Skip to main content

PubMed Tutorial from The Levy Library: Find the Right Term by Pearl Growing

Display MeSH Vocabulary in PubMed

Display a record's MeSH descriptors by clicking the MeSH Terms link or the double arrows below the MEDLINE citation in PubMed's Abstract view.

double arrows

What If You Can't Identify the Right MeSH Term?

"Pearl Growing" (or "Snowballing") are search strategies that use one good citation to find more information. Pearl growing can be a way to find MeSH terms when the MeSH Browser doesn't help.

Scenario: You need to find statistics about drug addiction among physicians.

Open the MeSH database. Type addiction AND physician. Click Go. No MeSH terms appear. Type addicted doctors or another phrase that describes the concept. The suggestions at the top of the page are merely matching the letters (not the subjects) you type, and are not useful. Clearly, this is a difficult topic to find in the MeSH database. What do you do now?

Find the Pearl:

Return to PubMed: Select PubMed from the drop down menu on the left of the MeSH query box to return to PubMed.  In PubMed, clear your old search and search filters. Perform a keyword search in PubMed for addiction AND physician.

Scan your results. Do you see a relevant citation?

If a basic search is too broad, filter your search by limiting your search terms to theTitle field. An easy way to do this is to click Show additional filters and check off Search Fields. Then click Choose, select Title, and Apply.

Now do you see a relevant citation? You should have about 30 results, all with the words "addiction" and "physician" in the title.

Scan the results for a "pearl" and click the title to view the full record (also called the abstract view or abstract page). 

Display the MeSH terms:

Click the link to MeSH terms (below the abstract) to display the MeSH vocabulary used to describe this record. The asterisks identify major MeSH terms.

Do you see the MeSH term that describes your topic? How about Physician Impairment?  

Click the term, and from the pop-up menu select Add to Search. Or, select PubMed to run a new search, or MeSH to view the record in the MeSH Database. For additional guidance, view the screenshots below.

Finding MeSH Headings from Search Results: Screenshots

Display a record's MeSH descriptors by clicking the MeSH Terms link or the double arrows below the MEDLINE citation in PubMed's Abstract view.


Click on a MeSH term to bring up the Actions options: Search in PubMed, Search in MeSH, and Add to Search.