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PubMed (English): Search by Word

This LibGuide provides an overview of the various search options in the biomedical database PubMed.

Search fields

In PubMed you can search the bibliographic information (author, title, year, journal, etc.) of articles by word or phrase. By entering a search term followed by a 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):

  • Searching for the word diabetes in the title
  • Searching for the word diabetes in the title or abstract
  • Searching for the MeSH diabetes mellitus
diabetes mellitus[mesh]

​PubMed only contains abstracts of articles, not full texts, so searching the entire article for words is not possible.

Similar to MeSH, the title and abstract are fields that provide information on the content of an article.

Searching by word/phrase alone is not enough, why not?

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.

Alternative descriptions

Tip1) If the topic has a MeSH term, check the entry terms (See tab: MeSH) for relevant synonyms to add to your [tiab] search.
2) Or do a simple subject search and check the Search Details (See tab: Introduction) for synonyms that PubMed may have included in the search.

Search options

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:

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.

Important 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.