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Systematic Searching for Health Science Research

Tips for Advanced Searching

PubMed Tools

The Yale MeSH Analyzer

If you have already found a few PubMed articles that address your topic,  looking at the MeSH terms assigned to these articles can help you get started. The Yale MeSH Analyzer makes it easy for you do to this by creating a grid of suggested MeSH terms from articles you have already identified.

MeSH on Demand

A tool from the National Library of Medicine, MeSH on Demand allows you to cut and paste text from an article or manuscript. Based on that text, the tool will generate suggested MeSH terms for you, and provide links to related articles.

A Sample Search Strategy for PubMed

Please note that the example of a search strategy presented here is not meant to be an example of how to search for interventions on Bell Palsy. It is meant to illustrate one way to set up an advanced search in PubMed.

MeSH Headings Versus Keywords

Before beginning a search in PubMed, it is helpful to identify a combination of both MeSH headings and general keywords that you will use to find articles.

MeSH Headings: Mesh stands for "Medical Subject Headings." This is the standardized vocabulary ("controlled vocabulary") that the PubMed indexers use to help users find and identify articles of interest. MeSH headings describe topics covered in the article.

Keywords: Keywords describe the simple, everyday words ("natural language") you would use when describing a health topic.

When searching PubMed, I recommend using a combination of MeSH terms and keywords.

Finding MeSH Terms & Keywords

You can search for MeSH terms by looking up words in PubMed's MeSH database.

When you are in the MeSH database, you can type in the keyword that you want to search. In this example, we are looking for the MeSH term for "frozen shoulder:"


After typing in "frozen shoulder," the MeSH database comes up with the word Bursitis. This is the official MeSH term used to describe the condition often known as frozen shoulder.

You will want to include the MeSH term "Bursitis" when you set up your search in PubMed.

Finding one relevant article may help you find some additional keywords for your search. For example, this particular article talks about electrotherapy modalities for Bursitis. While the official MeSH term is "Bursitis," you will notice that the keywords "adhesive capsulitis" and "frozen shoulder" are used in this abstract. You may want to do a search that combines the MeSH term Bursitis, and the alternative phrases "adhesive capsulitis" and "frozen shoulder." Using a combination of all these terms will maximize the number of abstracts that you will get.

Combining Title/Abstract Keywords with MeSH Terms

By searching with a combination of MeSH terms and keywords, you will maximize the number of results that you will get from the database.

Below, you will see one possible way to set up a search string using a combination of MeSH terms and keywords. In this case, [TIAB] stands for title/abstract. This search string is telling PubMed to search for the MeSH term "Bursitis,"but it is also telling the database to look for the phrases "adhesive capsulitis" or "frozen shoulder" in the title and abstracts of the articles.

Health Sciences Librarian

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Kate Silfen
Mugar Memorial Library