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PubMed Tutorial from The Levy Library: Why NOT Do a MeSH Search?

MeSH will Probably NOT Help You If...

Your topic is a new or emerging concept for which a MeSH term does not yet exist.

You suspect that very little has been published on your topic - meaning, again, there is probably no MeSH term.

Your topic is a gene, unless it is a very heavily studied gene such as BRCA1 (most genes do not have MeSH terms).

You want to retrieve recently published articles. The newest articles in PubMed may not yet be indexed for MEDLINE. There is a short lag time (a few days to many weeks) between when citations enter the PubMed database and when they are described with MeSH terms.

An article you need is not indexed for MEDLINE. PubMed includes over 1.5 million articles that are not indexed with MeSH for MEDLINE.

A basic subject search is the best way to retrieve articles in the situations described above.

Examples: When MeSH Helps and When it Doesn't

Type of Search



One aspect of a larger topic Transplantation of adult stem cells A basic text word search retrieves over 25,000 hits. A MeSH search with subheadings quickly provides focus.
Rare topic "Baby rattle" pelvis dysplasia A basic text word search is best for rare topics. There is no MeSH term for baby rattle pelvis dysplasia.
New topic Virophage A basic text word search is also best for new topics. There is no MeSH term for virophage.
Complicated topic Metabolism of methicillin by resistant Staphylococcus A basic search here is too broad. A MeSH search helps focus on the relationship between the terms.

If MeSH Does Not Help

If MeSH does not help with your search:

You may need to do a more thorough keyword search. Think of synonyms that can be used to describe your topic, and connect them with OR.
Example: the SOX genes are often also known as the SRY genes. Search for sox OR sry

If you have several topics, or you're looking for an aspect of a topic that doesn't have a MeSH subheading, add more keywords and connect them with AND
Examplepromoter regions AND mutations

Remember to use parentheses if necessary. 
Example: promoter regions AND mutations AND (sox OR sry)