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Public Health Policy: Emerging Issues: PubMed Search Tips

PubMed Search Tip #1: Use this URL!

PubMed is your "go to" research database for Public Health topics including Health/Healthcare Disparities.

Be sure to USE THIS SPECIAL KENT STATE UNIVERSITY URL to search PubMed! Why? Because the "Find It at Kent State" icon will display in the article abstract display for the retrieved article.

Important Note effective January 2014: you must use the NEW Kent State PubMed URL above. Find It will not work using the previous URL.

What is PubMed?

PubMed, produced by the National Library of Medicine, is a free database of over 23 million citations to articles in medicine, nursing, dentistry, veterinary medicine, health care systems, and preclinical sciences. It includes the fully-indexed MEDLINE database PLUS in-process recent citations and other relevant journal citations. Read this PubMed Factsheet for full details. So, although you may see the MEDLINE database provided by other vendors, PubMed is better because it has more!

Where can you find out more about PubMed?

PubMed Search Tip #2: PubMed isn't the only game in town

But wait! Depending on the type of issue that you are searching, you might want to consider searching in research databases that cover subject areas related to public health. For example, if you are researching a health behavior, you might find it fruitful to search the Psychology Databases. Or if you are researching a topic with a health education aspect, consider searching in the Education Databases

The Research Databases page of the Public Health Library Guide lists other databases you might want to consider.

Here is a full list of Research Databases by Subject provided by the Kent State University Libraries!

PubMed Search Tip #3: Entering search terms

Type your chosen search word(s) in the PubMed search box:

PubMed search has some sophisticated built-in features:

  • Automatic Term Mapping: Your simple word(s) search is augugmented with subject headings to help you retrieve additional relevant articles. You can see what term(s) were added to your search by viewing the Search Details.
  • PubMed knows if you typed in an author's name or a journal title, executing the correct type of search.
  • The search box offers an autocomplete function and the spell checker suggests variant spellings with your results.
  • Use double quotes to search the PubMed phrase index. PubMed does not perform adjacency searching.
  • Type Boolean connector words in all upper case: AND, OR, NOT.

PubMed Search Tip #4: Searching with MeSH terms

Search for articles about the concepts in your topic using the special Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) rather than keywords when possible.


  • Subject headings (also called: controlled vocabulary, thesaurus terms, or descriptors) are standardized terms that are added to the article citation record which describe the subject CONCEPTS that are discussed in an article.
  • Skilled subject analysts examine the journal articles and assign the most specific applicable MeSH terms.
  • Articles about a given topic are tagged with the subject heading regardless of the particular variant terms used by the author to describe the topic. This saves you from doing a complex keyword search that includes all possible synonyms for a concept.
    • Example: Searching the MeSH term Myocardial Infarction also includes articles which call this "heart attack".
  • The hierarchical structure of MeSH allows you to include narrower, more specific concepts in a broad concept search. Sometimes this is called "exploding" the search.
    • Example: Searching the MeSH concept Heart Diseases and including in the search the terms found below this term in the MeSH hierarchy will search for ALL heart diseases without you having to name every single heart disease in your search string.
  • Subheadings are available to focus your search to particular aspects of a topic, such as the diagnosis of a disease.

In PubMed, the MeSH Database can be used to identify useful subject headings and build your PubMed MeSH search.

  • Use the special KSU PubMed URL then click on MeSH Database on the PubMed homepage to access this tool.
  • YOU MUST WATCH this video to learn how to Use MeSH to Build a Better PubMed Query.

One caution -- searching with MeSH terms only retrieves records that are fully indexed. Recently added "In Process" or "Supplied by Publisher" records can only be searched by using keywords.

How do I find out more about searching with Medical Subject Headings?

PubMed Search Tip #5: Combining concepts

For a complex topical search, your search strategy will require searching on more than one concept.

There are TWO ways to combine concept searches in PubMed using Boolean Logic:

  • Enter the search terms for all the individual concepts in the PubMed search box using Boolean connector words. In PubMed, Boolean operators must be typed in all upper case letters.
    • Remember: Use AND to combine different concepts and use OR for concept synonyms.
    • Example: pedestrians AND accidents
    • Example: pedestrians OR walkers


  • Do separate searches for each topical concept. THEN combine the searches using the Search History feature of the Search Builder of the Advanced Search screen.
    • This approach is more flexible. But it is a bit difficult! So...
    • Look at this explanation in the PubMed Tutorial by clicking on the steps to run the demonstration.
    • Note: The search history will be lost after 8 hours of inactivity.

Another Hint: Print or save the search history so you can keep track of your searching activities. Sometimes it is helpful for you to remember which search terms you used and how you logically combined your search concepts. You can do a screen print or you can click “Download history” to generate a CSV file that you can save/print using Excel. Find out more about the search history here.

PubMed Search Tip #6: View the abstract display

View detailed information about the articles retrieved by your search by viewing the Abstract display format.

  • View the Abstract display format by clicking on the title of any article listed on your search results.
  • To view the Abstract display for all citations on the page, click on the arrow next to "Display Settings", check "Abstract", and click "Apply."
  • See here to learn more about displaying your search results.

From the Abstract display format, you can:

  • Read an abstract of the article contents to see if the article might be of interest.
  • Find out which MeSH terms are assigned to the article and try searching using any applicable terms.
  • Find a list of Related Citations which is a search for article citations that are similar to and about the same subject(s) as the citation you are looking at.
  • Find article availability or request on interlibrary loan by clicking on the "Find It at Kent State" icon.

PubMed Search Tip #7: Saving and printing

Build a list of articles you have identified as useful by saving in the Clipboard. You can use this list to build the bibliography for the written product of your research.

How do I make a printout of a list of article citations in PubMed?

  • Print articles that you have checked in your article retrieval display or print from your Clipboard.
  • Display the articles you want to print in a "text" format using the "Display Settings" menu.
  • Then use the browser print commands to print the page.