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Choosing & Using Library Databases: Advanced Search Techniques

Wildcard Searching

Wildcards are used for search terms with unknown characters and alternate spellings.

Wildcard symbols include:

  • ? = matches exactly one letter
  • # = match zero or one letter
  • * = matches multiple letters

Some examples using ?:

  • Plurals: wom?n -> woman, women
  • International spelling: defen?e -> defense, defence
  • Unsure of spelling: devi?nce -> deviance, devience

Some examples using #:

  • International spellings: colo#r -> color, colour
  • Plurals: color# -> color, colors
  • Unsure of spelling: gover#ment -> goverment, government
  • Combine wildcards: colo#r# -> color, colour, colors, colours

Some examples using *:

  • International spellings: orthop*dic -> orthopedic, orthopaedic
  • Related concepts: psych*y -> psychology, psychiatry, psychotherapy, psychopathy
  • Replace entire word: "A Midsummer * dream" -> A midsummer night's dream

Combining Tools

Maximize your search by combining these tools:

  • Boolean + proximity:
    • healthcare W8 (legislation OR reform OR law)
  • Truncation + Boolean
    • olympi* AND athlet*
  • Wildcard + truncation + Boolean
    • wom?n AND (equal* OR rights) AND (work* OR employ*)
  • Wildcard + proximity + truncation
    • orthop*dic N6 rehabilit*

Truncation Searching

Truncation is used to search for various endings to root words. Use the asterisk symbol (*) for truncation.

Examples of truncation:

  • International spellings:
    • theat* -> theatre, theater, ALSO theatrical
  • Various endings: 
    • comput* -> computer, computing, computation
    • psycho* -> psychology, psychopathic, psychopathology, psychotherapy
  • Use as many common letters as possible:
    • colon* -> colonoscopy, colonization, colon, colony
    • coloni* -> colonization, colonies, colonialism

Proximity Searching

Proximity searching allows you to search for two or more search terms within a specified number of words from each other.

Proximity search operators include:

  • Near (N) = ignores word order
  • Within (W) = maintains word order

Use a number with a letter in order to specify the maximum number of words to appear between your search terms, such as:

  • psychotherapy N8 benefit
  • arts W5 school

This type of searching can help narrow your results and make them more relevant. For example, instead of searching tax AND reform, search for:

  • tax W4 reform
    • Pathways to tax reform revisited
    • Tax law and healthcare reform