Working as a medical writer involves countless hours reading medical literature – that’s where our handy PubMed search tips can help you save time (and sanity).
PubMed is the largest online database worldwide frequently used by health writers to search for medical research.
If you’re regularly using PubMed to search for high-quality evidence, you may find you’re spending unnecessary and valuable time reading countless abstracts to find relevant medical articles.
Regardless of whether you’re new to sourcing published medical articles from a PubMed search or have been using the database since studying at University, there are a few helpful search tips to save you time finding quality articles for your health writing projects.
Firstly, what is PubMed?
Even if you use PubMed often, it’s useful to refresh your mind when it comes to the detail of how it works. PubMed is one of MEDLINE’s commercial vendors. MEDLINE indexes most medical and scientific globally published articles in a database compiled by the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM).
A distinctive feature of MEDLINE is that the articles are indexed with the NLM Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), which is a great tool to help your searches (more on MeSH later).
Surprisingly user-friendly once you get used to searching the database, PubMed is available free online.
PubMed search tips
PubMed comes with ready-made search filters to help you find articles relevant for your writing. The type of search you’re conducting will determine how you use PubMed, so the most important part of your search is to determine firstly what you are looking for prior to searching the database.
There are two types of searches you may conduct:
- A focused PubMed search that looks for specific information that relates to your writing.
Search tip: Enter search terms or key concepts in the PubMed search box. For example, if you’re searching for ‘What role does pain have in sleep disorders?’ the key concepts are ‘pain’ and ‘sleep disorders’.
Search tip: Alternately you may search using a restricted thesaurus of medical titles, known as MeSH terms.
- Sourcing a known article or an article you have read previously you would like to find again.
Search tip: Articles can be found by any words listed in an article’s title, abstract, author’s names and institution where the research was done.
Search tip: A handy search tool is the single citation matcher that allows you to enter the information you have in the fill-in-the-blank boxes.
More about MeSH
MeSH essentially works as a vocabulary thesaurus that places a set of terms in a general or specific order. Related concepts help you find the most relevant MeSH descriptor depending on what you are searching. For example, if you type in the term ‘vitamin C’ it will also find ‘ascorbic acid’.
MeSH can be particularly useful if your initial search gives you no articles or not as many as you expected, as it can find related articles using keyword searches. This makes PubMed a great tool for finding articles outside the scope of your key word search.
Other PubMed search tips
An advanced PubMed search allows you to select specific fields, such as author or journal title in combination, which is really useful if you’re looking for a list of articles written on a specific clinical area by an author.
Another search option is clinical queries on the PubMed homepage, which allows you to search for studies that report applied clinical research. You can find citations for a specific clinical study category, which is useful if you’re looking for articles from one clinical area.
Do you have any other useful PubMed search tips? Feel free to share in the comments below.