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Exploring Keyword Searching in PubMed

Posted by on September 19th, 2016 Posted in: NLM Products, PubMed, Training


We recently received this interesting question, and since it has so many parts, I’ve divided it into sections. Here’s the complete request:

Dear PubMed Guru,

I am trying to find in PubMed Help, where it says what you pull when doing a MeSH search.
When I am in My NCBI, does it look at the MeSH headings, citation, and abstract for my MeSH terms? What happens when I am not in My NCBI?
What happens when I do a keyword (KW) or phrase search? Does it look for the KW in the citation and abstract only? I cannot find where PubMed looks.
I thought for a KW search and KW Phrase search, it only looks in the title and abstract. And a MeSH search the same plus the MeSH headings. I need verification that it actually looks in the body of the article, which I do not think it does, am I correct? Thanks for any clarification.

An Inquiring Librarian!

Here are some answers and links to help clarify keyword, text word and MeSH searching in PubMed.

I am trying to find in PubMed Help, where it says what you pull when doing a MeSH search.

MeSH only searches MeSH headings. It doesn’t also search the abstract and title for those same terms. So if an article hasn’t been indexed yet, you will miss it if you limit a search to MeSH. The MeSH indexers and the MTI (Medical Text Indexer) are charged with assessing what headings to assign. Here’s the link to the description about MeSH from PubMed Help.

When I am in MyNCBI, does it look at the MeSH headings, citation, and abstract for my MeSH terms? What happens when I am not in MyNCBI?

PubMed should search the same way regardless of whether you are logged into your MyNCBI account or not.

What happens when I do a keyword or phrase search? Does it look for the KW in the citation and abstract only? I cannot find where PubMed looks.

For starters, PubMed doesn’t search for keywords with [kw]. If you enter that, you will get [All Fields] instead. In 2013, PubMed started displaying author keywords when supplied by publishers.(1) NLM doesn’t review author keywords. Author keywords can be searched using the Other Term [OT] or Text Words [TW] tags. Author keywords are available on the Abstract, MEDLINE, and XML displays. Here’s the definition for what fields get searched if you search by text word [tw].

Text Words [TW]

Includes all words and numbers in the title, abstract, other abstract, MeSH terms, MeSH Subheadings, Publication Types, Substance Names, Personal Name as Subject, Corporate Author, Secondary Source, Comment/Correction Notes, and Other Terms typically non-MeSH subject terms (keywords), including NASA Space Flight Mission, assigned by an organization other than NLM.

This comes from the Text Words describing Search Field Descriptions and Tags in PubMed Help.

You might also want to look at the descriptions of other fields in PubMed records:

MEDLINE®/PubMed® Data Element (Field) Descriptions

I thought for a KW search and KW Phrase search it only looks in the title and abstract. And a MeSH search the same plus the MeSH headings. I need verification that it actually looks in the body of the article, which I do not think it does, am I correct?

As you suspect, PubMed does not allow you to search the full text to retrieve terms. The Indexers and the MTI (Medical Text Indexer) assign MeSH Headings from the article or PDF itself, but the text isn’t included when a user is searching.

The MeSH section of the PubMed® for Librarians webinars would be worth reviewing.

An Inquiring Librarian’s response: “Even though you have been searching in PubMed for 10 years or more it is important to refresh your skills with PubMed update classes. Things constantly change.”

Send your challenging questions to Kay Deeney, Education and Outreach Librarian.

(1) Author Keywords in PubMed. Torre S. Author Keywords in PubMed. NLM Tech Bull. 2013 Jan-Feb;(390):e2.

Image of the author ABOUT Kay Deeney
Kay Deeney, MLS AHIP is the Education & Outreach Librarian with the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Pacific Southwest Region located at UCLA.

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