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Information Skills

Videos and online tutorials to support and develop information skills.

Wildcards, Truncation and Phrases

When entering keywords into MultiSearch or the library's databases, use these three tricks to help you get the best results:

  • Inserting Wildcards (?, #) to search for alternate spelling of words
  • Working with truncation (*) to search for variations of keywords
  • Searching for phrases using quotation marks.

In this tutorial, you will learn when and how to use these keyword search tools to bring back better search results. 

What Are They?


Wildcards allow you to search for alternate spellings of words. By replacing a letter with a question mark, an asterisk or a hash symbol you are quickly able to search for both the American and British versions of search terms. Note that some databases use different symbols as wildcards so check vendor's help pages before using them.  The asterisk is the most commonly used option. For example:

analy?e = analyse or anlayze

behavio*r = behaviour or behavior

colo#r = colour or color

synthesi*e = synthesize or synthesise

Analy*e AND Behavio*r


To truncate a word, reduce it to its most basic form or root word. In this example, we are using ‘counsel’. Place an asterisk at the end of the root word to find multiple endings. The database will search for all the variant forms of the word, its tenses, plurals and in some cases alternate spellings. For example:

counsel* = counselling, counseling, counsellor, counselled, counsel and so on.

Counsel* OR Psychotherap* OR Therap*


When a phrase is enclosed by double quotation marks, the exact phrase is searched. You can use this when you are looking for a specific title from a reading list or for a particular phrase or term. For example:

“cognitive behaviour therapy”

"type 2 diabetes"

“Cognitive behavior therapy” OR “Cognitive behaviour therapy”