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Proximity searching: search with a laser instead of a floodlight

Published by Mark Bodnar

I thought I'd resurrect this older post as it is still very relevant and useful. (MarkB)


Image of a floodlightFor most searches in our databases, the basic syntax of (A and B) works fine. (E.g., (librarians and cool).)  For some more complex topics, it's necessary to add in some synonyms: ((A or B) and (C or D)). (E.g., ((librarians or libraries) and (cool or awesome)).) 

Sadly, there are cases where even this sort of search will be ineffective. Such searches can catch far too many irrelevant results -- much like a floodlight will light up a huge area.  That's when you might want to turn to (drum roll...) the laser focus of Proximity Searching!

The logic behind proximity searching is that rather than just search for any documents where both word A and word B are present, you might want to search for documents where word A is within a image of a lasercertain number of words of word B in the document -- their proximity implies a better chance that the document will be relevant to your topic. This cool feature is available (though not advertised) in many of our databases.

OK, that was the jargon-filled description. Here are the practicalities:

1. In any EBSCO database (including Business Source Complete, PsycInfo, EconLit, Education Source, and Academic Search Premier): try a search for (A w# B) in the "All Text" field. For example, compare these two BSC searches:

2. In a ProQuest Database (e.g., CBCA Business and Canadian Newsstand) as well as in LexisNexis and Factiva: try a search for (A w/# B). (Note the "/" (forward slash) that the EBSCO search didn't require.) For example, compare these Canadian Newsstand searches:

If you would like to share other expert search tips with your colleagues, don't hesitate to email them to me. And if you are looking for a tip to help with an odd search problem, just let me know.

-- MarkB

(Mark Bodnar - Burnaby campus: mbodnar@sfu.ca)

... who works in close proximity to these amazing bus/econ librarians:

  • Megan Sorenson - Business/Vancouver (msorenso@sfu.ca)
  • Ania Dymarz - Business/Surrey (adymraz@sfu.ca)
  • Carla Graebner - Economics (cgraebne@sfu.ca)