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Search the Literature: Tips and Tricks

What is truncation?

Truncation is the act or process of shortening or reducing something. In the context of literature searching, it refers to the shortening of a search term so as to bring up words that share a root word but have different endings. Truncation is a technique frequently used in keyword searching, in which it helps reduce the number of variations you have to search on separately.

For example:

This truncated Word ... Will bring up the following:
child* child childhood childlike children childrens childs
gene* gene genes genetic genetically geneticist geneticists genetics
hospital* hospital hospitals hospitalise hospitalised hospitalize hospitalized hospitalisation hospitalización hospitalization
nurs* nurse nursery nurseries nurses nursing

In most databases, the truncation symbol is the asterisk (*), though it may be any character designated by the database. Check the database's Help pages for details.

A related technique is the use of wildcards, in which a character (often the asterisk) may be substituted for zero or more letters within the interior of a word. It is useful in the case of alternative spellings, e.g., tumo*r, to bring up both tumor and tumour. Again, check the database's Help pages for details.