StATS: PubMed tags (April 28, 2005)

Searching in PubMed can be tricky. If you don't find what you want the first time, it may help to specify exactly what part of the PubMed record you want to search for.

For example, I was searching on Schiavo to see if there were any interesting commentaries about this case in PubMed Central. But when I searched simply on "Schiavo," PubMed gave me 10 articles where one of the authors had a last name of Schiavo. I could search instead for "Schiavo [ti]" which would limit my search to those articles where the word "Schiavo" appeared in the title of the publication.

Other useful tags in PubMed are:

The [ta] tag is very useful when the name of the journal (e.g., Circulation) is also a commonly used medical term. You can also search by the journal's ISSN number if you know it.

The [dp] tag uses the YYYY/MM/DD format and you can specify only the year or only the year/month. You can also specify a range using a colon between the two dates. Finally, you can search the last X days by specifying "last X days [dp]" in your search. This also works for the last X months and the last X years. The [tiab] tag allows you to search for words in either the title or the abstract.

The "free full text [sb]" tag will retrieve only those articles with free full text on the web. For example, searching on "L'Abbe plot" yielded seven references, but when I searched on "free full text [sb] L'Abbe plot" I got the two articles which had free full text on the web. When you are looking for good teaching examples, it is wonderful to search for publications that you can link to directly, knowing that everyone who reads your pages will be able to view the full article if they so desire.

You can also search for certain publication types such as Review, Clinical Trial, or Editorial using the [pt] tag.

The [tw] tag searches for words in the title, abstract, and MeSH terms.

MeSH, by the way, stands for "Medical Subject Headings" and is an attempt by PubMed to create a hierarchy of medical terms to help make searches more efficient. You can learn all about MeSH at

Further reading

This page was written by Steve Simon while working at Children's Mercy Hospital. Although I do not hold the copyright for this material, I am reproducing it here as a service, as it is no longer available on the Children's Mercy Hospital website. Need more information? I have a page with general help resources. You can also browse for pages similar to this one at Category: Information searching.