Proximity Searching


So what is Proximity Searching? In general terms, proximity searching limits the amount of words between the words in your search query and allows us to look for one or more keywords within a certain 'proximity', or distance.

It is between a basic keyword search and a phrase search. The terms in a proximity search are located in the same document, but not necessarily directly adjacent to each other nor in the order specified. The idea behind this is that words that are close to each other, even if not right next to each other, are still related under the same idea. Sentences, after all, are constructed with a single idea in mind. Words in the same sentence should therefore contribute to the same idea. A proximity search allows us to essentially expand a phrase search to a given range of words (Wikipedia Contributors).

The rational behind Proximity Searching is that words closer together in a piece of text should be related in some way. This means that this skill is particularly useful when you want to find information on the relation of two separate topics.

In the diagram below it is easy to distinguish the differences that proximity searching can put on the types of information that you find. [Please note that below shows a type of proximity searching that does not allow for any words in between. This is not the only way to use proximity searching. Please refer to the "HOW" part of the wiki for more information]
Adjacency search example
Adjacency search example
(Ohio State Libraries)

For Example:

If you wanted to find some information on both World War I and World War II and how the two relate, proximity searching could be useful because otherwise you might get many sites that have information on BOTH of the topics but it is likely that the two ideas will not be related. Therefore, by limiting the amount of words between the two topics there is a higher likelihood of getting more relevant information quicker.


We have many search resources at our fingertips such as Google, EBSCO, United Streaming, JSTOR and World Book. Some are more advanced than others and thus have greater proximity searching capabilities.


Google is a great search engine but its functionalities are limited. Instead, users have a wildcard. A wildcard is typed into the search bar as an asterisk (*), a symbol which Google recognizes as any possible word or words in between your search terms. Using the wildcard feature as a Proximity Search searches for the terms in the specific order that is put into the search. Multiple wildcards in the same search is allowed, though placing two wildcards side-by-side is redundant, as a wildcard can stand for multiple words on its own. While the wildcard cannot specify an actual distance between its search terms, Google's search engine does a reliable job of keeping the terms close enough for relation.

This is the maximum proximity searching that Google supports, but the wildcard is still a powerful too that can be very useful in conjunction with keyword searching and phrase searching.

For example, when searching about comparisons between WW1 and WW2 in Google with a keyword search, we would get the following results:1.png

As we can see, the information is not quite what we are looking for. The wildcard symbol, if inserted between "World War I" and "World War II" would narrow our search to exactly those results with the terms relatively near each other. Doing so yields a much better comparison. Note the use of quotations to make sure the wildcard fills in terms exactly where you want it to.
Success! Now you try it!




EBSCO is a publications database that is used in academic environments. It is an advanced search service, and therefore supports more advanced proximity searching such as proximity operators. You can use proximity operators in EBSCO to search for two or more keywords that occur within a specified number of words (or fewer) (EBSCO Tutorial). Proximity Operators are placed between keywords in the searches. Use boolean/phrase search to use the proximity operators (EBSCO Tutorial). The two proximity operators are N# and W#.

The number is used to specify the number of words that are between the keywords. For example, typing Cats N5 Dogs searches for the terms when they are within five words of each other regardless of the order in which they appear (EBSCO Tutorial). In terms of the Wildcard feature in Google, the N5 operator can be mimicked as shown, with an additional 5 word restraint on the wildcard:

"Cats * Dogs" OR "Dogs * Cats"

The number is used to specify the number of words that are between the keywords, much like the N# operator. However, the key difference between the two is that W# takes into consideration the order in which they terms are entered into the search bar. The Cats W5 Dogs entry, for example, searches for results where the terms are within 5 words of each other in the order they appear (EBSCO Tutorial). Again, in terms of the wildcard feature in google, the W5 operator can be shown as follows, with the same 5 word restraint on the wildcard:

Cats * Dogs

United Streaming

United Streaming is like YouTube but focuses more on Educational Media. This particular search tool supports proximity searching through Boolean logic search terms. Typing NEAR between keywords searches for videos that are described with the terms near each other, in a manner similar to the N# operator in EBSCO. The order does not matter (DE Help).


To force the search to recognize the order of the terms, use ONEAR in place of NEAR. This entry results in an ordered proximity search, much like the W# operator in EBSCO (DE Help).


JSTOR is an online database that gives its users access to scholarly resources and accurate sources (About Us). Proximity searching in JSTOR is only available by using the advanced search page. Here, several search boxes are presented with drop down menus between each box that has several search operators. The number that follows each NEAR operator determines how far apart the words can be. I.e. NEAR 10 restricts the distance between the key words to 10 words. Note that only one word can be entered in each search box. If more words need to be included into the search, simply click the add field button and another box will appear (Help).
Picture of the advanced search page

World Book

Unfortunately, World Book does not offer proximity searching in its search options (Help World Book).

Works Cited

JSTOR. “About Us.” JSTOR. 23 Sept 2010. <>

Discovery Education. “Advanced Search.” Discovery Education. 26 Sept 2010. < event=showAsset&criteria=search&guidAssetId=e36dff09-1b78-cd48- f8be-1675f5a9dbea>

St. Francis College. “EBSCOHost Tutorial.” St. Francis College Library. 1 Sept 2010. 24 Sept 2010.

Google. “Google Search Basics.” Google Web Search. 27 Sept 2010.

JSTOR. “Help.” JSTOR. 23 Sept 2010. <>

World Book. “Help for World Book Advanced.” World Book Advanced. 26 Sept 2010.

Ohio State University. “Searching 101 > 3: Construct Your Search.” Ohio State University Libraries. 19 Sept 2010.

Pandia. “Proximity: The Near Operator.” Pandia. 23 Sept 2010.

Wikipedia Contributors. “Proximity Search (Text).” Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia. 22 Feb 2010. 23 Sept 2010.