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Advanced Search Techniques


Proximity Operators

Proximity operators (WITHNEARW/#, etc.) are used to narrow searches by finding words that are next to, near, or within a specified distance from each other, and are often used when Boolean operator searches are not narrowing down a search enough.

For example, when a search for Chicago AND blues results in too many articles that weren’t really about blues music in Chicago; they just mentioned both words somewhere in full text. Using proximity operators will narrow down the search further and increase the likelihood that blues and Chicago are linked.

Proximity operators vary depending on the database. The database will provide this information, which is often found on a help page. The differences between proximity operators in EBSCO and ProQuest databases can be seen here:

  • In an EBSCO database search term w8 search term will find the terms within 8 words of each other and in the specified order they are entered in the search; search term n5 search term finds the terms within 5 words of each other in either order.
  • In a ProQuest database search term near/5 search term finds the terms within 5 words of each other in either order.

ProQuest Proximity Operators Example

In this Agricultural & Environmental Science Database search pictured below, searching "climate change" n5 activism will find the two search terms within 5 words of each other and in no specific order.  

In this search the words climate change in quotation marks, the letter N with the number 5 next to it without a space, and then then word activism.