Saturday, February 19, 2005

Research Tip - Wildcards

After our tip on Truncation earlier this week, someone asked how they could search for bank, banked, banker and banking, without also retrieving bankrupt and bankruptcy. Truncation won't work, because a search for bank! would retrieve all words beginning with the root of "bank" including bankrupt and bankruptcy.

Both Westlaw and LexisNexis use the asterisk (*) as a wildcard or universal character, to replace a single character. For example, sw*m would retrieve swim, swam and swum. The asterisk can be used anywhere within or at the end of a search term, but it cannot be used to replace the first character. Use one asterisk for each character you want to replace.

Used within a search term, the wildcard requires that a character appear in that position. Therefore, you cannot use a wildcard to retrieve both the U.S. judgment and the English judgement. A search for judg*ment would retrieve only the English spelling of judgement. However, a search for bernst**n would find both the ei and the ie spelling of the name.

When you place wildcards at the end of a search term, they do not all have to be filled. The number of wildcards you use merely specifies the maximum length of the search term. So, a search for bank*** would retrieve bank, banked, banker and banking, but it would not retrieve the longer words, bankrupt and bankruptcy because bank*** can only retrieve words with three or fewer letters after the root of "bank".

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