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PubMed Searching

PubMed

 

A Brief Introduction to PubMed

Basic Search

Pubmed Interactive Tutorial

Do

  • Enter search terms into the search box.
    • For articles by citation, enter whatever citation elements you have. Example: neale science 2019. 
    • For articles by author, search the author’s last name and initials. Example: fagerness j.
    • For articles by journal, use the complete journal title, ISSN or title abbreviation: Example: lancet oncol. 
  • Be specific about what you are looking for!
  • Add field tags as needed. Example: 2019[dp] for articles published in 2019.
  • Use Boolean operators as needed: AND, OR, NOT.

Don't

  • Use quotation marks around phrases

Information provided by the National Library of Medicine (NLM). This information and more can be found on the NLM New PubMed website.  

New PubMed homepage with search bar and menu options

Basic Search Features

  • Enhanced synonymy (including plural forms)
    • Example: when searching "lunch", "lunches" and "lunching" are automatically included. 
  • British / American automatic term mapping
    • Example: when searching "pediatric," "paediatric" is automatically included. 
  • Unlimited truncation
    • Legacy PubMed only used the first 600 variations of a truncated stem. New Pubmed offers  unlimited truncations for more results.
  • Note: Due to the above-listed new features, new PubMed provides more results than you'd see using the same search on legacy PubMed. This may be significant if you are conducting a systematic or scoping review, or need to keep track of the number of search results for a specific query.

What is PubMed searching when you add search terms?

PubMed searches more than just the words or phrases you type into Basic search. This is called Automatic Term Mapping. Check what other terms PubMed is automatically searching; you can troubleshoot a query in which results have gone off the rails. Follow the steps below.

1. Type in your search terms (in this example "de quervain's tenosynovitis treatment")

2. On the results page, click "Advanced" under the search bar.

A screenshot of a search for "de quervain's tenosynovitis treatment" with a box around the word "advanced" below the search bar and an arrow pointing to it.

3. Scroll down to the "History and Search Details" section. Click on the > below the Details heading.

Screen shot of the advanced search page with an arrow pointing to the ">" below the details heading at the bottom of the page under the History and Search Details sections.

4. View the full search that PubMed is running: all MeSH terms used, as well as synonyms, translations, and British / American automatic term mapping. 

A screenshot of all of the MeSH terms and other terminology that is being included in the "de quervain's tenosynovitis treatment" search

 

Advanced Search

PubMed Advanced Interactive Tutorial

Advanced Search Builder

1. Add first search term to query box.

2. Add additional search term into "enter a search term" box. Use dropdown arrow in blue "Add" box to decide whether you want the first and second search terms to be connected with Boolean operators "AND", "OR", or "NOT".

A screenshot of an advanced search screen with an arrow pointing to the first search term in the query box, another arrow indicating where subsequent search terms are added, and an arrow pointing to the dropdown of option next to the "add" button.

A screenshot of the query box on the advanced search page showing two terms combined with "AND"

3. Add more search terms.

Pro Tip: Before you start searching, write key concepts and synonyms out (in PICO-style format if applicable). Record terms and synonyms in a simple table with rows and columns. Excel, scratch paper, Google Doc, it's your preference.

4. When finished adding search terms, click "search" next to query box to see results.

A box around the all of the added search terms in the advance search page of PubMed with an arrow next to the "Search" box

See How Many Results You'll Get Using "Add to Search History"

Instead of hitting the search button, use the dropdown arrow and select "add to history".

A screenshot of the advance search page showing the query box and an arrow pointing to the dropdown on the "search" button where you can select "add to history"

Scroll to Search History / Search details section. View number of results for each query in your Search History. Results numbers are indicators; they let you know whether you should expand or refine your search terms, based on the number of results in Search History.

A screenshot of the advanced search page in PubMed with arrows indicating where to see the number of search results under the "Results" heading in the History and Search Details section

Build Complex Searches Using Search History

So you've created several simple searches and added them to search history. Now what? Combine your simple searches into a large, complex search that focuses on the intersections between several simple searches. There are two methods for creating complex searches:

1. On Advanced Search page, scroll down to Search History. Click the "..." under the Actions heading of one of the searches that you would like to mix and match. 

Arrow pointing to the three periods under the Actions section of the History and Search Details box on the Advanced Search page.

Select "Add query." Your search moves into the query box.

A box around the "add query" option with an arrow pointing to the phrase.

An arrow showing the search from the history that is now in the query box.

Continue to add small searches to the query box in the same way. Choose a Boolean operator ("AND", "OR", and "NOT") as you combine searches. Example: connecting simple searches with AND looks for intersections between those simple searches.

A box and bracket showing the options to add another search to the query box with "and", "or", or "not".

Run your new search through PubMed, or add it to your history. In the screenshots, you can see that combining searches with AND produced a much smaller number of results than either of the two simple searches individually. Depending on your searches and the Boolean operator that you use to connect them, the number of results may be much larger or smaller.

Remember:

  • AND limits your results to the intersections between simple searches, and is often used to find intersections between discreet queries or topic chunks.
  • OR expands your results, and is often used to search for synonyms or related concepts.

An arrow pointing to the new number of search results when two searches are combined using "and"

OR

2. Alternative Approach: Use Boolean operators to combine search numbers in the query box. Search numbers can be found under Search History.

A box around the search column in the History and search details box. Also, the phrase "#1 and #2" has been typed in the query box. An arrow points to the "and".

Run search through PubMed, or add to your search history. In the screenshot below, note that both methods of creating complex searches will return the same results.

A box around two searches in the History and Search Details section. It shows that the two methods of combining searches provide the same number of search results (just two different ways of getting the same results).

More info on Advanced Search can be found on the Advanced Search section of the PubMed User Guide. 

Results Page

  1. Results by Year
    • Displays number of records by date of publication. Use slider to limit range of years.
  2. Save
  3. Send To
    • If exporting selected results to citation manager software (EndNote, Mendeley, Perla, Zotero), select Citation Manager. Import following citation manager guidelines.
  4. Sort Results by Best Match (default)
    • Records most relevant to your search will be available at the top.
    • Other options including sort by most recent publication date, by author, by journal, etc. 
  5. Display: Abstract snippets with highlights
    • You can view the parts of the abstract where your search terms/mapped terms appear on the results screen
  6. Filters
  7. Advanced search
  8. Cite and Share
    • Small links to the left of abstract snippets. Quick way to grab a record's permalink, share to social media, or grab full citation metadata without opening the full record.

NLM New PubMed includes video walk-through of this info.

Using Search Filters

In PubMed results' left navigation, you'll find filters. These filters narrow your search results.

A box around the filters in the left sidebar on the results page

You can filter results based on publication date, article type, and text availability. Select "additional filters" option at the bottom of the sidebar to see more filter options.

An arrow pointing to the "additional filters" button at the bottom of the list of filters on the left side of the page.

Select filters to apply to your search.

1. select broad category of filter (article type, age, etc.) 

2. check off specific filters, and

3. click "show" to see those filters appear on your search screen.

Shows the additional filters screen with arrows pointing to the broader categories on the left side and to the show button.

Additional filters appear in left navigation, beneath default filters.

arrows pointing to new filters on the bottom left column on the screen

Newly applied filters appear at top of search screen, with a yellow highlight around them. Note: when filters within the same category are applied (i.e. when multiple boxes are checked under one heading), PubMed is searching using "OR" so you will have more results with more boxes checked in one category. 

A box around the filters applied at the top of the search page

Remove all filters by selecting "clear all." If you are looking to remove individual filters, un-check them in the left navigation. 

arrows pointing to where you can clear filters or un-check boxes

MeSH (Medical Subject Headings) 

"MeSH (Medical Subject Headings) is the NLM controlled vocabulary thesaurus used for indexing articles for PubMed." In other words, MeSH is a taxonomy designed to help researchers find studies based on subject content. Searching with MeSH is a helpful and thorough complement to searching with keywords and phrases.

Example: influenza[tiab] OR "influenza, human"[Mesh]

This example search returns studies including keyword influenza anywhere in the title or abstract, OR results indexed or "tagged" by PubMed's algorithm as containing substantial content on human influenza. 

An arrow indicating where on the home page of PubMed to find the MeSH database link.

Interested in a text tutorial? Click the PDF link below:

Proximity Search

You can use proximity searching to search for multiple terms appearing in any order within a specified distance of one another in the [Title] or [Title/Abstract] fields.

To create a proximity search in PubMed, enter your terms using the following format:

"search terms"[field:~N]

Proximity search is not compatible with truncation. 

PubMed's User Guide: Proximity Search

 

Abstract Screen

  • Previous and Next
    • Page through PubMed results from the abstract screen. Hover cursor over previous or next result arrow (far left and far right side of screen, respectively). Note a pop-up abstract preview for that result.

 

The abstract page of PubMed with circles showing how to get to the previous and next results

  • MeSH terms, Publication Types, etc.
    • Search integration is available for MeSH terms, publication types, and other terms that appear blue with an arrow on the right side for an article on the abstract screen. Click these to view a drop down menu with options: search MeSH, search PubMed, add to search.

An example of Publication types, MeSH terms, and other terms in blue with the dropdown menu showing options to search in PubMed, in MeSH, and to add to search.

Guides and Tutorials

PubMed on Mobile

The new PubMed interface is optimized for use on mobile devices. Full text access is available on mobile devices.