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Database Search Tips: Truncation/Wildcard Searching

a guide to ways to improve your searching in library databases

Why Use Wildcard Symbols?

Let's suppose we have spent some time brainstorming our topic and come up with a list of search terms we can use to search for information. Let's look at the topic of cell phones and driving, for example. 

If we were to brainstorm cell phones and driving, we might come up with the following search terms:

Topic Concept Words
cell phones (plural) driving
cellular phone (singular) drive
mobile telephone (singular) car (singular and plural)
telephones (plural) automobile (singular and plural)
device (singular and plural)

Now, we could construct the following complex search query using parenthesis to nest our terms:

(cell OR cellular OR mobile) AND (phones OR phone OR telephone OR telephones OR device OR devices) AND (driving OR drive OR car OR cars OR automobile OR automobiles)

That search should work in our database, however, it is quite a long bit of typing.

The use of wildcards can save us typing in this case.

Note: wildcard symbols vary by database, but in general, we can use an asterisk * to truncate and a question mark ? to insert a wildcard chracter.

Our revised search query might be:

(cell* or mobile) AND (phone* OR telephone* or device*) AND (driv* OR car* or automobile*)

Note it's a little less cumbersome? That's how wildcards can save you.

Finally, be aware that truncating words can be tricky if you don't choose where to truncate very carefully. In most cases, you'll not want to try to truncate terms before four letters.

Truncation/Wildcard Symbols by Database

Wildcard symbols vary by database. Here are some of the more common wildcard symbols by database.

Database

Symbol
ProQuest

* replaces any number of characters at the end of a word

? replaces one or no characters within or at the end of a word to find variations
Web of Science

* replaces zero or more characters within or at the end of a word.

? replaces one character within or at the end of a word

LexisNexis

! to search word stems

* replaces one character within a word. Use multiple * to replace a specified number of characters, e.g., psych****y will find either psychology or psychiatry, but not psychometrically

EBSCO

# replaces zero or more characters within or at the end of a word, e.g., bevavio#r will find behavior or behaviour

* replaces one or more characters at the end of a word

? replaces a single character. Use multiple ? to replace a specified number of characters, e.g., psych????y will find either psychology or psychiatry, but not psychometrically
CSA Illumina

* replaces zero or more characters within or at the end of a word

? replaces a single character. Use multiple ? to replace a specified number of characters, e.g., psych????y will find either psychology or psychiatry, but not psychometrically

JSTOR

? replaces one character within a word

* replaces one or more characters at the end of a word

# use at end of word to find related variants