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PubMed Tips & Tricks: Tips & Tricks for Navigating PubMed

Topic Searching

Combine keywords using "AND" or "OR" - "AND" finds the intersection of the concepts. "OR" finds any one of the concepts.

  • smoking cessation AND evaluation studies
  • pregnancy AND substance abuse AND program evaluation
  • needs assessment AND health promotion 
  • (environmental design OR organizational culture) AND (health promotion OR health behavior)

TIP: Searches can be combined or used in subsequent searches using Advanced - Search History.

Search by Field Using Field Tags

One way to limit your search to particular fields is by using field tags, such as [ti] to search a title word, [au] to search an author name word, [ta] to search a journal title word, etc.

Example: "food desert"[ti] searches for this phrase in the article title.

A complete list of all PubMed field tags as well as description of each is available from PubMed Help

Displaying Results

Different results displays give you different information. Click on Summary for additional formats (above the results list).

  • Summary—default display showing citation information--author, title, source, PMID#
  • Abstract—citation, plus author affiliation, abstract, and  (to find full text)
  • Medline—format for bibliographic management software such as EndNote.  

Saving Citations

Save useful citations as you search. Just check the box to the left of the citation you want to save. Then, use the drop down menu "Send to" above the results list to the right to save temporarily to the "Clipboard", or permanently to one of your "Collections" (requires login to My NCBI).

Send to menu

Thanks to Michael Sholinbeck and the Berkeley Library, University of California, for allowing us to reuse content from their LibGuide.

PubMed Online Tutorials

Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)

Finding the Medical Subject Heading (MeSH) term for your search topic can often retrieve more relevant results and help ensure that you don't miss articles.

  • Trained indexers analyze the content of the articles and assign MeSH terms and subheadings
  • Allows you to do more focused searching
  • When you search a MeSH term, all more specific terms are automatically included

There are two ways to access the MeSH database. 

Getting to the MeSH Database

NOTE: Not all concepts are represented well in MeSH. If you cannot find a relevant MeSH term for your topic, try searching for it in the title. For example, "life course" [ti]

MeSH terms have a variety of subheadings that you can use to focus your results more precisely. Some useful subheadings for public health include: epidemiologyprevention and control, and statistics and numerical data.

MeSH database

If you are still getting too many results, another way to focus your results is to make the MeSH term the main point of the article. To do this, check the Restrict to MeSH Major Topic box below the subheadings list. Or, in the search box, replace the [mesh] tag with [majr].

Restrict to major topic

What is PubMed? Why do I need to learn how to search it?

PubMed is the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s (NLM) premiere search system for health information.  It is available for FREE on the internet.

PubMed (Public MEDLINE) is a search engine for the MEDLINE database.  MEDLINE contains journal citations and abstracts for biomedical literature from around the world.

Coverage goes back to 1946 with over 27 million citations from over 5,000 biomedical journals published in the U.S. and worldwide.

Even More Research Guides