Search Basics

Boolean and Proximity Operators

Proximity or Positional Operators

Some databases will allow the use of proximity or positional operators.  This means you can locate one word within a certain distance of another.  This is helpful when you don't want the preciseness of a phrase search but you also don't want the expansiveness of an AND search.  Not all databases provide this option but if they do it can include:

  • Adjacent
  • Near
  • Within

The symbols generaly used include: n or w or adj

The adj represents the word "adjacent"

The w represents the word "within"

The n represents the word "near"

Adjacent  (ADJ)  - terms in the search box must appear in the record next to (adjacent to) each other in the same order as you enter them.

Example:   civil adj rights

Near operator (N/x) - finds words within x number of words from each other and usually it is regardless of the order in which they appear.

Example:   ballistic n/3 missile

Within Operator (W/x) - finds words within x number of words from each other, and in the order they are entered

Example:   biological w/5 terrorism

If you are a Google user you might want to consult this GoogleGuide on Search Operators to help you conduct better Google searches.

AND, OR, NOT (Boolean Operators)

Boolean operators

   Must contain both   
border AND security

Can contain either
border OR security


Only contains


AND [narrows the search]
  • immigration AND “border security”
OR [expands the search] useful for synonyms or spelling variations
  • (woman OR women OR female)
  • (firefighters OR firemen OR “fire service” OR “emergency responders”)


AND NOT [limits the search]
  • intelligence  AND (human OR HUMINT) AND NOT (artificial OR emotional)