Getting Started

PubMed logoPubMed is the interface for MEDLINE, the database of biomedical research articles compiled by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NLM/NIH). It has over 21 million citations, with more being added every day. From PubMed, you can link out to actual articles using the FindIt @ Harvard button; extend your search to other databases from the National Center for Biotechnical Information (NCBI); and more. You can set up a My NCBI account and save your searches; get updates on a regular basis whenever an article on that subject is published; save references; and set up a bibliography.

Although PubMed is freely available, ALWAYS enter it through a Harvard portal - look for "harvard" in the url. Otherwise, you won't be able to get to the many journals to which the University subscribes.

Basic searching in PubMed is very easy. Simply enter your search term(s) in the search box at the top. PubMed will suggest topics for you, and if you like any of them you can simply click on one. You can also put in your own search terms, and you can add AND or OR between terms to combine them. It's usually a good idea to start with a broad search, then narrow your results.

Once you have a set of results, you can refine or expand them in many ways. You can:

  • Directly under the search box, set up an RSS feed if you like your search; get Alerts; do an Advanced Search (especially handy if you have volume, issue, page number information).
  • On the left, refine your search by Article Type, dates and more (do NOT select Free Full Text because then you won't even see the good stuff that the library pays buckets of money to get). For a quick overview of a topic, Review articles are an excellent place to start.
  • Change the display settings under Format and Sort By. By default resulsts are listed in reverse chronological order - most recent first - but you can change that to Relevance, Author and more.
  • Towards the right side, Send to various destinations, including Email and a Clipboard where you can temporarily store them, plus other options to be discussed later.

You can click on any result to see the full entry; or click on Similar Articles to find similar items (this is a great way to start if you find a couple of items that are right on target). On the right-hand side, PubMed also tells you the details of what it searched; if you didn't get what you wanted, that will give you clues to what to change. It also gives your search history (Recent Activity) so you can see exactly how you have searched.

My NCBI logoAll this is just on the first page of Results, but there is much more! PubMed also offers many resources, including a Quick Start Guide, FAQs, Tutorials, and much more. There are even YouTube videos like this one on getting full text articles! See the other pages of this guide for more information on how to make the most of this incredibly rich database.