Monday, October 25, 2010

Phrase and Proximity Searching

Last week on the information literacy and instruction listserv, someone asked about changes to EBSCOhost's search function. When searching for a phrase, she surrounded the phrase with quotation marks: Ex. "reality tv." Results highlighted these words even when they appeared separate from each other. Only results that include the phrase itself will be returned; however, wherever either of the words appear it will be highlighted.

Changes to their software make it so that any terms entered into their search are defaulted as both a phrase and a proximity search. In the past the searcher needed to enter w/5 to specify a proximity search. Now the proximity search takes place simultaneously with the phrase search. Another contributor to the listserv suggested the following kind of search: geoffrey chaucer not "geoffrey chaucer". Within the Academic Search Complete database, 348 results came back today. "geoffrey chaucer" brought back 702 results, but geoffrey chaucer without any quotes returned 1050, the sum of the other two results.

It seems that most searchers rarely use proximity search commands, but in many instances it may yield more relevant results that just a plain keyword search. Personally, the help section on proximity searching contains some cool, though probably arcane search tips. A search for child* w/3 obesity would return results with the words child, children, childhood, etc. within three words of obesity, but child would always come before obesity.

EBSCOhost's help page gives a great example of the near command. tax n5 reform* would bring back results where the words "tax reform" appear as well as "reform of income tax," because they are within five words of each other.

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