Have you earned your PubMed black belt?

Photo: Spirit-Fire via Flickr

Photo: Spirit-Fire via Flickr

It’s just about impossible to report on medical research without becoming intimately familiar with PubMed. But just because a reporter uses the database site doesn’t mean they’re getting the most out of it.

How often have you used a service, such as an email client or a social media site, for years when someone suddenly points out to you a shortcut or a feature you’ve never used and didn’t know existed? Chances are  that there’s at least one new skill you can pick up in Hilda Bastian’s tip sheet on using PubMed.

At her Absolutely Maybe blog (hosted at science- and medicine-centric PLOS Blogs) Bastian explains 9 PubMed Ninja Skills that will help reporters, researchers and anyone else get the most out of the site. About half of her suggestions require an account at PubMed, but these are free and quick to set up. She opens with some great links to the sources that PubMed draws from and then moves into expert searching skills, such as using filters, quotation marks and Boolean operators.

Even if journalists already know or use these, many may not be taking advantage of her next several tips regarding email alerts (these are WONDERFUL for story ideas that no one else is covering), tracking articles in collections (a lifesaver when working on a long-term story or following a research trail through the Similar Articles feature) and customizing your PubMed settings.

Most journalists will not find her final tip – regarding comments for PubMed-indexed authors – relevant for themselves, but it’s a nice reminder that those comments exist. They offer an opportunity to mine for sources or to get ideas on what questions to ask about a particular study or topic.

If most of these tips are old hat for you, each AHCJ Health Journalism conference in the spring includes a session by Robert Logan and Ivan Oransky, M.D., in which they discuss other ways to improve your PubMed yield and become a true PubMed ninja.

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