Skip to main content

Advanced Search Tip: Proximity (Adjacency) Searching

Proximity (Adjacency) Searching vs Phrase Searching

When you're searching literature databases you might want to find a phrase. The easiest way to do this is to put the phrase in "speech marks".
E.g. "heart disease"
This will find that exact phrase - with the words next to each other in that order.
You may be interested in variations on that phrase e.g. heart disease, disease of the heart, diseases of the heart, diseases of the human heart.
In that case it might be better to use a proximity/adjacency search - this allows you to find one keyword next to another. Or one keyword within a specified number of words of the other keyword.
When using a proximity search the keywords can be in any order.

Different Databases Use Different Proximity Operators

In Ovid Medline:
heart adj disease
finds the word heart next to the word disease, in that order.   (This is the same as searching for the phrase, of course)
heart adj2 disease
finds the word heart within two words of the word disease, but in either order, so will find heart disease, disease of the heart.
You can use proximity operators with the truncation symbol (see below), so:
heart adj3 disease*
finds heart disease, disease of the heart, diseases of the heart, diseases of the human heart.
Other databases
- NHS databases - the same as Ovid Medline
- EBSCO databases (PsycINFO, CINAHL, Business Source Premier, Historical Abstracts & others). 
  • Nn finds one word within n words of the other, in either order. 
  • Wn finds one word within n words of the other, in that order.

- Cochrane
  • NEAR/n finds one word within n words of the other, in either order.  
  • NEXT finds two words adjacent to each other in that order (you cannot use truncation and phrase searching together in Cochrane, so this is an alternative).

- Web of Science - NEAR/n finds one word within n words of the other, in either order.
- Scopus

  • Preceding (Pre/n): The first word must be no more that (n) words apart from the second word.
  • Within (W/n): It doesn’t matter which word comes before the other  

Many databases used in literature searching have this functionality. Check the help pages in the databases or google - proximity searching in (name of database).

Popular posts from this blog

Introducing the University of Leicester Figshare for data platform

The University of Leicester Figshare powered institutional data repository web-based platform is now available. The University of Leicester Figshare research data platform serves any academic discipline, and researchers can upload the processed data that either directly supports their research, or that constitutes a research output in its own right.
The University of Leicester’s Figshare solution enables staff, PhD students and researchers to meet the growing demands by research funding agencies and journal publishers for open access (or appropriate access) to data underpinning published research. The new data repository provides a secure, long-term space for a wide range of content; all on one platform that encourages collaboration. The solution will also allow for the easy citation and re-use of their digital research data by making it discoverable, citable and shareable from anywhere.
Figshare for data is accessible anywhere on the Web and is a simple, easy option for sharing fil…

Inserting Citations & References into PowerPoint with EndNote

EndNote X7, which is available on University computers, now has a toolbar for inserting citations and references into PowerPoint.

1)    Open up PowerPoint and place your cursor where you wish to insert a citation or a reference.
2)    Click on the EndNote X7 tab.
3)    Choose the reference style you want to use from the drop-down menu.
4)    Click Insert Citation or Insert Reference
5)    Search for the reference you want or search on * to bring up a list of all your references.
6)    Click on Insert.

You will need to insert the citation and the references separately as this is not a Cite While You Write toolbar like the one in Word.

Inserting special characters in EndNote/RefWorks

When importing references into software like EndNote or RefWorks you might find special characters and diacritical marks are stripped out.

You can edit the reference in the software and re-insert the appropriate character in several ways:
1) Copy and past the character in.

2) If you using a Windows computer with a number pad you can hold down the ALT key and type in a numerical code for the character you want e.g. ALT 130 will insert é.

There is a list of Alt Codes available at

Penn State University has an excellent guide to typing in accents and special characters in Windows or Macs. Including Alt codes, Mac codes and how to use the character map/viewer.

These tips can also be applied in other software and web interfaces, as well as in bibliographic software. ☺ = ALT 1