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Health Sciences Advanced Search

This guide is designed from postgraduate level students working on primary research projects or dissertations.

PubMed with MeSH


Most commercial (Library) databases are designed to use Controlled Vocabulary. However, most people don't even know what Controlled Vocabulary is, where to find it, how it works, or how to use it. The PubMed database is an excellent example of a database set up to operate using Controlled Vocabulary.

PubMed database = from the National Institutes of Health + the National Library of Medicine

PubMed is a free database paid for by taxpayer dollars. It can be freely accessed by anybody with access to the internet.

NOTICE: PubMed is currently undergoing an upgrade. Users can work with either PubMed Legacy or the New PubMed

PubMed Legacy Search Box

PubMed Legacy Search Box

New PubMed Search Box

New PubMed Search Box

PubMed is THE premier literature database for BioMedical Sciences research in the English-speaking world internationally.

The literature contained in this database will be specialized literature in the specific topic areas listed below:

  • Bio (biology research -- human, animal, flora, fauna, genetics, etc.)
  • Medical (research impacting human health)
  • Sciences (research in chemistry, physics, etc., to include pharmacology and medical devices)

To use the PubMed database efficiently and effectively, searchers don't just type words into the search box and click SEARCH. It's much more complicated.

PubMed users go into MeSH (the database dictionary) > determine the correct terminology for the topic with the correct spelling (Controlled Vocabulary) > search utilizing that specialized/formal vocabulary as well as natural language plus any special jargon.

REMINDER: Effective literature searching BEGINS with searching for the correct search terms.

If you follow let PubMed help with search terms, you'll perform a comprehensive search of this powerful database.

MeSH is an acronym for Medical Subject Headings.

PubMed MeSH is a free internet tool that serves as a Dictionary and a Thesaurus for the PubMed database. MeSH contains the formal terminology of the biomedical sciences. It also provides precise definitions for each term as well as a list of useful synonyms that will be searched automatically in the background. If the term being searched is broad, then MeSH will break out the term to show subsets of search terms you might decide to include.

MeSH features definition, synonyms, narrower terms

 MeSH is embedded in the PubMed database and can also be found separately on the internet.

MeSH embedded in PubMed:

PubMed Legacy with MeSH embedded

MeSH website:

MeSH website

New MeSH 2020 is in Beta. When it is functional, it will be included in this Guide with instructions where to find it and how to use it.

After searching for articles in PubMed, click on the article title to see a unique webpage dedicated to information about that article. 

The webpage will list the Abstract, Citation information, Author Affiliations, Research Method, Funding Support, and a PMID number. The PMID number is a serial number attached to every article in the PubMed database.

The webpage also will list the MeSH terms assigned to the article. 

PubMed Article details plus MeSH terms

The MeSH search terms assigned to an article by the National Library of Medicine can offer suggestions for other search term options for continued searching.


Go to PubMed through the TWU Libraries Databases A to Z list. 

Accessing PubMed through the Libraries webpages ensures connection to the Libraries' full text.

Login to PubMed with TWU Portal Name and Password.

Click on MeSH in the drop-down menu beside the PubMed logo.

PubMed Legacy Mesh Search


When you type a word into any search box, you are leaving the clinic and the classroom and entering the Publishing Industry. The Publishing Industry and Database companies decide which search terms are the correct search terms for their software retrieval systems. MeSH is the BioMedical Sciences Publishing Industry's tool to help PubMed users find the correct search terms.

Type the phrase brain cancer into PubMed MeSH to find the preferred Controlled Vocabulary term for this topic.

Is brain cancer the correct term according to the Publishing Industry? See image below from PubMed MeSH:

Brain Cancer MeSH term plus definition

PubMed MeSH shows that Brain Neoplasms is the correct term for searching the literature on the topic of brain cancer.

Scroll down the MeSH webpage to see the bullet list of brain neoplasms synonyms.

Brain Neoplasms Synonyms

The list above is NOT the entire list. It's just a snapshot of all the synonyms and variant spellings of synonyms PubMed MeSH provides.

PubMed will search the correct term Brain Neoplasms PLUS all these synonyms AUTOMATICALLY in the background without you having to type them into the search box individually.

Now scroll down the MeSH webpage a little farther to see a step-wise list.

This list provides a list of the search terms for all the specific types of brain cancers.

Brain Neoplasms Subtypes list

PubMed will search all of these brain cancer subtypes in the background AUTOMATICALLY as well.

As you can see, simply typing the phrase "brain cancer" into the PubMed search box will return articles about "brain cancer," but it will not return comprehensive search results on the topic Brain Neoplasms.

Searching PubMed using MeSH gives a MUCH BETTER set of search results.


Copy / Paste all the search term synonyms you find in PubMed into a document for later use. You can use those terms in Google, Google Scholar, and in less sophisticated databases.


Again, when you decide to search PubMed, always access PubMed through the TWU Libraries' Databases A to Z list or the TWU Subject Guides. You will be connected to all of TWU's full-text articles from there! (You can access PubMed through Google, but you will not be connect to the Libraries' full text.)


PubMed Video Help

The National Library of Medicine has put together a series of videos about PubMed Legacy MeSH and how to use it effectively. Watch the videos provided to see how to use MeSH to help find exact search terms, their synonyms, and the subtypes.

VIDEO:  Use MeSH to Build a Better PubMed Query (3:02)
VIDEO: PubMed: Combining MeSH Terms Using the MeSH database.

Coming Soon

VIDEO: PubMed Applying Sub-Headings and Other Features

Coming Soon

ANNOUNCEMENT: The videos above are demonstrations of PubMed Legacy. As soon as the New PubMed is up and running, new videos will be added to this guide to demonstrate how to use the new website and its new features.

New PubMed coming in Spring 2020