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Advanced Searching Techniques: Proximity Searching

Proximity Searching

Proximity searching allows you to search based on how closely and in what order two search terms appear in the search results. However, exactly what you type as a proximity operator depends on the database. 

Proximity searching is useful when you are looking for concepts that multiple different phrases might express. 

For example, if you did a phrase search for "curriculum theories," you would not retrieve documents mentioning theories of curriculum, theories involving curriculum, theories about curriculum, or other similar phrases. 

But, if you were to do a proximity search and look for the term curriculum appearing within X number of words of the term theories, you would be able to retrieve more results. 

For example in EBSCO databases, curriculum N3 theories would search for curriculum within three words of theories, in any order. 

However, it is essential to keep in mind that different databases use different proximity operators. Included below are examples of proximity searches in popular databases.

Most search platforms have guides on their proximity operators. You'll find it in the embedded help pages: search them for "proximity." Then, consult the guide to learn what you need to do to get the best from these techniques on each platform.


Specific Databases

The proximity operator is placed between the words that are to be searched, as follows:

  • Near Operator (N): N5 finds the words if they are a maximum of five words apart from one another, regardless of the order in which they appear. For example, type tax N5 reform to find results that have a maximum of five words between the beginning and ending terms, that would match tax reform as well as tax that has been submitted for reform.

  • Within Operator (W): W8 finds the words if they are within eight words of one another, in the order in which you entered them. For example, type tax W8 reform to find results that would match tax reform but would not match reform of income tax.


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NEAR/# or n/# 

Finds documents where the search terms are separated by up to a certain number of words of each other (either before or after).  

Example: computer NEAR/3 careers                

                computer and careers can be separated by up to 3 intervening words


PRE/# or  p/#

Finds documents where the search terms are separated by up to a certain number of words of each other in the specified order.    

Example: "business management" PRE education    =  "business management" PRE/4 education

               "pre" p/1 war      retrieves pre-war   but also   pre-world-war         

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JSTOR search allows you to find terms that are within a set number of words of each other.

In Basic Search, use the tilde (~) symbol followed by a number to set the desired proximity. 

For example:

Debt forgiveness ~10


In this example, your search will return results with the terms debt and forgiveness within ten words of each other.

In Advanced Search, use the Boolean drop-down boxes to combine search terms with NEAR 5/10/25.

The NEAR operator looks for the combinations of keywords within 5, 10, or 25 words places of each other.


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