Module 2: How to formulate a good search query?

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2.2. Truncation symbols (wildcards)

Some search terms are very similar. In that case, it is best to use a truncation symbol or wildcard to easily combine all these similar search terms. The two main truncation symbols are:

* (asterisk)

  • The wildcard '*' is used to replace one or multiple characters. Usually, this symbol can only be used after the word stem.
  • Example: fruit* for fruit, fruits, fruitful, etc.

? (question mark)

  • The wildcard '?' is used to replace one character. This symbol can be used after a word and in some databases also in the middle of a word.
  • Examples:
    • fruit? for fruit and fruits (but not for fruitful)
    • wom?n for woman and women


  • The trick is to not truncate too early or too late in a word. When looking for information on obesity, it is best to type in 'obes*' and not for example 'ob*'.
  • Careful! In a minority of the databases available the functions of * and ? in a search query are used the other way round.