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All four operators work fine for me. Here's an article that describes how to use them in search expressions:
The important thing is to insert the operator between two words in the search expression, and not at the beginning or end of the expression (in which case you'll get the message "Help cannot search for that phrase").
That's what I was doing, (I'm using robohelp 7 to create a .chm)
If I type in
additive NEAR polymer
I get all occurences of additive and all occurences of poymer
Is there a setting that I'm missing?
No additional setting. So, your search results include topics that contain "additive" but not "polymer", "polymer" but not "additive", and both words separated by more than eight others?
If you feel comfortable sending your .chm file to me, I'd be happy to take a closer look at it. (Click my name at the left.) Failing that, perhaps you could paste the contents of your project (.hhp) file into a reply so that I can try to reproduce the problem in a test file that is based on your project settings.
I'll send the .chm