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Thursday, February 10, 2005

Proximity Searches and Google

For any of you who use Westlaw or Lexis (where I used to work), you are no doubt familiar with proximity searches and the value it provides in cutting through the information clutter. For example, the search { technology w/5 agreement } will return documents where the word "technology" is within 5 words of the word "agreement." Technology can come before or after agreement, it just has to be within 5 words of each other.

Unfortunately, Google does not (yet) have a proximity search feature similar to Westlaw or Lexis. However, there is a WORKAROUND that I discovered by accident. And that's the use of an asterisk between words in quotations.

For example, the search { "technology agreement" } will give you the exact phrase "technology agreement." That most of you already know. However, what if you didn't necessarily want the an exact phrase, but wanted the words to be close to each other. Then use the asterisk.

The search { "technology * agreement" } will return results where the word "technology" appears exactly one word before the word "agreement."

The search { "technology * * agreement" } will return results where the word "technology" appears exactly two words before the word "agreement."

The search { "technology * * * * * * * * * * agreement" } will return results where the word "technology" appears exactly ten words before the word "agreement."

And so on.

Of course, I'm not the only one to discover this neat little trick. In writing this post, I did a Google search for proximity searching on Google. And came up with this Google API Proximity Search. It's a form that allows you to conduct proximity searches within 3 words of each other. It essentially combines multiple searches into one search result. Although, the first word still must appear first in the results.

Happy searching.

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