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PubMed - Beyond the Basics

PubMed - MeSH term contexts PubMed - Add subheadings PubMed - Restrict to major terms PubMed - Exclude related subject headings

Build a Strategy Using the MeSH Database

You can use the MeSH database to build a search from scratch. Although you are using the MeSH database, you can still integrate your own terms (keywords) into the strategy, but this must be the last thing you do after your MeSH terms have been entered, otherwise your additional text will be lost.

  1. On PubMed's front page, select Explore: MeSH Database Journals. (To open the link in a new tab, hold the Ctrl key when you click, or right-click on the link and select Open link in New Tab.)
    PubMed - MeSH database link
  2. Enter the term you had thought of for your first concept.
    Accept terms from the auto-complete list only if they look better than the terms you had.
    PubMed - Enter MeSH term
  3. Click on the link of the term that best matches your concept.
    Always click on the linked term, in this case Gait, rather than selecting concepts straight from the results screen. This allows you to see the MeSH term in context before you use it in a search. Even if it looks like a perfect match, there may be broader or narrower terms more appropriate for your search.
  4. The next screen will show:
    • a description of the term in all possible contexts (here as part of human or animal movement, and as a component of physical examination).
      Subject heading terms displayed in the hierarchy are hyperlinked, so you can easily investigate broader or narrower terms.
    • options to add subheadings.
      If your search contains more than one concept, it is usually better not to add subheadings.
    • the option to restrict to use of the term as a major topic to retrieve only those references where the term is a major topic of the article.
    • the option to not include narrower-and-related subject headings.
      The default in PubMed is to include narrower terms and this is almost always a good idea.
      PubMed - MeSH term options
  5. Choose the term you want to describe your concept, and click Add to search builder.
    PubMed - Add to Search Builder
  6. Search for a MeSH term, or subheading term, for your other concept(s), one at a time, and add those also.

    Remember, if you want to add your own words, you can also type into the PubMed Search Builder box, but only once all your MeSH terms are entered, otherwise your additional text will be lost as soon as you add a further MeSH term.

    If you are adding your own terms to the seach, be careful to:

    • tell PubMed which field or fields to target (e.g. [ti] or [tiab]).
    • make sure all connectors (AND / OR) are in capital letters.
    • combine the terms with related subject headings using OR.
    • put brackets around each concept.
    • combine different concepts with AND.
    Check that the structure of the whole strategy is correct, i.e. brackets, AND/OR connectors, and tabs all correct and correctly placed. PubMed can add brackets in a seemingly random way, but will complain if yours are not perfect – check before you click the Search PubMed button.
    PubMed - Search Builder box
    You can expand the box by dragging the expand icon Expand icon in the lower right hand corner.
  7. Click the Search PubMed button.