The first step in a successful search is to break your question down into key concepts. We recommend that you then search on each concept individually. For example, let's say you wanted to know about pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis. What's the benefit in doing separate searches (one for "pain" and the other for "rheumatoid arthritis")? Why not just search on "rheumatoid arthritis pain"?
One reason is that PubMed uses a controlled vocabulary (subject headings) to help refine your search. When you search on "rheumatoid arthritis" using the MeSH drop-down box, you are presented with subject headings to choose from. This allows you to retrieve all articles that were tagged with the subject heading "rheumatoid arthritis." Doing a separate search on "pain" allows you to access all articles in which pain is a major subject. Combining the two searches means that you'll get articles in which both "rheumatoid arthritis" and "pain" are major topics.
If you search for "rheumatoid arthritis pain," PubMed will try to find a single subject heading that addresses both concepts. When no such subject heading is found, PubMed will give you a scattered list of terms that are somewhat related.
The search screen below is the starting point for all PubMed database searches. Once you have decided on the keywords you want to search, type one of your keywords into the search bar. If you would like to use MeSH terms, please click the tab to the left for instructions.
Searching by Concept
It is often a good idea to break your research into concepts, then search for each concept separately, using all of the appropriate terms possible. For example, let's say you are researching the connection between high blood pressure and varicose veins. You would do two separate searches, one on each concept, then combine them. PubMed saves your search results for eight hours, or until you log off. You could search on:
- "high blood pressure" OR hypertension and then, in another search:
- "varicose veins" OR "spider veins" OR varicoses or varicosities
Now you need to find articles that pertain to both hypertension and varicose veins. We'll do this by combining the searches. To find your searches, click the Advanced link beneath the search box. In Advanced Search, you will see your search history.
In this case, we want articles that pertain to hypertension AND varicose veins. Click the three dots in front of one of the search strings, and then "Add Query". You will see that doing so populates the "Query Box" in the search builder above.
Now go to your second search string, click the three dots and choose "Add with AND". This adds our second concept to the Query Box above. This is telling PubMed that we want articles about both hypertension AND varicose veins.
Limiting Your Results
The search above gives us over 1500 results. We can refine these results by using the filters to the left. For example, we can limit by date of publication. Choosing "Additional Filters" allows you to limit by language, species, age, type of publication and many more. Limiting results to the past 10 years along reduces results to less than 500.
Another way to refine results is to limit citations returned to those in which the keywords show up in the title or abstract. To do this, construct your search string as above and search on it in PubMed. Go into Advanced (right under the Search box) and change the dropdown box for "All Fields" to TItle/Abstract, then hit search. Do this for each search string, and then combine results as shown above.
At this point, you probably want to add your citations to RefWorks or another citation management system. For help adding your citations to RefWorks, click the Saving PubMed Results to RefWorks tab to the left.
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