In PubMed, you can search the bibliographic information (author, title, date, journal, etc.) of articles by word or phrase. When you enter the search term followed by the search field tag, PubMed searches for that particular term in the designated field.
Compare the number of results of the following searches (click the links below):
PubMed only contains abstracts of articles, not full texts, so searching the entire article for words is not possible.
Like MeSH, the title and abstract fields provide information on the content of an article.
Searching by word or phrase alone is not enough. Why?
Often there are differences in how a concept is described by the authors and people that search for literature. If you only search with the field tag [tiab], you risk missing articles.
Compare the number of results for the following searches (click the links below):
The third example shows that over 61,000 articles contain the MeSH term ‘quality of life’ without the phrase ‘quality of life’ occurring in the title or abstract. Some of these 61,000 articles could be relevant to you, and you would miss out on them if you would only use the field tag [tiab] in your search strategy.
When looking for words occurring in the title, abstract or as an author keyword, make sure you include the various alternatives for the term in your searches. For example synonyms, singular and plural forms, British spelling, American spelling, etc.
When looking for a particular phrase in PubMed (words in an exact order) use double quotation marks ("..."). Using quotation marks disables PubMed’s automatic term mapping function.
PubMed will also interpret search terms as a phrase when using a search field tag.
Compare the number of hits and search details (to view click the links below) of these searches:
- gene therapy - 370,000 hits
- "gene therapy" - 58,000 hits
- gene therapy[ti] - 15,000 hits
- gene[ti] AND therapy[ti] - 18,000 hits
An asterisk (*) can be used to search for word variations in PubMed. PubMed will search for words that start with the root word complemented with 0 to an infinite number of characters. Searching with microscop* will also search for: microscope, microscopes, microscopy, etc.
Truncation may cause unnecessary ‘noise’, for instance when undesirable word variations are included in the search.
Example: If you use diet* to find word variations such as diets and dieting, be aware that you will also search for diethyl ether (an anesthetic) and all other drugs that start with diethyl.. To make the search more specific try to lengthen the root word or type out relevant word variations.