The first step in beginning your search is to develop a search strategy. Once you have a question or topic in mind, try to identify the major concepts and key ideas.
Keep in mind that PubMed is best for finding information for specific, focused questions and topics. Background or factual questions (i.e., how is diabetes treated?) are best answered through textbooks, point-of-care tools, and other similar reference resources. If you're unsure if your question is specific enough, you should have at least two or three concepts identified from your topic.
To learn more about planning your search, read the following sections:
Concept tables can be a useful method for identifying main ideas.
The table below shows how for each concept we identify, there can be many synonyms, acronyms, and other like-phrases to be used as possible search terms. To construct a thorough search, it's important to think of all the possible ways someone might have expressed an idea in writing. Then it will be easier to choose which search terms to use in PubMed.
give up smoking
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
chronic obstructive airway disease
chronic obstructive lung disease
chronic airflow obstruction
chronic airflow obstructions
PICO is a framework that helps identify concepts from a focused clinical question.
NOTE: Not every PICO will have a comparison.
In adults with posttraumatic stress disorder, is yoga more effective than resistance training in reducing PTSD symptoms?
Once you have identified your main concepts and have some search terms in mind, it's a good time to begin thinking about how to connect these terms together for the search query. Use the boolean operators: AND, OR, and NOT.
Use AND to connect terms that are dissimilar to find the overlap between two different concepts. This narrows our results.
Example: children AND sugar tax AND obesity
Use OR to connect synonyms and other similar words together. This tells the database to retrieve any of the words, thus increasing the number of results.
Example: obese OR obesity OR overweight OR BMI OR body mass index
Use NOT to exclude a term from search results. However, use this boolean operator carefully and sparingly, as you might accidentally exclude relevant articles that still might mention that word.
Example: children NOT adults
Here's how you would construct a search with three different concepts using boolean operators. Group the synonyms together using OR, and then use AND to find the overlap between these topics.
(e-cigarettes OR electronic cigarettes) AND (smoking cessation OR quit smoking) AND (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease OR copd)
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