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Searching PubMed: Basic Searches

Created by Health Science Librarians

Topic Search

Finding a few good good articles on a particular topic can be very easy.

State your question as specifically as possible:

  • Is acupuncture effective for the treatment of migraine headaches?

Identify the key words in your question:

  • acupuncture
  • migraine

Type the key words into the search box:

  • acupuncture AND migraine

PubMed searches for the keywords in the article title, abstract and subject headings. It does not search the full text of the article.

Results show up with the most relevant articles, as predicted by PubMed, first in summary format. Click on the title for more information about a single article, change your search by adding, editing, or deleting terms in the search box, or change the Display Settings to view the most recent articles first. 

                      PubMed results page after performing a search for "accupuncture AND migraine"


Go to a PubMed search for: acupuncture AND migraine

Author Name Search

Enter the author's name in the following format: Author's Last Name Initials. Example: Corbie-Smith G

An author search for Corbie-Smith G in PubMed


  • No periods or commas are necessary.
  • Adding the second initial can help focus the search on a particular person, but may cause you to miss articles published by the author that do not include the middle name.
  • Searching by the authors full first name will work sometimes but not always, so it's better to use their initial(s). 

Go to this author search in PubMed: Corbie-Smith G
Notice that the last (oldest) article retrieved was published in May 1997.

Journal Search

You can also search for a specific journal in PubMed and set up an alert to see new articles in your favorite journals.

  1. Go to Advanced Search > select Journal from the menu on the left side.
    PubMed advanced search journal field
  2. Begin typing the name of the journal and recommendations should appear below the search box.

  3. Select the journal you want from the recommendations list and click Add to put the Journal name into the Query (or Search) box.


If that does not work, you can try searching for the journal by title on the main search bar without the journal field. We don't recommend that as a first strategy because you might get results from several journals with similar names. 

  1. Search the target journal's name in the main search bar.
  2. If you see results from your target journal, you can select one and click on the journal abbreviation to search for the journal by its abbreviation.

Contact a librarian if you would like support with your search strategy. 

Single Citation Matcher

To find a specific article when you know some of the publication information such as journal name, publication date, page numbers, author name, or title words, use the Single Citation Matcher form.

The link to Single Citation Matcher is on the PubMed homepage. It is the third item in the second-left section labeled Find, below the search box.

The PubMed Single Citation Matcher link

You only need to fill in a few data points.
Author Name and First Page often bring up a single result.

The PubMed Single Citation Matcher form

Go to the PubMed Single Citation Matcher

Advanced Search

To run a more advanced search in PubMed or see your search history, select Advanced below the search box.

The Advanced Search link is located under the PubMed search box

On the PubMed Advanced Search page:

  1. You can add specific search terms using the Add Terms to Query Box option.
  2. To limit your search to articles published in one journal, select Journal from the drop-down box.
  3. Start typing the journal name in the Search box.
  4. Select the correct full journal name from the auto-complete list.
  5. With the correct full journal name inserted in the top search box, click Add and the journal will be added to your search. You can then click the search button or then add more terms to your search.
  6. To limit your search to English, select Language from the drop-down box, type "English", then click add.
  7. You can also see your Search History of the recent searches you've run, see the Details of how PubMed interpreted your search terms and Add your previous search back to the Search Design box to be edited or added to. 

Go to the PubMed Advanced Search page.

Adding Truncation To Your Search

A truncation search feature provides the ability to search for variant words or spellings.

To search for all terms that begin with a word, enter the word followed by an asterisk (*): the wildcard character. 

To search for a phrase including a truncated term, use the following formats:

  • Enclose the phrase in double quotes: "breast feed*"
  • Use a search tag: breast feed*[tiab]
  • Use a hyphen: breast-feed* 

At least four characters must be provided in the truncated term.

The truncated term must be the last word in the phrase.

Using the PubMed truncation feature also has some specific consequences:

  • Automatic Term Mapping (ATM) is turned off;
  • The truncation function looks for only the first 600 variations, so the search could be incomplete;
  • Truncation can cause a search to time out if an excessive number of variants are generated.
  • Truncation can cause lengthy and confusing error messages for My NCBI updates

For example, heart attack* will not map to the MeSH term Myocardial Infarction or include any of the more specific terms, e.g., Myocardial Stunning; Shock, Cardiogenic.

See the PubMed User Guide for more examples and information about advanced search features in PubMed.

Proximity Search

Proximity searching, also known as adjacency searching, has been added to PubMed. Users can now search for multiple terms appearing in any order within a specified distance of one another in the [Title] or [Title/Abstract] fields.
Example of hip pain proximity searching

How to Build a Proximity Search in PubMed

To create a proximity search in PubMed, enter terms using the following format:

"search terms"[field:~N]

  • Search terms = Two or more words enclosed in double quotes.
  • Field = The search field tag for the [Title] or [Title/Abstract] fields.
  • N = The maximum number of words that may appear between your search terms.

For example, to search PubMed for citations where the terms "hip" and "pain" appear with no more than two words between them in the Title search field, or in the Title/Abstract search field, try the search:

"hip pain"[Title:~2]
"hip pain"[Title/Abstract:~2]

Search results may include hip pain, hip-related pain, hip joint pain, hip/groin pain, hip biomechanics and pain, pain after total hip arthroplasty, pain in right hip, and more.

See the PubMed User Guide and view the proximity searching tutorial for more examples and information about proximity searching in PubMed.

Proximity Search Now Available in PubMed. NLM Tech Bull. 2022 Nov-Dec;(449):e4.