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Education: Using Symbols and Troubleshooting

Assistance on finding Education resources.

Using Wildcards & Truncation Symbols

Typing shortcuts

Truncation: allows you to search for variations of a word without having to type each word out. Just type the root word and then add the database's truncation symbol at the end.

  • Note, there is no universal truncation symbol - but most databases use * If you are unsure click the database's help link and look through the menu for truncation.

So, type


rather than

standards OR standardized OR standardization
  • make sure to use a long enough root before adding the truncation symbol -
    • man* will bring back results containing: mankind, manager, manuscript, manifold and every other word which begins with "MAN."
Putting it all together: AND, OR, truncation, & phrase search

Wildcards: allow you to search for terms that have different characters in the middle, rather than at the end of their roots. The wildcard is represented by a question mark ? or a pound sign #.

For example, typing in wom?n will bring back results for both woman and women.

For useful results only use wildcards for terms which are variations of the same word.

Eg., typing b?nd will bring back band, bend, bind, and bond - none of which are related terms.




This is most important if your results are unsatisfactory. Did you get no, or very few results? It may be that that you need to revise your search strategy:

  • Broaden your search: perhaps some elements of your topic are too narrow, i.e., a geographic region, demographic group or area of focus that is quite small. For example, try Canada instead of B.C., teenagers instead of 14-16 year-olds, or junk food instead of chips.
  • Extrapolate from similar research: there might not be any research on your specific topic. However, you may find research on a closely related topic that you can apply to your own interest area. For example, if there is nothing on blueberry production check you may find relevant information on raspberries or another similar berry crop.
  • Try older search terms: terminology can change over time - don't forget to consider whether or not your keywords were in common usage for the time frame you are researching. For example, when searching for topics related to the environment, don't forget to include older terms like ecology.
  • Try a new database: there may be a better database for your interest area. Some databases are very general, and some are very narrow - consult the Library research guide for your topic area for other database suggestions.
  • Learn from your results list: scan the first few pages of results to see if you can analyze what worked and what didn't.
    • Are there a lot of irrelevant results because one of your keywords has multiple meanings? Try using NOT to eliminate these.
    • Are there barely any results when you are sure there should be a lot of research on your topic? Try adding more synonyms.
      • if you're stuck - check a thesaurus to find more synonyms.
      • also - if you get even one relevant result - scan it for synonyms and related terminology
  • Amend your topic: as a last resort you may need to shift your focus. Occasionally there just isn't any research on a particular topic.
    • check in with your instructor or the librarian for some help with refocussing your topic.