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PubMed: Refine Searches

Tips and instructions for finding articles in PubMed.

PubMed Reminders

PubMed Reminders

  • Use of MeSH terms excludes most current (not yet indexed) or unindexed citations.
  • Truncation and use of quotations (“”) for phrases turns off automatic term mapping.
  • Filters remain in place until you change or remove them. Filters other than language or date will exclude NEW records that are "in process" or "supplied by Publisher."
  • Save your search using MyNCBI or download search strategy from the Advanced Search/History page
  • If VT does not own the journal, you can order it via ILLiad Interlibrary loan.  NOTE: Interlibrary loan access is restricted to students currently enrolled at VTCSOM, Virginia Tech or faculty and staff currently employed by Virginia Tech.

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 Find Research Articles tab.
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 particle 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. 

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.  See Find Research Articles tab for more information.

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 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.
  • Use the Related Articles feature.
  • 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.
  • Increase the number of synonyms or alternatives for a term.
  • Use a truncation symbol at the end of a term to pick up variant endings.  The asterisk (*) is the truncation symbol used in PubMed.  Example:  asthm* will retrieve asthma or asthmatic.
  • Try running the search on earlier years of the database.
  • 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.
  • 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.