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Database Search Tips

This guide provides general techniques and tips to help you search databases more effectively.

What are these and how are they helpful?

Truncation and Wildcard searching use symbols to replace letters in words.  This tells the database to search for variations of your search term, allowing you to retrieve more results than when searching with one word.

Try it when searching for:

  • Words that may have multiple endings: sun, sunny, sunshine, suns, etc.
  • Words that are spelled differently but mean the same thing: color, colour, etc.


Truncation, also called stemming, allows you to search for all variations of a word with multiple endings.  It uses the root word followed by a truncation symbol at the end.  Different databases and search engines use different symbols. The asterisk (*) is the most comon, but check the help pages of the database to verify which symbol to use.  Some databases automatically search for plurals but others do not.  Truncation searching ensures that plural versions of your search term are included in your results.


  • comput* will search for computer, computes, computing, etc
  • histor* will search for history, historical, histories, etc.
  • child* will search for child, children, childs, childhood, etc.



Wildcards are symbols used to replace letters in words where there are unknown or multiple possible characters.  The letters are often replaced by the question mark (?) or pound sign (#). Again, check the help pages of the database to verify the which symbol to use.


  • wom?n will search for woman or women
  • colo?r will search for color or colour
  • psych?ic will search for psychic, psychotic, psychopathic, psychopathologic

Adding an asterisk (*) to the end of wildcard searches will retrieve the plurals of those words too.