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How to Search the Literature (Advanced)

This guide offers an eight step approach from identifying your topic to managing your search strategy and results


Truncation and wildcards can be applied to a keyword search in a database or search engine to broaden your results and allow you to look for variations of words.

The truncation symbol can be used in a keyword search to retrieve alternate word endings

  • Use truncation to avoid having to think of and type out all possible variations of a word
    • e.g. surg* will retrieve surgery, surgeries, surgeon, or surgical
  • Use with caution to ensure relevant words are being retrieved; in some cases, you should avoid truncating a keyword too far to the left
    • e.g. stud* will retrieve study, studies, student, students, etc.
  • Truncation symbols can vary among databases:
    • Ovid Databases (e.g. Medline, Embase, AMED, PsycINFO) truncation symbol is an asterisk (*) or dollar sign ($)
    • EBSCO Databases (e.g. CINAHL, SPORTDiscus, Social Science Index) truncation symbol is an asterisk (*)
    • PubMed truncation symbol is an asterisk (*)
    • Web of Science truncation symbol is an asterisk (*)
    • Check the help screen of other databases to find out which symbols are used


Wildcards are symbols that can optionally replace a single letter in a word

  • This is useful when dealing with variant spelling (e.g. pediatric and paediatric)
  • Wildcard symbols can vary among databases:
    • Ovid Databases wildcard is the question mark (?)
      • e.g. p?ediatric will return results with paediatric or pediatric
    • EBSCO Databases wildcard is the question mark (?) or  hash tag (#)
    • Web of Science wildcard is the dollar sign ($) or question mark (?)
    • Check the help screen of other databases to find out which symbols are used