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LibrarySkills@UCL: Searching for information

A guide to search techniques and developing a search strategy for assignments, literature reviews and research.

Adjacency or proximity operators

Adjacency (or proximity) operators allow you to search for two word appearing close to each other, but not necessarily next to each other as a phrase. For example:

  • "Alcohol/substance abuse is a problem among this population..."
  • "Alcohol or drugs abuse was common in the area..."
  • "Inclusion criteria were: Abuse of alcohol..."
  • "individuals treated for alcohol, heroin or cocaine abuse..."
  • "Substance abuse (including alcohol) contributed to feelings of anxiety...."

The words alcohol and abuse are present in the same sentence but not necessarily next to each other.

Using an adjacency operator:

alcohol ADJn abuse 

The word alcohol within n words of the word abuse in either direction

alcohol ADJ3 abuse 

The word alcohol within 3 words of the word abuse in either direction

Adjacency searching can be useful when searching for phrase variations:

(alcohol OR substance*) ADJ3 (abuse OR misuse)

This search would retrieve phrases which incude the words alcohol or substance within three words of the words abuse or misuse. For example: misuse of alcohol, substance abuse, misuse of banned substances.

In this example, ADJ is the syntax used . Note that the syntax is different for different databases. Check the help pages for the resource you are using to find out whether adjacency searching is available, and if so what the syntax is, and what search rules apply.