I have just started work on a systematic review, and this will be my first one! I am currently a bit stumped because I've been told to "search pubmed", however from past experience I worry about this because I am particularly interested in certain phrases or mostly 2 and 3 words which apper in the body of the paper but are absent from the title and abstract.

Is there any workaround in pubmed? If not is there another similar searchable database? If not, then how do people go about this?

  • 9
    Go find your local friendly research librarian who can introduce you to many search techniques on the various databases available.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Dec 14, 2023 at 14:07

2 Answers 2


PubMed contains only abstracts. It does not contain the full text of the paper. So you cannot accomplish this by searching PubMed.

PubMed Central contains full text, so you can perform the search there. You can construct it quite easily using the advanced search. For example, you can find papers which have 'mouse' in the body but not the title or abstract with the following query

mouse[Body - All Words] NOT mouse[Title] NOT mouse[Abstract]

However, PubMed Central only contains a subset of the papers in PubMed. For a systematic review, this may by problematic. I concur with the other comments that discussing this with a librarian at your institution may help you identify commercial resources you might have access to that can help, or an alternative approach that may be workable.


I recommend to consult a local librarian to help you. There are several studies[1, 2, 3 ] showing that when librarians or information experts are involved in systematic reviews it results in higher quality studies compared to studies without librarians.

With regards to your question, I think PubMed only indexes title, abstract and metadata, not the full text of the papers. So it is probably not possible to search only by the main text via PubMed.

  • 2
    ❤️ librarians! And if access to a local library with a reference desk is challenging, then an email to the reference desk of a bigger library further away (or even on the other side of the planet) will often get a wonderfully helpful response. They are there, waiting to help. All we need to do is ask, nicely, and clearly, then give them a few days to reply.
    – uhoh
    Commented Dec 14, 2023 at 21:49
  • "There are several studies" Did you consult a librarian to find those studies? ;)
    – JiK
    Commented Dec 15, 2023 at 17:23

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