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The EBM Medical Literature Search: Symbols

FAU Medical Library

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Symbols are used to help focus your search and will vary based on database. This page covers the more common ones: quotations, truncation, wildcards, and parentheses. 

" " Phrase Searching

Quotation marks "" : Use to search for the exact phase.

  • "Topical treatment"
  • "Duct tape"
  • "Drug induced reactions" 
  • "Shortness of breath"

TIP: Using quotation marks prevents the database or search engine from searching each word individually, potentially retrieving irrelevant articles. However, you do not want to include too many words, as it could cause the search to become so narrow it omits relevant articles that may have the words near each other but not next to each other. 

TIP: PubMed uses automatic term mapping (ATM) to seamlessly search and retrieve all possible synonym and MeSH entries of a searched word/term. If you are sure you only want results containing a specific term then use quotation marks as it turns off ATM. 

( ) Nesting

Parentheses ( ): Separates terms within your search, and organizes your search string to be read in a specific manner by the search engine. See "nesting," an advanced search technique, for more examples.  

* Truncation

Truncation*:  searches for multiple endings of the root keyword using an asterisk (*). 

  • Child* = Child, children, child's, childbirth, childbirths,  childibirthing, childhood, childhood's, childcare.... 
  • Depress* = Depress, depression, depressant, depressants, depressed, depresent, depressing, depressingly....


TIP: Truncation means to "shorten." When truncating, try to leave as much of the root word as possible to avoid including words that do not pertain to your topic. 

?#*! Wildcards

Wildcards ?#*!: Wildcard are similar to truncation in that they allow for multiple searches 'stemming' from the used symbol. This symbol  and function varies by searching platform, so if in doubt check out their "help" or "search tips."

Photo Attribution

Image by Mary Pahlke from Pixabay (with a single image crop modification)