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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).

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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

Searching the fulltext of PDFs in EndNote

Did you know that you can search across the full text of PDF articles within EndNote desktop?

First get the PDFs into EndNote:

- Import references from literature databases.

- Use the 'Find Full Text' feature.

- Set-up the 'OpenURL Link' Feature.

Choose the references you wish to search and set the search field to PDF: