.  

Near (n_) Examples

  • school n3 shooting - school can precede or follow shooting within three words
  • poverty n2 rate - poverty can precede or follow rate within two words

With (w_) Examples

  • Hilary w2 Clinton - Hilary must be followed by Clinton within two words (this would search for both Hilary Clinton and Hilary Rodham Clinton)
  • student w5 retention - student must be followed by retention within five words

With (w_) and Near (n_): Two Powerful Proximity Operators

When order doesn't matter, use n_

If you want to find two keywords near each other, us n and specify a maximum number of spaces between the second keyword. 

Example: toxic n5 cleanup yields results for toxic followed by cleanup within five words of each other.

"The state levied a fine on textile mills who dumped toxic waste to fund a cleanup". - This phrase WOULD be found in this proximity search; there are exactly four words between toxic and cleanup

If you were researching toxic waste in rivers and an article stated, "Despite the years of toxic deposits in the river from textile mills, no substantial cleanup has taken place" - This phrase WOULD NOT be found in this proximity search; there are more than five words between toxic and cleanup.

When order matters, use w_

If you want to find two keywords near each other in a certain order (i.e. the first keyword must precede the second keyword), us w and specify a maximum number of spaces between the second keyword. 

Example: Franklin w2 Roosevelt yields results for Franklin Roosevelt within 2 words of each other. This would allow you to search for Franklin Roosevelt or Franklin Delano Roosevelt

With both proximity operators, the higher the number (ex. w8), the less precise search you get. In other words, allowing too many word spaces might yield irrelevant results.