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College of Rehabilitation Sciences: Phrases

Guide for OT, PT, RT, and MSc Rehab


  • Some databases assume that words typed next to each other should be searched as phrases.
  • Others automatically put a Boolean AND between your search terms, requiring that all the words be present, but not necessarily adjacent to each other.
  • These searches can retrieve very different results.
  • Using parentheses or quotes around search words is a common way to do phrase searching, but not all databases or search engines use them.

  • Example:  "genetic engineering" or (genetic engineering)


  • Many databases allow you to specify that the words you are searching are within a certain proximity of each other.
  • Because of their proximity the two words can have a relationship
  • Proximity operators are more specific than Boolean operators and make your search more precise.
  • Proximity operators also vary by database, but some common ones include: W# (With, Within) and N# (Near)
    • W# can specify that words appear in the order you type them

    • Substitute the # with a number of words that may appear in between. If no number is given, then it specifies an exact phrase.

    • Examples: cold W2 therapy, it retrieves: cold therapy, cold water therapy, etc.)

    •  N# can specify that the words may appear in any order.

    • Substitute the # with a number of words that may appear in between.

    • Examples: cloning N3 human, it retrieves: cloning of humans, human cloning etc.)

  • Proximity Operators vary from database to database (ADJ#, W/#, N/#, NEAR#, etc), you need to check the Help section of each database to see what they use, look for Proximity Operators or Proximity Searching


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