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How to Search in Biomedical Databases

Tutorials for Library Databases and Resources

Sample Search Step #4: Combining MeSH & Keywords

Adding field tags and Boolean operators to search for Atorvastatin 

  • Recap: This portion of the search picks up where we left off at the end of Step #2, when the MeSH term for Atorvastatin was added to the PubMed Search Builder box within the entry page by clicking the button "Add to search builder" (as pictured in the screenshot below). The next several steps will explain and visualize how to add the keywords that were located in Step #3 to the same search box. 

  • Within the PubMed Search Builder box on the MeSH entry page for Atorvastatin (pictured below) type in the keywords and synonyms with OR operators between each term (also pictured below). These are the keywords developed in Step #3. Note that the search box allows for direct typing, so all you have to do is click in the box and start typing in each synonym followed by the field tag [tiab]

Screencapture showing all the keywords, MeSH terms and synonyms in the Search Builder box as a single search string

  • The following search string is the exact same as what is captured in the screen-capture above. Note the field tags after each keyword and the quotes around each term with more than one word:

"​Atorvastatin"[Mesh] OR Atorvastatin[tiab] OR "(3R,5R)-7-(2-(4-Fluorophenyl)-5-isopropyl-3-phenyl-4-(phenylcarbamoyl)-1H-pyrrol-1-yl)-3,5-dihydroxyheptanoic acid"[tiab] OR "Atorvastatin Calcium"[tiab] OR "Atorvastatin, Calcium Salt"[tiab] OR Liptonorm[tiab] OR Lipitor[tiab] OR "Atorvastatin Calcium Hydrate"[tiab] OR "Atorvastatin Calcium Anhydrous"[tiab] OR "CI 981"[tiabOR "CI-981"[tiab] OR "CI981"[tiab] OR "Atorvastatin Calcium Trihydrate"[tiab]

  • Pro Tip: Truncation. In PubMed you can use a * at the root of a word to find multiple endings. This technique is called "truncation." Truncation can be useful when entering synonyms for keywords into the search box, especially in cases where terms end in "s" (as seen in the example in the following section with female/females). Here are additional examples with different endings:

arthroplast* will return arthroplasty, arthroplasties, arthroplastic, arthroplastics, etc.

mobili* will return mobility, mobilization, mobilisation, mobilize, etc.

  • Note about truncation: In PubMed you cannot combine phrase searching with truncation. Either use quotes, e.g. "early childhood mobility," or use truncation, e.g. early childhood mobili*
  • Once the MeSH term and the keywords (and synonyms) have all been entered according to your preference, and properly separated with OR Boolean operators, click on the button labeled "Search PubMed," as can be seen in this screen-capture: 
Screen-capture showing where to go to select the "Search PubMed" link within the MeSH page
  • After clicking on "Search PubMed," the following page should open (please note that this new version of PubMed should synch up with with this classic version of the MeSH database starting in spring of 2020; until then, users will be directed to the older version of PubMed, which should operate similarly as what is pictured below). Note that this search will be saved for you by PubMed (for up to 12 hours, on the device you are using to search). This automatic saving feature allows you to search for your additional concepts without losing your work for this first concept. That being said, it is always advisable to save your search strategy in a word document, while you work on your search.
Screen-capture showing the 8,000+ results retrieved by searching with keywords and subject headings together
  • Note the difference that using MeSH and keywords together creates. As seen in the following two screen-captures, just searching for the MeSH only retrieves 6,411 results, while keywords alone retrieves 8,493 (MeSH and Keywords together combined by OR totals 9,517 results)
Screencapture showing the difference in the number of results when MeSH is only searched
Screencapture showing the difference in results (a lower number) when only searching with keywords