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Biomedical Sciences Research Guide: Search Tips & Tutorials

PubMed Tools

What can PubMed do for me?

PubMed is the premier biomedical database and is free for anyone to use. You could think of it like a search engine specifically for articles about health and medicine.  Use the link from this guide or Biomed's home page to make sure you can get to the full text using UC-eLinks.  Bookmark or favorite this link for easy access.

(It can also be used from off-campus.)


Did you know that in PubMed you can:

Use Filters to:

  • Specify the type(s) of articles retrieved (e.g., Clinical Trials, Case Studies, Reviews)
  • Specify age groups (e.g., 6-12 year olds, 19-44 year olds, 80 & over, and more)
  • Specify human or animal studies
  • Specify the language of the article

Jump to the PubMed Tutorial about Limits.

Use Clinical Queries to:

  • Find systematic reviews
  • Use preformatted filters for evidence-based searching
  • Target articles on medical genetics

Google & Google Scholar Tips

Google - to find good, authoritative web resources

Google can be a great way to find government information on the web.  It might be a county, state, or national government organization, for example County of San Diego Public Health Services, California Department of Public Health, or the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.  With a couple of simple steps, you can search your topic of interest and limit to the more authoritative literature instead of "Any Joe's" website.

  • site:gov

use this to find government related websites


once you know the beginning of an organizations URL, use that to find your topic at their pages

  • quotation marks  "..."

put phases within quotation marks to find pages where the words are together

  • check out the Advanced Search page

find more options and ways to direct your search

Google Scholar - to find scholarly articles not web pages

Find the scholarly articles in Google Scholar without having to deal with the web pages you don't want.  Need that higher level of evidence to make your point?  Need to see what experts have to say on your topic?  You will find both by using articles published in professional journals (as opposed to newspapers and popular journals) and Google Scholar is one way to do that.  It is easy to use but using some of the following tricks, you can target your search a bit more specific to your topic.

  • quotation marks "..."

like regular Google, put phrases together

  • Think like an author -- put your search word or phrase in the title of the articles (careful - not to many words)

Find this option on the Advanced Search Page

  • Time span & Recently published articles -- are not automatically on the top of the results, so tell Scholar you need articles from what span of time

Find this option on the Advanced Search Page or an an option on the left side. 

Tips for Your Search Strategy

5 Search Strategy Tips

  1. Be Specific - use the most specific terms you have.
  2. Browse - when you are uncertain of the right topic or terms, look online, browse through books, talk with friends and mentors.
  3. Have expectations and assumption about what you want or anticipate finding.
  4. Think & Plan - think like an author and plan best resource(s) to use.
  5. Learn to work the tools - From advanced search to filters & limits, learn how to work the tools and resources because a little finesse can save you lots of time.

Search Strategies for any Database

  Boolean Operators   

Infographic that explains Boolean Operators and gives examples of their uses.

Truncation is a search technique that broadens your search to include various word endings. To truncate your search terms, replace the word ending with an asterisk *.

politic* gets results for politics, politician, and political


Limits provide database-specific recommendations for narrowing a search. Applying limits will filter out results that don’t meet your search requirements. This will save you time because you won’t need to look through pages of search results that don’t include the information that you need Each database offers different limits. Be sure to check them out to see how they can help you with your search.

For example: In the database, Historical Abstracts, you can filter your search results for peer review, publication date, document type, language, subject, etc.

The image below illustrates how applying limits will help you to narrow
your search results.

For every limit applied the results get smaller


It's important to know that databases use subject headings to organize their articles. When you know the right subject headings for your topic, you can search more efficiently. Starting out on a new topic, you won't know the subject terminology. A simple way to find them is to start with a keyword search. When you find an article title that meets your needs, look for the subject headings assigned to that article. In most cases, those subject headings are hyperlinked and will take you to a list of articles with the same subject heading.

linked subject terms are within the articles details

abstracts will highlight key terms used to find the article

Scholarly articles often have extensive bibliographies, also called reference lists or works cited pages. Bibliographies include references to articles, books, and other relevant literature that were published before the article. Some databases provide links to the cited references so that you can look at those articles as well, which might provide more articles for you to use in your paper.

Cited References can help you find articles that are older than the one you are reading.

An Example:

bibliography articles were used to write an article and are older

Look at the example to the left. If you found a relevant article from 2003, you could look at the articles in the bibliography to see where your article got the information used to support their main points. These older articles can also be useful to your research, especially if you need to write a literature review.

You can use a similar method to find newer articles, by looking at the articles who have cited your 2003 article in their bibliographies. To find out more about this method, see the tab for Times Cited references.



Some databases, like Web of Science, include times cited references. Think of these as the opposite of a bibliography. Where bibliographies include references that are older than the article, times cited references are newer than the article.

Times Cited references can help you find articles that are more recent than the one you are reading.

An Example:

time cited articles are newer than the published article

Look at the example to the left. Let’s say your professor doesn’t let you include references in your paper that are older than 2005. You are finding articles about your topic, but they are all too old. Even the best article about your topic was published in 2003.

Using times cited references, you could see which articles have cited the 2003 article. Chances are you will find one published a more recently that you could use for your paper.



When you find an article that you think will be a good to use, you can take advantage of “related articles” to find similar articles. Databases have different formulas for determining how an article is “related,” but it usually is a combination of same keywords and descriptors.

You can usually find a list of related articles on the results screen of the database.

great article connected to related articles