Tutorial: Keyword Searching

Truncation & Wildcards

Truncation and Wildcards

Here's a handy trick you should know and use. To find variations of words easily, you can use truncation and wildcards.

Truncation goes at the end of a word and means "find any ending at all for this word".

  • It's useful for finding plural and singular, nouns and verbs.
  • Example: "pollut$" finds "pollute", "pollutes", "pollution", "polluter", "polluted", "polluting", "pollutant", "pollutants"

Wildcards are used within a word, to represent any one letter.

  • Example: "wom?n" finds "women", "woman", "womyn"

Automatic Truncation

Truncation and wildcards are extremely helpful for searching, and should never be forgotten. They'll save you time and improve your results.

However, many databases now provide automatic truncation, seamlessly searching for alternate spellings.  When this is the case, using your own truncation overrides the system default. It's often best to try your search without truncation first, and then use it if you need to control the search more accurately.


Unfortunately, the symbols used in different databases can vary.

  • Check under "Help" for the search engine you're using, to see how the symbols are interpreted.
  •  Be sure to use the correct symbol for the database you're searching.

In the Library Catalogue:

  • $ replaces 0-99 characters - use anywhere in the word
  • ? replaces any single character (but not "no character") - use anywhere in the word

In Most Indexes / Databases:

  • * goes at the end of a word to replace any number of characters
  • ? goes within a word to replace a single character

You can check under "Help" for the search engine you are using, to see exactly how these symbols are interpreted.

Tips for Truncation

  • Be careful to use the right symbol in the proper place: don't put a wildcard symbol at the end of a word or a truncation symbol within a word 
  • Don't truncate too early or too late. For instance:
    • "cat$" will find "cat" and "cats", but it will also find "catapult", "catastrophe", "cattail", and "catalogue".
    • "teenager$" will find "teenagers", but it won't find "teens".
  • Think about different forms for your terms: nouns, verbs, adjectives, plural, etc. Will they be found with your search?
  • Try to keep your terms specific.
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