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Search Clinic: Building a PubMed® Search

A thirty minute online search clinic was presented by the NLM® via Adobe® Connect on Tuesday, April 20 (1:00 pm ET). The presentation covered the mechanics of the PubMed Search Builder and how to search using tags.

View the clinic recording

Questions and Answers

1. The speaker mentioned that it is preferable to use a Text Word [tw] search over a Title/Abstract [tiab] search in many cases because Text Word includes the subject fields of the records.  But aren't the records retrieved by a [tiab] search more likely to be relevant?

Authors and searchers often use different vocabulary to describe the same concept. So, there is always a chance that you will miss highly relevant citations by searching only with [tiab]. For example, as of this writing, a search of: quality of life [majr] NOT quality of life [tiab] reveals over six thousand citations for English language articles where quality of life was deemed a major topic of the article by the indexer, but the term, quality of life, was not in the title or abstract. If you’re not specifying a MeSH term, always try searching a term without a search tag or with the search tag, [tw].

2. In using the Search Builder on the Advanced Search page, if you put the AND statement before the OR, could you just manually change the parentheses in the search box and then click Search?

Yes. If you feel comfortable with using parentheses, add your search terms to the search box using the Search Builder, then change the parentheses and/or correct Boolean operators in the search box before clicking Search.

3. With Automatic Term Mapping: Are all mapped MeSH terms exploded?

Yes. When you enter terms in the search box without search tags or when the [All Fields] tag is used, any terms that are mapped to MeSH (see your Search Details) are exploded. In other words, terms mapped to MeSH retrieve any narrower (indented) terms. See the MeSH Database for details on any particular term.

4. Are searchable fields distinguishable from non-searchable fields in the database listing (index)?

We don’t have one list that includes all fields and also shows which are searchable.The Search Field Descriptions and Tags table in PubMed Help lists all searchable fields. Non-searchable fields are included in the MEDLINE/PubMed Data Element (Field) Descriptions.

5. Is Personal Name as Subject [ps] going to be added to the Search Builder?

We have no plans to add it, so continue to enter Personal Names as Subject in the search box using the [ps] search tag.

6. Boolean operators continue to be required in caps?

Yes. Always capitalize Boolean operators (AND, OR, and NOT) when using them in PubMed. Using lower case for operators may yield unexpected results.

Comments and suggestions regarding the search clinic are welcome. For more training opportunities, see the National Training Center and Clearinghouse Web site and the NLM Distance Education Program Resources page. Watch for announcements of new training resources in the NLM Technical Bulletin.