Making Your Publication Findable

“We should look to the mind, and not to the outward appearance” said Aesop. Yet, outward appearance sometimes matters.

In publishing, the title and abstract of an article in a database (e.g. Pubmed, Embase, Web of Science), as well as some other information, such as listed your affiliation, represents the “face” of your article. It’s very important to make your title/abstract an adequate representative of your article, and many science authors do a good job putting a lot of essential information in the abstracts. Yet, an important aspect may be overlooked,  not just the information itself, but what makes it “findable,” or more exposed to the world.

Although some biomedical databases such as Pubmed and Embase assign controlled vocabulary (subject headings such as MeSH or Emtree terms) to the references, which aids others in finding your article, not all databases do so, and not for articles in any journal. In any case, even if your article is assigned subject headings in some databases, the text words in the database record, especially in the title, abstract and author supplied keywords matter a lot. They matter for finding your article by a database searcher, and they matter for how your article record is sorted in relevance ranking in search results. It’s in your power, as an author, to make your article findable easily via a database.

Here are some tips on how to make your publication findable via a database search:

  • Use both abbreviations adopted in the field and the corresponding full names in the title, abstract and author keywords. Example: long non-coding RNA (lncRNA)
  • Use special characters with caution as many of them can’t be used as search terms (e.g. plus and minus characters). It is best to use full words instead. For example, if a database user types HER2+ in the PubMed search box, the user will retrieve all articles on HER2, both positive and negative, as the “+” character is ignored by PubMed. At the same time, if a database user types HER2 positive in the search box, the user may never find your article if you only used HER2+ in the information that goes into a database record. If you used the words HER2 positive in the title, abstract or keywords instead or in addition to, your work would be easily found in PubMed by a searcher using the word positive when searching for HER2+ cancers.
  • Some databases recognize Greek characters (e.g, if a searcher pastes the title of your article where you used the Greek character for Beta in the PubMed search box, they will find your article but if they paste this title in full in the Web of Science search box, they won’t find your article unless they type beta as a word.
  • Use author keywords options offered by many databases to supply well established synonyms, alternatively spelled words and important additional terms not already used in the title or abstract to increase the chance of a database user finding your article if they search by terms not used by you in the title/abstract.
  • Use the full name of your institution as your affiliation, not just the institution abbreviation, department or address.

Key takeaways:

Always think about the ways your article can be searched for and found in different major databases when you name your article, write the article abstract, supply author keywords, list your affiliation, list the sponsor/grant, etc.

Top 5 Things to Know About the New PubMed

The new PubMed is coming in 2020, and we are here to help you navigate the new interface. Here are five highlights:

  • Improved mobile experience: You can now enjoy all PubMed’s functionality and features on your tablet or mobile device.
  • Sort Order: “Best Match” is the default sort order for search results. It uses an algorithm to show the most relevant results first. PubMed lets you easily switch to “Most Recent”. Your browser will remember your sorting preference for any following web sessions (except if you clear your browser cache). As a personal preference, I like to toggle back and forth between both options, relevancy is important, but I also don’t want to miss any new studies.
  • Citation: A great new feature allows you to copy and paste the citation of an article using the action “Cite”. You can choose from four citation styles: AMA, MLA, APA, or NLM.
  • Enhanced retrieval of synonyms, plural forms, and British/American spelling: Please note that while this is a very convenient feature, PubMed may find keywords that are irrelevant to your search. For instance, when searching for the keyword “Nurse”, PubMed will automatically search for the keywords nurse, nurses, nursing, but also the synonyms breastfeeding(s), breastfeeder(s), lactation(s), lactating(s), and lactators. If your search retrieves too many irrelevant results, we will be happy to meet with you to demonstrate how to turn off synonyms retrieval. Come to one of our classes or schedule a consultation with one of us.
  • Enhanced data discovery: PubMed added a new filter “Associated Data”, allowing you to retrieve articles with supplemental data from the following data repositories:, GenBank, figshare, and Dryad.

The new PubMed will become the default in spring 2020. The legacy version will run for several months in parallel before being fully retired. If you would like to familiarize yourself with the new PubMed interface, join us in one of our classes.

PubMed Advanced Search Field Codes

While PubMed’s advanced search is most often used to combine previous searches together to create more complex strategies and to rerun previous searches, it has other functions that are often overlooked. The default field codes are All Fields, however by clicking on the drop down button reveals an expansive number of options to customize your search. Below are some of the most useful, but often overlooked field codes.

Affiliation: This field code searches the author affiliations. For example, this can be used to search for results where one of the authors is affiliated with MSK (or was at the time of publication).

Author-First/Author-Last: These field codes identify results where the author is only the first or last author listed. This can be useful when looking for articles that came out of specific labs (as the last author is typically the primary investigator).

Author-Corporate: This field code can be used to narrow down when an author is not a person, but rather a group/organization/corporation.

Grant Number: This field code can locate articles associated with a specific grant number, which can be helpful for keeping up with public access compliance, or identifying trends in research.