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Medical Sciences: Database Search Tips: Truncation

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Truncation and Wildcards

Truncation and Wildcards are great ways to expand your search, as they broaden your search to include various word endings and spellings.

They are especially useful when you are researching a topic where there are alternate spellings (such as variations between American and British spellings), or where your topic makes use of words where there can be both singular and plural endings, or word variations where there can be multiple forms.

To use truncation, enter the root of a word and put the truncation symbol (which will vary by database, though many tend to use an asterisk (*)) at the end. The search engine will then search for any variant form that can be made from that root word.  Take care exactly what root you use as your search term, in case there might be wildly unrelated words that can be made from it which have nothing to do with your topic.

e.g.: child* will bring back results including:  child, childs, children, childrens, childhood

Wildcards are when you replace a letter in your search term with the database's wildcard symbol. This is useful for asking the search engine to find spelling variants.

e.g.: colo?r will bring back results containing either the word color or colour as results.


Truncation Searching Tips

Look for:

  • Root words that have multiple endings.  Example: sun = suns, sunshine, sunny, sunlight
  • Words that are spelled differently, but mean the same thing.  Example:  color, colour
  • Truncation/wildcard symbols vary by database.  Check the help screens to find out which symbols are used.


Truncation, also called stemming, is a technique that broadens your search to include various word endings and spellings.

  • To use truncation, enter the root of a word and put the truncation symbol at the end.
  • The database will return results that include any ending of that root word.
  • Examples:
    child* = child, childs, children, childrens, childhood
    genetic* = genetic, genetics, genetically
  • Truncation symbols may vary by database; common symbols include: *, !, ?, or #


Similar to truncation, wildcards substitute a symbol for one letter of a word.

  • This is useful if a word is spelled in different ways, but still has the same meaning.
  • Examples:
    wom!n = woman, women
    colo?r = color, colour

If you have questions about applying this technique to your search, Ask Us!

Boolean, Truncation and Quotation Searches 101