How to Find Medical Journal Articles in PubMed

PubMed MEDLINE is a free, online database of more than 26 million medical journal articles from the 1950s to the present. It is run by the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Point your browser to the PubMed site to get started.

Answers to the following questions can help you locate and evaluate medical journal articles in PubMed.

1. When should I search PubMed?

PubMed is a web database for journal articles in health. It has a lot of content but is not always easy to search. This is a good place to go if you are looking for recent articles, clinical trials or content in journals. PubMed does not have full text articles. You will have to find them in other places outside of PubMed (see Questions 5 and 6 below). There are other tools that you may want to use instead. PubMed is best to use if you have a basic sense of medical terms. Health Source: Consumer Education is one alternative option. North Carolina residents can use Health Source via the NC LIVE system through the State Library of North Carolina. You can also contact your local (North Carolina) public library for further infomation.

2. How do I do a quick search?

The search box for PubMed is much like that of any other Internet tool. Type the main words that describe your search into the box at the top of the page. Keep in mind that PubMed has more than 26 million articles. You will want to use specific words to limit your search. A search for “diabetes” will give you more than 470,000 articles. A search for “diabetes diet therapy insulin” gets just over 8,200. Boolean searching, using AND, OR, and NOT to make your search more structured, is supported by PubMed. The default connects all terms with AND. This means that PubMed will look for all of the words you type into the box unless you tell it to do something differently.

3. How can I narrow my search?

PubMed has so many articles in it that you might find many more than are really helpful. There are some easy ways to get a better, smaller group of results. First, add as many useful words to your search as you can. If you want to limit your search by a type of source, you can use PubMed Filters. Look to the left of the page to find the Filters list. If the filter you wish to use is showing you may select it. If not, click on the section where it should fall then select it to make it appear. You will then need to click on it again to activate. Filters allow you to tell PubMed that you only want to see articles of a certain kind. For example, if you want to only see articles about humans and/or that are in English, this is where you can tell PubMed. You can also limit your search by type of study, such as clinical trials or review articles. By using Filters to narrow a search on “diabetes,” you can make the number of articles smaller and easier to browse.

4. How are my results organized?

PubMed lists results by date. The most recent articles are shown first. You may have to look through many items before finding the best one for you. PubMed shows 20 articles at a time in the “Summary” display view. This view only shows the citation, or the most basic info on an article. To view abstracts, or a brief preview of the article, go to the “Display Settings” menu and select “Abstract” under the “Format” column. To see more articles on your screen at one time, select a new preference from the “Items per page” column under the “Display Settings.” You can see up to 200 articles at once using this feature.

5. How can I get free articles?

Some articles in PubMed can be seen by anyone in the world for free online. These texts will be marked by a brown “Free PMC Article” link. The link is at the bottom of the article when seen in the “Summary” and “Abstract” displays. You can see more information by clicking the article title. This will include a “Link Out” button located below the abstract that will take you to the full text options. You can limit your results to free full text by checking the “Links to free full text” box in the “Limits” function.

6. How can I get other articles?

There are two ways to find articles other than those online for free. You can use the National Library of Medicine’s Loansome Doc program to ask for articles from your local health sciences library. To order articles, start by checking the box next to any article you want to order. Then select “Order” from the “Send To” drop-down menu. This will take you to the Loansome Doc log-in screen where anyone can create an account. For a small fee, the article will arrive in a few days. Many articles are online for purchase from the publisher as well. To find out how to order, open the “Abstract” display by changing the Display Setting drop-down menu. Then click the publisher’s button, if one is available. This is often much more costly than using Loansome Doc, but your article will come to you much sooner.

7. What are “Related Records”?

Below each article in the summary display is a blue link to “Related citations.” This link will take you to a new list of sources that are like the one with which you started. PubMed tries to match words in the title, abstract, and other fields to find matches. If you have one good article and are having trouble finding more, clicking “Related citations” can help. The most recent related citations are shown to the right of the abstract in the abstract display, with a link to see more.

8. How can I save articles temporarily?

The “Clipboard” in PubMed can hold articles while you search. This is not long term storage, but it is useful if you are doing many searches in one day. To add articles to your Clipboard, start by checking the box next to each one you want to keep. Select “Clipboard” from the “Send To” drop-down menu. The words “Item in clipboard” will appear below the citation in the summary and abstract views. You can see your Clipboard articles by clicking the “Clipboard” link that will appear in the upper right corner of your screen above your search results.

9. How can I email, save, or print articles?

Once you are done searching, you can email, save, or print articles that are in your Clipboard. To do this, start by clicking the “Clipboard” link. All of the items that you have saved in short-term storage will now show up. In the “Send To” drop-down box, choose “E-Mail” to email the articles to anyone or “File” to save a text file on your desktop. Once you have chosen an action, you can select the format in which you would like to email or save your searches. To change from the current format being displayed, use the “Format” drop-down menu within the “Send To” function. To print articles, simply print from your browser by choosing File, Print.

10. How can I get more help?

The National Library of Medicine has a tutorial and a few short guides with tips for PubMed. You may also contact your local medical library for help.


Page authored by Gina Firnhaber, William E. Laupus Health Sciences Library, East Carolina University.

Last updated November 20, 2017 at 1:54 pm