Positional operators are remote commands used to search (full-text) databases for keywords. They determine the distance between two or more words, for example, whether the designated words should appear in the same field (such as author or title), paragraph or section. The most widely used are NEAR operators.
- NEAR (involves a word distance in random sequence of no more than ten intermediate words and is especially used to search for place names, personal names and figures of speech).
- ADJn (adjacent: n indicates the maximum number of words permitted between the terms, to the left and right of ADJ).
- NEAR/n (n indicates the maximum number of words permitted between the terms, to the left and right of NEAR).
Another important way of positional searching is with quotation marks. Words that should not only appear in the same document but also literally in sequence should be placed in quotation marks.
A search for "local authorities" produces fewer documents than a search for local authorities or a search for local AND authorities, but the result is more precise. In the latter case, it could happen that the two words are widely separated in the text and have nothing to do with each other. Positional operators can be used to search for compound names (such as the names of persons).
Take care: the symbols used for operators and the working of NEAR and other operators could vary per database. Always check the help function of the database in question!
Example: In the Sociological Abstracts database, NEAR means that the words occur in the same sentence. If you search this database for communities NEAR violence and look at the results, you will see that the words “violence” and “communities” often appear together in the abstract in the same sentence. NEAR allows you to search for terms that do not appear in a thesaurus by using keywords.