Truncating words

TRUNCATION, also called stemming, is a technique that broadens your search to include various word endings and spellings.

To use truncation, enter the root of a word and put the truncation symbol at the end.
The truncation symbol is * (asterisk).

The database will return results that include any ending of that root word.

  • For example: child* gives you child, children, childhood etc.

Pay attention to the spot where you place the truncation mark. If you truncate too early, there will be false hits due to non-relevant terms fulfilling the condition. If you truncate too late, something remains undiscovered.

Text and pictures of piles of books, symbolizing the number of results. Analysis, 12 176 results, a medium size pile. Analysis*, 11 267 results, a smaller pile. Analys*, 13 320 results, a bigger pile. Analyz*, 486 results, a very small pile. Analy*, 16 162 results, a very big pile. Ana*, 19 097 results, a huge pile. The term ‘analy*’ is highlighted.
See an example how the spot where you place the truncation mark affects the result. The largest number is received when the truncation covers forms: analysis, analyses, analyse, analyze, analysing, analyzing, analysed, analyzed, analyser, analytical. Too wide truncation results not just analysis related hits, but also for instance analog, anarchism, anatomy etc.

Wildcards replace letters

A bit similar to truncation, wildcards substitute a symbol for one or one/zero letter of a word.

  • A wildcard replacing one character is usually ? (Web of Science, Scopus, ProQuest)
    For example: organi?ation
  • A wildcard replacing zero or one character is for instance $ (Web of Science) – not every database offer this possibility
    For example: colo$r

Replacing a character is useful for instance if you are not sure about the spelling:

  • eri?son retrieves ericson and erikson
  • hof$man retrieves hofman and hoffman

Wildcard is also useful if a word is spelled in different ways, but still has the same meaning.

  • advis?r retrieves adviser and advisor

Notice, that colo?r does not find color, since there must be one character replacing ‘?’. A better solution could be a truncation mark: colo*r.
On the other hand, using truncation within a word might be tricky, if there are other possible matches for the truncated term, for instance gauge/gage: if you use ga*ge, you will get also garbage and garage.

Watch a video ‘Search techniques: Truncation & Wildcards’ (1:09) by QUT Library. The link in the picture will take you to YouTube.

Stemming and lemmatisation usually helps

Many databases can automatically recall some inflected forms of words, typically singulars/plurals and sometimes conjugations too. Also American-British spelling variations are taken care of by the system.

  • color might retrieve also color, colors, colour, colours, and in some cases even coloring, colouring

Notice 1. If you use phrases in your queries, this automatism won’t work!

  • “level of organization” won’t find “level of organisation” or “levels of organization”
  • instead you can use: ” level*  of  organi*ation “

Notice 2. If you are interested for instance in cycling (riding a bike) and want to avoid other, wrong forms like cycle, you can either use truncation: cycling* or a phrase: “cycling”.

To Do:

  1. See your search terms and think about if they need truncation. Place the truncation mark to a right spot.
  2. Notice especially phrases and a need of truncation there.
  3. Notice also, if the truncation might lead to possible “wrong” results. This is usually not a problem, if you use several search terms together.

Next page: Operators connecting words