PSY 309-A Research Methods: PubMed

Define Search Terms

noun_important_258298.pngYou want to access PubMed through the above link (or from the Library's A-Z Database List) so that you can access full-text to anything you find in PubMed that the Library owns.

Finding the Right Words

Before running a search, spend some time finding the correct search terms based off of the concept keywords you put together earlier.  In PubMed, these terms are curated by the National Library of Medicine and are called MeSH or Medical Subject Headings.  Click the MeSH database option under explore in PubMed to search/view Medical Subject Headings.


Type your concept keywords into the search field to find the correct subject headings for your topic.



You can see that Melanoma is listed within a hierarchy of subject headings.  This hierarchy helps you narrow in on specific concepts.  For more information about a heading read the scope note at the top of the page.  By default the MeSH include all subject headings below it in the hierarchy.  If you would like to exclude those other headings then select the button to exclude those terms.  

Major / Minor Concept

MeSH allow you to distinguish between subjects as a Major or Minor concept.  Choosing "Restrict to MeSH Major Topic" would exclude articles that just make casual mention of a topic, while choosing Minor topic might include articles that only have a small section on the topic.


There is a button which will build a query for you in PUBMED directly from the MeSH database.  However it is best to write down the subject headings you find so that they can be used for later searches.

Conduct the Search


PubMed defaults to a single search option on the homepage.  However, as skilled researchers you will find this option inadequate.  Click the "Advanced Search" button in order to build you search in a more nuanced way.


Refine Results

After running your search you can refine your results be using the options on the left.  This will help you narrow your results to a more manageable amount.  

Note: Be careful with choosing the "Full Text" option in PUBMED.  PubMed is not intended to be used as a full text database but rather an Abstract and Index service.  It is intended to show you a comprehensive view of what is written about a topic so that you can pursue those citations by other means like Interlibrary Loan or by searching other databases.  Clicking the Full Text option in PubMed will dramatically restrict the usefulness of the results you are returned.


Detailed Record

When you are satisfied that you have narrowed your search, you should begin looking at the detailed records. 

Pay attention to the subject terms and abstracts of these records to identify articles that are relevant to your research.  When available, a full text option will be displayed on the right hand side of the screen.  This is generally a link out of the database to some full text source which you may or may not have free access to.  If you click the option which says "Carroll College," then you will be taken to a free way to obtain the article which is available to you as a Carroll student.  This will either be from another database or by taking you to the Interlibrary Loan request form.


Citation Management & Interlibrary Loan

Saving the Article

Once you find an article that is of interest to you go ahead and save the bibliographic information so that you can refer to it in the future.  This is helpful when writing papers or for conducting future research.  Managing bibliographic information is made very easy by using a citation management tool like Zotero.  You can find out more about Zotero on our guide, or ask a librarian to help you get started.

If you use Zotero, the full text of the article will automatically be saved for you along with the citation, but if you do not use Zotero you will want to go ahead and save / download the articles full text now so that you can refer to it later.  When searching for articles it is best to read citations and abstracts while performing the search and read the full text of the articles at a later time.  This way you gather all of the information you are likely to refer to at once without becoming distracted.

If full text is not immediately available you will want to place an Interlibrary Loan request soon so that the library can have the article delivered to you.  Interlibrary Loan is a program your library offers where articles can be requested from other libraries when they are not owned by Carroll's Library. Place Interlibrary Loans here or by following the link in the article record.

Subsequent Searches

The Next Steps

Once you find an article you are interested in there a couple of strategies you might consider for follow up searches.   

1) Look at the subject terms assigned to this article - are there any terms that this article was given that match your research question?   If so add them into your next search in order to find articles similar to the one you are interested in.

2) Look at the article's work cited section - are there any articles listed there that inform your research question?  If so you might consider the citation tracking strategy to read the research that your current article is referring to.

3) Look for a "Cited by" or "Times cited" section of the record.  Sometimes you are able to use citation tracking to see what works have cited an article after its publication.  This is not always available, but when it is it can be a great way to find articles which have responded to the article you are interested in.


Need Help?

We would love to help you with your specific questions on this and any future projects you are working on.  If you'd like to get help from a librarian, please Ask Us.