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How to search in the health sciences

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Proximity search basics

  • 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.

    • Example: 
      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.

    • Example:
       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

    • Proximity Searching

    • Adjacency Operators

    • Adjacency Searching

Proximity/Adjacency Operator & Database Table

The table contains the adjacency operators for the platforms most commonly searched in the health sciences. # refers to the number you wish to use in the adjacency operator, i.e. ADJ# would be ADJ3 if you wanted 3 words or less between the two terms you are searching.

Platform Databases Operator
OVID Medline, Embase, PsycINFO ADJ#
EBSCO CINAHL, SportDiscus, AgeLine, and others N#
Wiley Web of Science NEAR/#
Proquest Proquest N/#
Cochrane Cochrane Collaboration NEAR/#


Search map revised for proximity searching

See original Search Map

Example: What is the risk of mortality due to cell phone use in distracted teen drivers?









(cell OR cellular OR smart OR mobile) ADJ1 (phone OR phones)









(distract* OR inattent*) ADJ2 
(driver* OR driving)

Parentheses are extremely important in proximity searching.  Using parthentheses the search would look like this:

​(mortal* OR fatal* OR deathAND ((cell OR cellular OR smart OR mobile) ADJ1 (phone OR phones) OR smartphone* OR cellphone*AND ((distract* OR inattent*) ADJ2 
(driver* OR driving))

 The asterisk at the end of some words is a wildcard which is used to find alternate endings, see Truncation for more information. 

Medline (Ovid) search using proximity searching with ADJ

See original search in PubMed without proximity operators. Note: the original search in PubMed retrieved 6 results where this search in OVID Medline with proximity operators retrieved 34. As a reminder PubMed and MEDLINE are essentially the same databases.

MEDLINE OVID - Search History - showing distracted driving and cell phone use with proximity operator ADJ