In this walk-through tutorial, we will cover how to use PubMed to find articles on the sample topic “depression in cancer.” Complete the steps described along with this guide to practice using PubMed.
Simple keyword searches in PubMed:
PubMed can be used for quick Google-like keyword searches, which you can do from the homepage.
The good news: it’s a fast way to access scholarly articles on a topic.
The bad news: (1) with over 22 million citations in PubMed, you are likely to retrieve too many results, many of which may be irrelevant and (2) because of differences in terminology use, you may miss a lot of relevant results too.
For best results, always start your searches with the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH).
Many databases, including PubMed, allow you to use subjects as well as keywords. What is the difference?
Keywords are the words we tend to use in daily life: "heart attack," "cancer," etc. They are what you enter when doing simple searches in PubMed. However, when you search for a keyword, you are depending on the authors of an article using the same keywords you did. If so, your keywords will match the words used in the article's title, abstract, etc. and it will show up in your search results.
Subjects are the field's professional terms: "myocardial infarction," "neoplasms," etc. Subjects are assigned to each citation by indexers to ensure your searches catch all articles on a topic even if the authors did not use the same keywords you did. For example, if you search for "lung cancer" but the author used the phrase "pulmonary neoplasms" instead, you may not find that article with keywords, but you will find it if you search for the subject "lung neoplasms."
PubMed's subjects are called MeSH terms. Each citation included in PubMed is reviewed by an indexer and assigned MeSH terms that describe it to ensure your searches catch all articles on a topic even if different authors use different words for the same concept (such as cancer vs. neoplasm vs. tumor). Although PubMed automatically maps keywords to subjects, to ensure only the subjects you want are used, use the MeSH database to select the subjects yourself.
Access the MeSH database from the “More Resources” column on the homepage.
To use the MeSH database, type a keyword in the text box at the top of the page and click “Search.”