Proximity searching is a basic technique you need to learn to find one search term within a certain number of words of another search term. It can be a very useful way to make sure you are not missing documents that use slightly different wording (e.g., if you're looking for a car cover, some attorneys may also use the wording "a cover for a car").
There are several ways of doing a proximity search.
1. Using the tilde
The first way of doing a proximity search is to put your terms in quotation marks, then add the tilde ( ~ ) character, then the maximum number of words allowed between the two or more terms you want to search.
"Toilet Seat"~3 --> Finds the terms "Toilet" and "Seat" within three words of each other.
"Toilet Seat Cover"~5 --> Finds the terms "toilet" and "seat" within five words of each other, and "Seat" and "Cover" also within five words of each other.
2. Using NEAR
The second way of doing a proximity search is to separate your terms by NEAR, then the maximum number of words between the two or more terms you want to search.
Toilet NEAR3 Seat --> Finds the terms "toilet" and "seat" within three words of each other.
("Toilet Seat") NEAR5 Cover --> Finds the string "Toilet Seat" within five words of the term "Cover."
The NEAR search will find words in any order. So in the first example above (Toilet NEAR3 Seat), documents with both "toilet seat" and "seat for a toilet" would be returned.
In either proximity search, you can use as large or as small a number as you want for the maximum number of words between the search terms. As a general rule, though, use 2 to 4 to find the terms within the same phrase, 7 to 15 to find them in the same sentence, and 15 to about 25 to find the terms in the same paragraph or claim. Of course, remember that the distances are cumulative. A search with six terms within five words of each other (e.g., "one two three four five six"~5) can span up to thirty words.
3. Using ADJ
A third way of doing a proximity search is to separate your terms by ADJ, the the maximum number of words between the two or more terms you want.
ADJ works very similarly to using NEAR except for one key difference. When you use ADJ, AcclaimIP only finds words in the exact order you put the search terms in. For example:
Toilet ADJ3 Seat --> Finds documents with "toilet seat" but not "seat for a toilet" since the search with ADJ specifies that the word toilet has to come before the word seat.
4. Using the %
The percent wild card is actually also a proximity search. Yes, it does the "1 or 0" character search (e.g., polyest%er returns both polyester and polyesther, which are both correct spellings, depending on where you are in the world.
However, it also works like the ADJ proximity search. That is, if you searched for car%%%battery the system could return a document that had "car type of battery" as battery is two terms away. Even though there are three percent signs, it works like ADJ2.
Proximity Searching Video
The following video takes you through some examples of searching using the proximity operator.