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 typically goes at the end of a word root and means "find any number of letters in this spot". Sometimes it can be used with a word, also.

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

Wildcards are typically used 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.

Tips for Truncation

  • Be careful to use the right symbol in the proper place. 
    • ‚Äč"treaties*" won't find "treaty"
  • 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.