Search like a pro: PubMed “Related Citations”

magnifying glass image from Flickr

I thought this was pretty neat.

Last week someone asked on MEDLIB listserv if it was possible to search within that little list of “Related Citations” that pops up when you are viewing an article abstract in PubMed. When you’re in the article view, you only see the first five, but generally there are many more underneath that you can see and browse through by selecting “See all…”

Using the list of Related Citations is not an exact science, of course, and I myself am unsure what algorithm exactly generates that list of Related Citations. But when you are starting searches on a new treatment or condition, scoping a research topic, or trying to generate search vocabulary, this list can be very useful as a launching point into the literature (provided you have found a good starting article).

Abstract and related citations in PubMed

In my example, I already have a good starting article. Let’s say, because I live in Vancouver, I’m interested needlestick injuries, asked around, and found out about a seminal study in the journal Pediatrics. Now, because I don’t know where to go next, the Related Citations may be particularly useful. As I mentioned briefly, to see the whole list of PubMed’s Related Citations, you click that little “See All…” Then you’ll see a new page that looks something like this:

Related Citation results list

Notice that now instead of only 5 Related Citations, I have 636! But, there’s a problem. Many needlestick injuries occur on the job, to medical professionals. This is documented and reported on, and thus not what I want to research. I want to find information on needlesticks acquired on the street, in the community, to non-health workers. So, to the heart of the matter: from my 636, I can search within this list by clicking to “Advanced Search.” Now you’re really cooking. You’ll see this:

Search history including Related Citations set

That makes my Related Citations into a set. If you rarely do any advanced searching in PubMed, don’t fear the new screen. Simply take note of the number that your new set has been given (in my case, oddly, #4). To pare down your list, add search terms and include “AND #4” to ensure that your new results are all plucked from that set. Add your search terms thusly:

Additional search terms

Having completed this search, it does expose some holes in the Related Citations algorithm, because I noticed, right next to each other, good articles on what I want, and unrelated articles on other “community-acquired” problems, such as Staph and pneumonia.

Good Result, Bad Result

As I said before, it’s not an exact science, but for just starting out, this is a handy trick to have up your sleeve.


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