The Researchers, Principal Investigators, and Science Writers we’ve talked to seem to have a love-hate relationship with PubMed. They love that a simple search can get them quick access to the latest articles but they hate the limiting interface and how much reading is required to find good articles. They told us they aren’t always sure they got all the right articles and that they want a more efficient and customized system that meets more of their needs and gets better over time as it learns from their behavior.
PubMed is the most common tool used to search the body of literature available from Medline®. (Medline is part of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.) The tool searches many millions of articles from a variety of life science journals. The tool is such an integral part of the scientists’ workflow, it makes sense for it to be easier than it is right now. Researchers need to be able to efficiently find complete sets of relevant articles and make sense of them.
There are many reasons people use PubMed and we found at least one process and use case that nearly every user we talked to goes through, repeatedly. First, they go through a process of trying to find the right thing to search for. Second, once they have some relevant results they go through a process of trying to figure out which articles they should invest time in reading, and third, after they find relevant articles they go into a process of managing those articles so they have access to them later when creating citations in their reports and publications.
We’ve detailed this process for multiple personas and built a tool engineered to help streamline this process, focusing on aspects that provide value while minimizing those that don’t. Minimizing the number of words people need to read on the screen in order to understand how to refine a coarse search into a narrow one, in order to figure out whether to read an entire abstract and further whether they should seek out the full text, and then in getting those articles into their reference manager software.
Step 1: Finding the right things to search for
Most likely you’re on PubMed looking for articles because you’re forming or already have a hypothesis. Plug the nouns from your hypothesis into the search bar on PubMed Explorer, and you’re instantly rewarded with a word cloud. This is a great way to visualize search results like never before. You can immediately see how common terms appearing in the articles are used. The larger a word is, the more often it appears in the abstracts returned by the search. Another feature is that when you hover or click words in the cloud, the list of results is filtered automatically and you are presented with a list of sentences where the word or words were used.
Let’s say you find something interesting in an abstract, and you want to learn more, but are worried about losing your current search results. With PubMed Explorer, you can click and save your search. Give it a unique name, and all the current keywords and parameters are added to your saved searches list and you can return to it at any time.
Step 2: Save relevant articles and trusted journals
When you find an article that you think warrants a full read, click the radio button next to it and then click the save button. You can select more than one article at a time and save them all at once. Clicking on a title will take you to the article abstract in PubMed.
The Saved Items sidebar shows your saved articles, journals, and searches. Your curated list of articles will be there when you’re ready to read or download citations. You can select your trusted journals and save them, so (when the next version launches soon) PubMed Explorer knows how to rank your results in accordance with your preferred sources. With saved searches, one click lets you re-issue the search with the exact parameters you have set, day after day.
Step 3: Store citations in the proper format
PubMed Explorer works seamlessly with EndNote, Mendeley, and other citation management software. Curate the references in the relevant papers instantly. When you’re ready to write your article, the “Literature Cited” section will be the easiest part.
Step 4: Look at the data in new ways
Many conceptual visualization styles help researchers find the insights they need. Word clouds give more context to search results. Network diagrams help illustrate the journal author network. The network diagram of MeSH terms and cluster modeling of topics brings out patterns in the way search terms are being used across publications and papers. Look for the Exploratory Visualizations in the PubMed Explorer to become more powerful and refined over time.
Step 5: Find authors with whom you can collaborate
In the network diagram of authors, you can easily see which authors have worked on one paper together, and how they are connected to other authors through other articles. It’s easy to see who is contributing based on topics as well. Use those connections to help find the people you are inspired to work with on future projects.
Finding a cure is hard enough. Finding meaningful insights from already published works shouldn’t be.