Skip to main content

BIOL 42a: Physiology

Research tools and tips for BIOL 42a: Physiology, Fall 2020.


Lauren Buckley's picture
Lauren Buckley

More PubMed Training

Get to PubMed

PubMed is a free database that anyone can search online.

However, Brandeis has a special link that adds the “Get It” button, which makes it easy to find full text articles from PubMed. You can also find this link on the library’s Databases A-Z list.

Hint: bookmark this URL in your browser so you don't have to go to the library website every time:

Choose search terms

Take a minute to think about what you’re hoping to find, and write down all of the words that come to mind when you think about your topic. 

  • Think of synonyms and related terms (i.e. heart attack, myocardial infarction)
  • Think of broader and narrower terms (i.e. cardiovascular disease)

Choose 2-3 search terms to start with. Finding what you want will probably require some trial and error, so it helps to have some alternative search terms in mind.

Try your search (and then try again!)

Start with a simple search first, i.e. heart attack women of color. We’ll come back to the synonyms.

You will probably need to try a few combinations from your list to find what you’re looking for. If one term doesn’t come up in the results, try a synonym or related term.

PubMed has a built-in feature that maps your search terms to other related terms, so it’s more forgiving than a lot of databases. For example, searching for heart attack will also search for myocardial infarction (but not necessarily the other way around).  

*Using advanced features like AND/OR, truncation (*), and phrase searching (“heart attack“) might turn off the mapping feature and give you very limited results. Try your without these first -- you can always add them if you think they might help.

Things to Check:

How are your results sorted? 

  • Choose Best Match if they’re sorted by date.

How relevant do the first several results seem?

  • If not very relevant, try changing your search terms.

How many results did you get? 

  • A lot: Try more specific search terms.
  • Not a lot: Try less specific search terms (or synonyms).

How did PubMed map your search terms?

  • Click on Advanced right under the search bar to open the Advanced Search Builder.
  • Scroll down to History and Search Details.
  • Click on the arrow (>) under Details.
  • Scroll down to Translations. This will show all of the synonyms and MeSH headings PubMed mapped to your terms. 

Use filters to narrow results

The checkboxes on the left side of the screen are called filters (or limiters), and they let you narrow down your search results. For example, you can filter by:

  • Publication date
  • Article type (some of these are methodologies, i.e. randomized controlled trials)
  • Language
  • Population segment 
    • You can try the Species, Sex, and Age filters to see how they work for your search.
    • Keep in mind that these filters are less reliable than others, so using them might get rid of a really relevant article that just happened not to include the “Human” tag.

It’s most helpful to use these when you have a good number of results and they seem pretty relevant to what you’re looking for.

You can see more options by clicking on Additional Filters at the bottom of the filter column. (You'll also need to check off the filter to apply it to your search).

Use one good paper to find more

When you find one article that’s very relevant to your topic, use it to look for clues that might lead you to other articles.

New Search Terms

What words are used in the title, abstract, and MeSH terms of the relevant paper? If you find a relevant word that you haven’t tried searching for yet, give it a try. There might be other papers on the topic that use the same words.

Backward Citation Searching

Look at the relevant paper's references to see which other papers it’s cited. Also, pay attention when the authors describe other studies in the introduction. If you come across a citation that you haven’t seen yet that seems relevant, see if you can track it down!

Forward Citation Searching

You can also look for newer papers that have cited your relevant paper (unless it was published too recently to have been cited).

  • In PubMed, click on an article’s title to see the details page. These will be in a list called “Cited by.”
  • In Google Scholar, search for the article title and look for the “Cited by [x]” link below the description. Click on this link to see sources that cite the one you searched for.
    • The Google Scholar “Cited by” number will almost always be higher because it includes a much wider range of sources than PubMed does. Many of them will be scholarly journal articles, but you may also find theses & dissertations, books, non-scholarly articles, and more.