Proximity searching allows the retrieval of records with specific words appearing near each other. This technique is helpful for finding phrases that are similar without doing multiple searches.

Use the command NEAR/ (all caps and including the forward-slash) immediately followed by the number representing the desired proximity limit. Order doesn’t matter within the string of the NEAR/ command, so any word may appear first.

On APA PsycNet, the proximity command can be combined with other Boolean operators, including quotation marks for exact-phrase searches (e.g., “perceived stress” NEAR/2 scale) and truncation. Wildcard searching with the * (asterisk) will help capture plurals and other common word variations.

Specifying NEAR/1 can be helpful for finding results that include specific phrases because the two terms are next to – or “one word away” from — each other.

When searching for child* NEAR/1 trauma*, results display the highlighted search terms along with any plurals and other word variations retrieved by the truncation search operator. In addition to child trauma, examples of results include the terms traumatized children, traumatized child, child traumatic [stress], etc.

Increasing the proximity search limit to NEAR/2 will return records that have the search terms appearing within two (2) words of each other (i.e., next to each other or separated by a single word between them). For example, searching for child* NEAR/2 trauma* {in Abstract field} AND experience {in Any Field} will retrieve records with useful variations due to both the word order and the truncation operator.

Display of the search string input as two rows combined with the Boolean operator AND on the Advanced Search form. The first row specifies child* NEAR/2 trauma* in the Abstract field, and the second row specifies experience in Any Field.

Matching search results for this proximity-with-wildcard search would include (but aren’t limited to)

  • Experience of childhood trauma
  • Traumatic childhood experiences
  • Experience of children with traumatic [brain injuries]
  • Trauma on child [emotional health]
  • Trauma-exposed children
  • [Psychological] trauma for children
  • Children experience traumatic [stress]
  • Children after trauma
  • Children’s traumatic experiences

Please note that NEAR/1 represents the closest word proximity. Specifying NEAR/0 will not return any results because it represents a search for the impossible scenario of two words located in the exact same position. Similarly, NEAR/ without a numerical limit is not a valid search operator on APA PsycNet. Although it may return results, they’re often ones that include only the first word specified.

Although specifying a larger number as a limit will increase the maximum number of searchable words that can occur between your search terms, we recommend a maximum proximity search of NEAR/4 (i.e., within four words) to help reduce the number of irrelevant results.

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