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Literature Searching: Search Tips

Search Tips

Most databases are not intelligent and will search for exactly what you type in.

You can make your search more effective and save yourself time by using truncation symbols and wildcards to find different spellings and word endings.

  • Hint - not all databases use the same truncation and wildcard symbols, so it is important to check the help screens before you start searching.  Please see the Database search tips below for further help.


Truncating your term will look for variations in word endings, for example:

  • child* will also find child's, children, childrens, childish, childlike, childhood
  • fall* will also find falls, falling


Wildcards allow you to search for spelling variations, for example:

  • In 'Find It', ? is used to replace a single character, so wom?n will find woman or women
  • # is used to replace one or more characters, so p#ediatric will find pediatric as well as paediatric

Exact Phrase

Enclosing your terms in quotation marks will search for the exact words next to each other in the order entered, for example:

  • "older adults"
  • "fear of falling"

Search tips for the different databases


Proximity enables you to specify that 2 words should be near to each other or a certain distance from each other, for example:

  • in 'Find It', lung N3 cancer will find the word lung within 3 words of the word cancer, so will find lung cancer as well as cancer of the lung.
  • Fall* N2 risk will find the word fall/falls/falling within 2 words of the word risk, so will find falls risk or risk of falling.
  • in the Cochrane Library, lung NEAR/3 cancer or fall* NEAR/2 risk has the same function.

Hint: each database has it's own way of proximity searching, so check the online help before you start searching.