A Review of PubMed
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1 Comment on A Review of PubMed 353

Margaret A. Hoogland, MLS, AHIP
Clinical Medical Librarian
The University of Toledo


In October 2019, health science librarians, researchers, and informationists learned that PubMed, the freely available biomedical literature database, would be changing. The new interface would work on tablets and downloading a separate application would no longer be necessary. Recognizing the appeal of Discovery Layers, google-like searching would now work in PubMed.


The design itself is clean and streamlined. It works well on tablets and smartphones. Images are used to highlight popular features:

Explore: Many librarians will go directly to this area because they can quickly locate the appropriate MeSH terms and then begin searching PubMed for articles.

Find: Students will appreciate one-click access to the Clinical Queries while they are on rotations, as well as easy access to the Advanced Search screen.

Download: Electronic Resource Librarians and library website managers can easily locate utilities in the new location.

The new algorithm assists searchers in locating articles without use of Boolean operators (e.g., AND, OR, NOT), key words, or even database preferred vocabulary (e.g., controlled vocabulary, MeSH). Instead, the automatic term mapping interprets the words supplied by the searcher. The numerous results can easily be narrowed using the limiters (e.g., publication year) and filters (e.g., age, human, publication type, etc.).

If you are new to searching, the following tips could make navigating the new interface easier:  

1) Always start with the Advanced Search Screen. With a little practice and education, students will appreciate this option. For example, by selecting the down arrow under Details, it is possible to see PubMed’s interpretations of the searcher supplied terms. The Add to History feature makes it easy to minimize results to a manageable number before reviewing the abstracts.

2) Tags, Double Quotes, and Filters are your best friends. Using any or all of these features in PubMed stops or assists in controlling the automatic term mapping. Searchers can add tags, such as [all fields], to search terms and review results. If the numbers are more than users expected, they can use limiters, such as [tiab] or title and abstract, to focus on locating relevant articles. If an applicable MeSH term is not available, try surrounding your best key word with double quotes. The best options are to experiment and become facile with using combinations of tags, double quotes, and filters until you get relevant results.

3) Don’t forget toSend to” or “Save as.” Send to gives searchers the option of putting massive files into EndNote, SciWheel, or other citation management systems for faculty, staff, and students to view at their leisure. This feature works well from both the search results page and the clipboard.

Save As, by contrast, allows searchers to create a comma-separated values (CSV) file, which is similar to Excel but offers fewer features. Additionally, CSV files remove the abstracts from all results.

The text file is clunky, but requesters can quickly begin scanning the abstracts. It includes all the necessary information, which can be copied and pasted into a new file or an inter-library loan request form.

The send-to email remains the same as with the Legacy interface – as these emails are frequently delayed or sometimes even sent to spam, my go-to option is the text file.

4) Recognize the difference between “All results on this page” or “All results” and select the appropriate option. Selecting the “all results” option allows searchers to pull all results from the clipboard and citation managers and then save as a text file. By selecting “all results on this page,” searchers can choose to send a small sampling of the available results. Depending on the request, both options are handy.

5) Avoid Truncation. Legacy PubMed accepted and even worked rather well with some truncation symbols. The redesign, however, does not cater to truncation symbols. Instead, searchers should take some additional time to think of the possible variations. To make sure all the variations of terms are considered, use the Yale MeSH Analyzer or compare notes with a colleague.

Breakthroughs and Challenges

It is much easier to locate features such as MeSH Headings and the Single Citation Matcher in the new interface. The launch, however, occurred at an inopportune time. With the ongoing challenges facing libraries and researchers in 2020, I applaud the National Library of Medicine for extending access a bit longer to Legacy PubMed.

The challenges with changing an existing and very popular database are endless. It is particularly difficult because people are different in how they search. Added to that, important features are not uniform even among librarians. If you are curious about the latest chatter or if you have questions, check out #medlibs on Twitter. It is a great way to get ideas and answers!

It is my hope that this review provides some suggestions for improving how informationists and librarians can teach faculty, staff, and students to successfully navigate and search the new PubMed interface.

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1 Comment

  1. Jan W. Schoones October 28, 2020 at 7:41 am

    Avoid Truncation? You can use truncation in the new PubMed! So, keep using it,

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