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Michigan State University

PHM 211--Researching topics in pharmacology and toxicology: Search Tips

Health Sciences Librarian

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Chana Kraus-Friedberg
366 W. Circle Drive
East Lansing, MI 48824
Subjects: Medicine, Public Health

General Tips

  1. Always use the drop-down menu next to the search box to tell the database which fields to search in. This cuts down on the number of irrelevant results you get: for example, if you select "Author" as a field and then search for Sally Ride, you'll get articles she wrote. If you don't select a field first, you might get articles she wrote, articles that cited her work, and articles about her.
  2. All databases have some kind of sort function that decides which articles to show you first. One possible sort is by relevance, meaning that the database will show you the most relevant results first, but this is often not the default. (For many databases, the default is to put the most recent articles first). If you're panicking because you think none of the results you found will be relevant to your topic, check for the sort drop-down above the results, and set it to "relevance" or "best match."
  3. Capitalize AND and OR. Many databases treat them as regular keywords unless you capitalize them, so they'll end up searching for every article that uses "and." Not every database is like this, but it's a good habit to get into just in case.
  4. Pay attention to synonyms. Especially if you're looking at a topic that's been written about for a long time, the terms people use can change. Sometimes there are also a few different names for something being used at the same time (this is often the case with drugs). Scan the abstracts of a couple of articles to see if there are any terms you're missing, and then put all the synonyms together with OR: aspirin OR Acetylsalicylic acid OR ASA.

Tips on drug/chemical searching in PubMed

Drug/chemical searching sometimes can be tricky. Here are some steps to follow:

1.  Find out how long your drug or chemical has been around.  The Center Watch web site lists when drugs received FDA approval. 

2.  Note down all possible generic and brand names for your drug or chemical. You can improve the results of your search by using the word OR to connect synonyms.

Example searches: 

abilify OR aripiprazole ("aripiprazole" is another name for the drug abilify)

3.  Use the word AND to add the disease or organ impacted and narrow down your search. If the drug or chemical is very new, you may have to search for the disease or organ and the words "drug therapy" or "vaccine" or a similar word.

Example searches:

aripiprazole AND schizophrenia    

cholera AND vaccine  

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