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PubMed/MEDLINE: Basic Searching

An introduction to using PubMed for basic research, and advanced literature reviews.

MeSH - Using PubMed's lingo

MeSH - Medical Subject Headings are the builidng blocks of PubMed. Utilizing these built-in keywords can help you get better results from your seearches.

Note: Searching with only MeSH terms excludes the most current citations in process and publisher-supplied citations as they are not indexed with MeSH.

Use MeSH to:

  • Identify appropriate terms
  • Confirm definitions
  • Search by a subject
  • Build a search strategy
  • Apply subheadings
  • Focus search results
  • Limit or expand retrieval

Example: Search the word "nursing" in PubMed and your results will vary between the profession and breastfeeding. Using the apporpriate MeSH term will eliminate this confusion:

A search for "Nursing [MeSH]" would return results from the field of nursing - care concerned with the promotion, maintenance, and restoration of health.

A search for "Breast Feeding [MeSH]" would give results for the nursing of an infant at the breast.  

Here are some quick video tutorials on using MeSH to construct better searches.

Search Tips

Use an asterisk (*) to retrieve variations on a word, e.g., bacter* retrieves bacteria, bacterium, bacteriophage, etc.

Use Boolean operators (AND, OR, and NOT) to combine topics in the Search box. Boolean operators should be entered in UPPERCASE and are processed from left to right. Change the order by using parentheses. Example: osteoporosis AND (drug therapy OR exercise

For a Subject Search: Enter one or more words (e.g., asthma drug therapy) in the Search box and click on Search. PubMed automatically "ANDs" (combines) terms together to search for - (asthma AND drug AND therapy) - so that all terms or concepts are present, and it translates your words into MeSH (Medical Subject Headings) terms when available.

For an Author Search: Enter the author's name in the format of last name first followed by initials (e.g., byrnes ca) in either the Search box or search by author on the Advanced Search Builder page.

For a Journal Search: To retrieve articles from a specific journal, use Journals in NCBI Databases or Single Citation Matcher features (available on the PubMed homepage).

Basic Searching

There are two ways to search in PubMed: 1) a general search in the main search bar or 2) constructing targeted searches using Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) or other limiters.

To perform a general search (recommended when starting a research project), simply type a phrase you wish to search in the main search bar (i.e. hip dysplasia dogs). The drop down menu will suggest commonly searched phrases. The database automatically inserts AND between hip and dysplasia and dogs.

2) Apply Limits or Filters to narrow your results

When you get your results, the left side panel should have several options for you to narrow or filter your results. Especially if you have several thousand results a good way to reduce this number is to select publication year or English language. Sometimes you need to click on "Show Additional Filters" for all options to show up. Click on "More" under each filter to see all available options. Filters are activated when they are highlighed in blue and appear at the top of the screen.

3) Display Settings

As you review your results, you can change the display settings to suit your preferences. By default, the results are set to display by recently added. This means you might come across items that are not in chronological order. If this is important to you, make sure you change the display settings to Pub Date instead.

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