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PubMed: Refine Searches

Quick PubMed Tips to Refine Searches

Try This ... In PubMed ...
Use Filters
  1. Limit your search by using the Filters on the Results page sidebar. Choose the restrictions for your search, e.g., a specific language, article type (e.g., randomized controlled trials, review), date, or subset of PubMed, e.g., nursing journals, cancer or bioethics.
  2. To limit to evidence-based citations see the entry below for Clinical Queries.

Note: Filters remain in place until you change or remove them. Limits other than language or date will exclude NEW records that are "in process" or "supplied by Publisher."

Search by phrase ("") Add quotations around words to tell PubMed to find an exact phrase.
Search for words in the title [ti] Search for words in article titles. (Do not use this for comprehensive searches.)
   Ex: chlorhexidine[ti] AND bathing[ti]
Search by Author [au] Search for a particular author.
   Ex: Flum DR[au]
Find Related Citations Related articles, citations closely related to the original citation, are available in the Abstract format. These citations are displayed by relevancy and may be reviewed and added to the clipboard, saved, or printed. For more information, visit NLM's tutorial.

Use Clinical Queries

specialized searches to find evidence-based citations

Enter your search terms, and evidence-filtered citations will appear under Clinical Study Categories, Systematic Reviews, or Medical Genetics. The Clinical Queries link is found under More Resources at the top of the Advanced Search screen and on the PubMed home page. 

Construct a search using MeSH terms

MeSH terms (Medical Subject Headings) are assigned to all indexed articles in PubMed; they are a key to finding relevant articles

Once you've indentified an article that looks relevant, take a look at the article's MeSH terms.
  • In the abstract view, click on the + next to Publication Types, MeSH terms.
  • Click on the term to send it to the PubMed search box.
  • You may combine terms, but you may receive better results by starting with two or three terms.
  • You may add keywords to your search to narrow your results.
Use Advanced Search Builder

Click on Advanced below the PubMed search box.

See MeSH/Advanced Search tab

Narrow or Broaden your search

See Hints for Improving Search Results below.

Hints for Improving Search Results

No References or Too Few References

  • Look for misspellings in your strategy.
  • Decrease the number of concepts searched.
  • Try a broader search term.
  • Use a truncation symbol at the end of a term to pick up variant endings. The asterick (*) is the truncation symbol used in PubMed. Example: asthm* will retrieve asthma or asthmatic.
  • Increase the number of synonyms or alternatives for a term.
  • Use the Related Citations feature.
  • Use a term from the thesaurus (i.e., MeSH or subject heading list) for searching.
  • Select a citation of interest and click the title to see the Abstract Display (or select citations, add to the Clipboard, go to the Clipboard, and click Display Settings and change to abstract view). Below the abstract click the plus sign to the left of MeSH Terms, Substances. Click on Terms of interest and add search terms. For more information see the MeSH tab.
  • Check for missing or incorrect field qualifiers.
  • Remove terms that are unlikely to be used by an author.
  • Replace terms that are too general or too specific.
  • Try a different database.

Too Many References

  • Choose the most specific subject headings or most significant key words.
  • Use subheadings to narrow the focus of the subject heading if appropriate.  Age groups, subheadings, and publications types cheat sheet.
  • Increase the number of search concepts that are ANDed together.
  • Use fewer synonyms for terms.
  • Make a term from the thesaurus (i.e. subject heading list or controlled vocabulary) the main focus of the article ("major" in PubMed).
  • Limit to review articles by using Filters.
  • Limit your search to type of article, language, age group, current years, etc. by using Filters.
  • Ask for significant words to be in the TITLE of the article.

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