PubMed Searching @ Mercer Step by Step

The Mercer Libraries provide access to MEDLINE via the PubMed search system from the National Library of Medicine. The system is very powerful but not always very intuitive or easy to use. Here are tips to help you get started! If you have specific search strategies that you want to learn how to do in PubMed, just contact us in Savannah at or 912.350.8345 and in Macon at or 478.301.4056.

  1. Simple Searching and Viewing Results
  2. Choosing Filters
  3. Combining Searches Using History
  4. Viewing Full-Text Documents
  5. Saving, Emailing, and Printing Items
  1. MyNCBI: Saving Searches
  2. Using MeSH Subject Headings
  3. EBM/Clinical Queries
  4. The Single Citation Matcher
  5. Getting More Help
National Library of Medicine: PubMed Basics Brochure
Adobe Acrobat PDF Document

1: Simple Searching and Viewing Results

Be sure to enter PubMed (MEDLINE) via the Mercer Libraries page. Doing this ensures you have access to added features of PubMed MEDLINE that are only available to Mercer University faculty, students, and staff, including full-text access to some of our electronic journals.

To efficiently search PubMed, click on the Advanced Search link at the top of the PubMed home page.

Type any key word or phrase into the search box. Use an asterisk (*) to retrieve variations on a word, e.g., bacter* retrieves bacteria, bacterium, bacteriophage, etc. Use quotation marks to search for a phrase, e.g., "exercise induced asthma".

  • For a Subject Search: Enter one or more words (e.g., asthma drug therapy) in the search box and click on Search. PubMed automatically "ANDs" (combines) terms together so that all terms or concepts are present, and it translates your words into MeSH (Medical Subject Headings) terms. Use quotation marks to keep a phrase together.
  • For an Author Search: Enter the author's name in the format of last name first followed by initials (e.g., byrnes ca) in the Search box or select one of the Author choices from the drop-down menu in the Search Builder, type the author's name and click the AND button.
  • For a Journal Search: To retrieve articles from a specific journal, choose Journal from the drop-down menu in the Search Builder, type the name of the journal and click the AND button. If you do not know the full journal title, you can use the Journals database or Single Citation Matcher features linked at the bottom of the Advanced Search screen.
  • For a Date: To retrieve articles for a specific date range, choose Create Date from the drop-down menu in the Search Builder, add your date, and then click the AND button.

Use the Boolean operators buttons (AND, OR, and NOT) to combine topics and to build a search in the Search box.

THE BOOLEAN "AND" Boolean OR When terms/concepts are combined with the AND operator, retrieved records must contain all the terms. For example: "Does taking aspirin cause Reye's Syndrome in children?" This will retrieve citations that discuss all three concepts in each article. The more concepts you AND together, the fewer records you will retrieve.
THE BOOLEAN "OR" Boolean OR The Boolean operator OR allows you to broaden a concept and include synonyms. For example, kidney disease OR renal diseases will retrieve citations using either (or both) terms. This expands your search by retrieving citations in which either or both terms appear. The more concepts or keywords you OR together, the more records you will retrieve.
THE BOOLEAN "NOT" Boolean NOT The final Boolean operator NOT allows you to exclude concepts not relevant to your search. For example, you could search multi-infarct dementia by using Dementia NOT Alzheimer's.

The database defaults to showing a "Summary" view (citation only) of articles in reverse chronological order.

The Display Settings options indicate the amount and format of information for each article. The Display Settings options can now be found via the blue link above your search results at the far left corner of your window. Highlight Abstract from the pull-down menu to see the citation, abstract, and related records information.

In addition, you can change the number of articles shown on a screen and/or the order in which they are shown (by date, author, or journal). Click the Apply button when you have made your choices.

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2: Choosing Filters

You may filter the results of a search in several ways. You will see choices in the left hand colum of the screen. If you don't see the choices you need, click on "Choose Additional Filtes" and a popup menu with categories will appear. You can select additional filter categories by clicking on the boxes and then clicking on the "Apply" button. These categories will then appear in the column to the left of the screen. In this example, "Sex" and "Ages" have been chosen in additon tho the filters already preselected by PubMed.

Choose appropriate filters by clicking on the choices at the left. For example, if you are interested in early-onset cancers in women, you could choose Adult 19-44 from the Ages menu, Humans from the Species menu, and Female from the Sex menu. Your choices will appear in the "Filters Activated" string under the "Results."

Likewise you can select from a variety of Article types (e.g., clinical trial, review, editorial, etc.), Languages (English, etc.)Publicaion dates, Journal categories(e.g., Core clinical journals, nurisng journals, etc.), and Search Fields (such as MeSH, Pharmacological Action, Investigator, etc.)

Once you have selected your filters, make sure your keywords have been properly marked, and click Search. PubMed automatically applies your filters to everything else you search in this session unless you take the filters off. To turn off your filters, click on "Clear All" in the "Filters Activated" string at the top of the search. To remove a filter, click on it in the left hand column.

NOTE: Setting filters in a search will remove "In Process" citations from your search, because these articles have not yet been indexed. To capture "In Process" citations, take off your filters and run your search as before, but add AND in_process[sb] to the end of your search.

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3: Combining Searches Using History

You can combine different searches in PubMed by viewing your Search History found by clicking the Advanced link below the search bar. Any searches you have run in PubMed this session will be displayed. The number on the left is the search number. The hyperlinked number on the right takes you to the results of the search.

To combine searches, type the # sign and number of one search in the History, followed by AND, OR, or NOT (depending on how you want the terms to relate to each other), then the second # sign and search number -- for example #1 AND #2.

You can add new terms if needed by selecting a field from the pull-down menu and adding terms in the serch box.

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4: Viewing Full-Text Documents

The Mercer Libraries have coordinated with PubMed to provide direct links from MEDLINE to some of the electronic journals to which we have access. We have access to over 10,000 electronic journals. PubMed indexes 5,414 journals, 2,373 of which are available full text in PubMed. These articles are labeled with a "Get it @ MUSM Libraires " graphic in the Abstract display.

If no Mercer button appears, you can also go to the A to Z list found on the Mercer Libraries page to search by journal title to see if it is available.

The National Library of Medicine has incorporated a database of free, full-text medical journals into PubMed. PubMedCentral contains a number of well-known journals. The journals have varying dates of coverage; some go back to 1997, and some include the most recent issues. However, many start with issues published in 2000 and end with issues published a year to six months ago.

If we don't have immediate access to an article you need, we can usually get it for you in a couple of days from another library via InterLibrary Loan.

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5: Saving, Emailing, and Printing Items

  • Save: From the Send To link, select File, choose Format and Sort order, and click the Create File button. When prompted by the operating system, provide a name for your file.
  • Email: From the Send To link, select Email, choose Format and Sort order, add email information, and click the Email button.
  • Print: Using the Display Settings link, select the format of the references, place all your references on one web page, and click Apply. Use your browser's Print command.

Clipboard: acts as a temporary holding file for all citations collected during your online session. Select desired citations and use the Send To link to save to Clipboard. Click on the Clipboard link on the right side of the Results page to retrieve all citations on your Clipboard. Keep in mind that if you experience any network problems or temporary loss of power, you are likely to lose everything you have done in the clipboard and be unable to retrieve it. Also, clipboard items will be lost after 8 hours of inactivity.

Order: Don't use the Order option found under the Send To link. This will take you to Lonesome Doc, which is a fee based service. Instead, look for the InterLibrary Loan links on the Mercer Libraries web page. We can usually get the article/s for you from another library via InterLibrary Loan in a couple of days.

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6: MyNCBI: Saving Searches

You can save a complicated search for repeated use via the MyNCBI system. This will allow you to either manually update the results of your search or to have new citations automatically emailed to you on a regular basis. After you have run a search in PubMed, click the Save search link located below the search box.

You will be prompted to sign in to My NCBI or create a new account. Once you do so, you will be able to select options for storing and retrieving your search, including whether you would like to have the search be run automatically on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.

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7: Using MeSH Subject Headings

Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) is a comprehensive controlled vocabulary for the purpose of indexing journal articles and books in the life sciences. You can use it to narrow and/or focus your results. For example, running a basic search for the term “bird flu” on PubMED will retrieve 19230 results, while only 1480 results are retrieved for the MeSH term “Influenza in Birds”.

There are a couple of ways of discovering MeSH terms in PubMed MEDLINE. Look at the Search details of your search. PubMed automatically attempts to map keywords to MeSH terms.

If you are using the Advanced Search, click on the Details link found above the search box. MeSH headings will appear under the Query Translation:

Search for terms using PubMed's MeSH Database. You can search for MeSH terms by selecting MeSH from the link found at the bottom of the Advanced Search screen or on PubMed's front page under More Resources. Once in the MeSH Database, enter your keyword into the search box and click Go.

Check the boxes next to the headings you desire. To search, click Send to Search Box with AND found in the "Send to" drop down menu, then click the Search PubMed button.

Clicking the hyperlinked MeSH term will give you a more complete description of the term, including subheadings, options to limit your search, history of the term, and the placement of the term in the MeSH tree hierarchy.

Check the boxes next to subheadings and/or Limits you desire. To search, click Send to Search Box with AND then Search PubMed.

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8: EBM/Clinical Queries

The Clinical Queries link may be found at the bottom of the Advanced Search screen or on PubMed's front page under PubMed Tools.

The Clinical Queries service offers three modes of searching for articles to support evidence-based medicine. First, you may wish to search for evidence by clinical study category (etiology, diagnosis, therapy, or prognosis) using a broad (sensitive) or narrow (specific) focus. Second, you can find systematic reviews on a topic. Third, you may look for information on the genetics of a disease, including genetic diagnosis, clinical description, management, counseling, molecular genetics, and genetic testing. All three of these modes use preset filters and search terms that have been designed by researchers at the National Library of Medicine.

You can search for a Meta-Analysis, Randomized Control Trial, Clinical Trial or Review by clicking the Limits link above the search bar and making selections from the Type of Article scroll menu.

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9: The Single Citation Matcher

Often times you may be looking for a specific article, either because it was recommended to you or because you need to verify the citation for a bibliography. The Single Citation Matcher link may be found at the bottom of the Advanced Search screen or on PubMed's front page under PubMed Tools. The Single Citation Matcher simplifies your search by offering you a form with spaces for the relevant parts of the citation. Remember, PubMed only indexes 5,414 journals. The Mercer Libraries have access to over 10,000. Also, PubMed does not index all the years of a journal, nor does it index all of the articles in journals.

You need only fill out one of the boxes, but it is usually a good idea to enter information in at least two.

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10: Getting More Help

The National Library of Medicine has created a number of useful online training tools <> for PubMed, including their interactive tutorial and a series of animated "quick tours."

In Savannah, just contact us at or 912.350.8345 and ask for Carolyn. In Macon, just contact us at or 478.301.4056 and ask for Carolann or Anna. We're happy to meet with individuals or groups.

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