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PubMed Guide | Guía de PubMed

A guide to using PubMed for new and advanced users with videos, tutorials, a walkthrough exercise, and other resources. Incluye instrucciones en español.

Sample Search Topic: Depression in Cancer

In this walkthrough tutorial, we will cover how to use PubMed to find articles on the sample topic “depression in cancer.” Complete the steps described along with this guide to practice using PubMed.

Please note: PubMed is updated constantly, so don’t worry if your results don’t match the ones in the images exactly.

Start by clicking here to access PubMed via FIU.

Simple Keyword Searches in PubMed

PubMed can be used for quick Google-like keyword searches, which you can do from the homepage.

The good news: it’s a fast way to access scholarly articles on a topic.

The bad news: (1) with over 29 million citations in PubMed, you are likely to retrieve too many results, many of which may be irrelevant and (2) because of differences in terminology use, you may miss a lot of relevant results too.

For best results, always start your searches with the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH).

Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)

Many databases, including PubMed, allow you to use subjects as well as keywords. What is the difference?

Keywords are the words we tend to use in daily life: "heart attack," "cancer," etc. They are what you enter when doing simple searches in PubMed. However, when you search for a keyword, you are depending on the authors of an article using the same keywords you did. If so, your keywords will match the words used in the article's title, abstract, etc. and it will show up in your search results.

Subjects are the field's professional terms: "myocardial infarction," "neoplasms," etc. Subjects are assigned to each citation by indexers to ensure your searches catch all articles on a topic even if the authors did not use the same keywords you did. For example, if you search for "lung cancer" but the author used the phrase "pulmonary neoplasms" instead, you may not find that article with keywords, but you will find it if you search for the subject "lung neoplasms."

PubMed's subjects are called MeSH terms. Each citation included in PubMed is reviewed by an indexer and assigned MeSH terms that describe it to ensure your searches catch all articles on a topic even if different authors use different words for the same concept (such as cancer vs. neoplasm vs. tumor). Although PubMed automatically maps keywords to subjects, to ensure only the subjects you want are used, use the MeSH database to select the subjects yourself.

Access the MeSH database from the “More Resources” column on the homepage.

To use the MeSH database, type a keyword in the text box at the top of the page and click “Search.”

You will get a list of MeSH terms in the results page with a brief definition of each. Click on a term to see its entry. In this case, we will click on “Neoplasms."

MeSH entries include a full definition of the term, a list of subheadings, and more. Read the definition to make sure this is the term you want, then check any subheadings that interest you. If you want to include all the subheadings in your search, don’t check any of the boxes.

Below the subheadings you will see an option that says “Restrict to MeSH Major Topic.” Check this box only if you want this particular MeSH term to be the major focus of an article.

For this sample search, we will choose the “psychology” subheading but leave the “Restrict to MeSH Major Topic” box blank.

Once you have checked any boxes you want to use, click the “Add to search builder” button on the left to add the MeSH term to your search.

Repeat the process for every keyword you want to include in your search. Go ahead and try it again now for the keyword “depression.” Notice PubMed includes two MeSH terms for depression: (1) "Depression" for an affective state and (2) "Depressive Disorder" for the affective disorder. For our sample search, we will use the MeSH term "Depression."

Once you have added all MeSH terms to your search, the complete search phrase will appear on the left in the box titled “PubMed search builder.”

By default, PubMed will place an “AND” between your MeSH terms, but you can change to a different Boolean operator by clicking on the drop-down menu below the search builder box before adding a MeSH term to the search phrase.

Before running the search, always double-check the search phrase to make sure everything is correct and don’t forget to add/edit parentheses as needed to keep related concepts together. Once you click “Search PubMed,” you will be taken directly to the PubMed database and will have to go back to the home page if you want to search for more MeSH terms.

Ready? Click “Search PubMed.”

PubMed Search Results and Filters

Your PubMed results will be listed in order of publication date by default, with the most recent articles first. The terms you searched will be in bold.

Your next step is to limit the results, if you would like to, by categories such as publication date, language, article type, and more. You can find these options at the left of the search results page. Click “Show additional filters” to see all the options available.

In this example, we will limit the results to review articles in English published in the last 5 years.

Filters are useful for applying exclusion criteria to your searches and for limiting the number of results. Notice we decreased our results using filters from an overwhelming 2,000+ articles to a much more manageable 82 articles.

Please note: PubMed will apply your filters to all subsequent searches until you manually clear them, even if you exit PubMed and return later. Don’t forget to click the “Clear all” link on the filter column when you no longer need them.

Citation Entries in PubMed

Click on the article titles in the search results page to view citation entries.

Each citation entry will include the article and journal titles, authors and affiliations, and full journal citation information (including volume, issue, and page numbers), as well as an abstract when available. Citation entries also include a list of related citations that share MeSH headings with the citation you are viewing.

Get the Full Text

If you access PubMed through the FIU link, you may see a “Find It @ FIU” icon or link at the top right corner of each citation entry:  

find it icon - or - find it icon small

Click on the icon or link to get the article from the FIU Libraries.

You can also use the "Find It @ FIU" citation linker on the library homepage to check for access through the FIU Libraries.

Remember: you must log in through off-campus access from the library homepage to have access to the articles from off-campus locations.

Results Page Display

You can customize the way your search results page looks on PubMed. On your results page, click the small down arrow () next to the “Display Settings” link.

You can change the options listed in order to view abstracts on the main page, increase or decrease the number of results displayed per page, and/or sort your results in a different way, such as by relevance using the "Display Settings" option at the top of your search results (above image to be updated soon).

Search History and Combining Searches

PubMed remembers your searches for 8 hours or until you log off from your computer, whichever comes first. You can view your search history by clicking the “Advanced” link below the search/text box at the top of each page.

In your search history you can combine searches using Boolean operators. A great way to use this feature is to search one MeSH term at a time to keep things simple (especially when you are using many terms and/or are also using synonyms), then combine your searches instead of including lots of MeSH terms in one phrase.

In our sample search, for instance, we could have searched for cancer first, then run a separate search for depression, and then combined the two searches with the Boolean operator “AND” using the search history, as an alternative to using both terms in the same search phrase like we did.

That's all you need to know to get started with PubMed. If you need help or want more information, check out the full PubMed guide or contact us.