Search Basics


Some databases interchange the word truncating and wildcard but others make a distinction between them. For those that make that distinction, they will use a different symbol and the result will be different.  The rules for truncation usually mean placing the appropriate symbol at the root or stem or a word with the intend of retrieving all the varients or forms of that word. 

Wildcard symbols are more likely used to represent one character or letter either inside or at the right side of a word.  Multiple wildcards can be used to represent multiple characters but are not as broad as truncating.  Check out our "search tips cheat sheet" to see which databases do allow this capability and which symbol to use.

The symbols vary so you will need to check the Help but common ones are ! and ?

  • defen?e wiil retrieve defense or defence

  • wom?n will retrieve woman or women

  • nav!!! would retrieve navy, navies or naval but not navigation or navigating

Truncation or Stemming

Truncation or stemming is used to expand research by retrieving the potential variations of a keyword that use the same root or stem.  Use to find different forms of words in a Boolean or keyword search. Some databases use the asterisk, some use a dollar sign, and others use the question mark. The symbol may represent one character or they could represent multiple characters. They usually apply to word endings. They may or may not apply at the beginning or middle of a word. Check the help function of the database you are using to learn the truncation symbol and rules.

Check out our "search tips cheat sheet" to see which databases do allow this capability and which symbol to use.

        Terror*  will retrieve - terror, terrorist, terrorism, terrorizing, etc. 

The most common truncation symbols are * and ?

Be sure to think through the logic results before doing this as you may get unwanted words - for example:

  • You might want navy, navies or naval so you decide to try NAV* as the root but you will also get navigating, navigation, etc.
  • You are looking for police or policing so you decide to try POLIC* as the root/stem but you will also get policy or policies, etc.