Proximity searching allows you to search based on how closely two or more search terms appear in the search results. This is useful when you are looking for concepts that might be expressed by multiple different phrases. For example, if you did a regular 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 a number of certain words (or less) of the term theories, you would be able to retrieve many phrases formed with those words.
Proximity searches use operators to designate how closely, and in what order, you want the search terms to appear. Typically the proximity operators are composed of a letter (N or W) or word (NEAR) and a number (to specify the number of words appearing between your search terms). Databases vary significantly for the highest number you can select, anywhere from 10-255. Remember, the lower the number, the narrower the search.
For example, curriculum N3 theories would search for curriculum within 3 words of theories, in any order. Curriculum W3 theories would search for curriculum within 3 words of theories, in the exact order in which you entered them. In this case, a “within” search is narrower since it is dependent on the exact order of the terms. So, curriculum W3 theories may pull up articles about curriculum design theories or curriculum reform theories, but not theories of curriculum design or theories of curriculum reform, as would a search for curriculum N3 theories.
However, it is important to keep in mind that different databases use different proximity operators. Check the help menu of the database you're searching to find out what symbols it uses. Included below are examples of proximity searches in popular NCU Databases, as well as Google.
The below search in Roadrunner would retrieve results containing the term strategy or strategies within 8 words of the term teaching (in any order) AND the exact phrase “inclusive classroom.”
The below search in Gale Academic OneFile would retrieve results containing the term memory within 8 words of the term repressed (in any order).
The below search in ProQuest would retrieve results containing the term employee within 5 words of the term retention (in any order) AND either the term manager or the term supervisor. Note that in ProQuest, there is no N or Near operator, and the W/# operator retrieves the terms in any order.
The below search in ProQuest Dissertations & Theses would retrieve results containing the term teacher within 5 words of the term perception (in any order) AND either the phrase "drop out" or the term dropout in the abstract of the article. Note that ProQuest Dissertations & Theses differs from ProQuest when it comes to proximity searching.
The below search in ScienceDirect would retrieve results containing the term school within 4 words of the term readiness (in any order) AND the exact phrase “teacher perception.”
The below search in Web of Knowledge would retrieve results containing the term information within 7 words of the term security (in any order) AND either the term hospital or the exact phrase “medical center.” Note that in Web of Knowledge you must enter the full word NEAR rather than just the letter N.