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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Literature Reviews in Medicine and Health

Overview of types of literature reviews

Finding Search Terms

For each concept of your research question consider keywords or phrases that best represent that concept.

  • Use the most specific terms that best represent the concept
  • Consider similar terms or alternative forms
  • Craft a search phrase using OR Boolean operator

Identify controlled vocabulary for your search concepts.

  • Explore keywords and/or MeSH terms associated with literature that is most relevant to your topic
  • Search subject term Thesauri (MeSH for PubMed) to identify search terms from controlled vocabularies

About MeSH

Medial Subject Headings (MeSH) is the controlled vocabulary used in the PubMed/MEDLINE and other NLM databases. The MeSH thesaurus is a collection of lists of subject terms arragned in hierarchical order.

There are 19 MeSH "Tree" categories that represent high-level subject areas; terms in these lists may or may not have more specific terms associated with each one; any terms indented below a terms represent a more specific concept of that term.


Searching MeSH

There are multiple ways to search for MeSH terms.

PubMed's Search Builder
  • Search for one term/concept at a time
  • Select the most appropriate term(s) that represent your concept
  • Use the full record for any term to
    • Select appropropriate subheadings (drug therapy for example) - default is to include all subheadings
    • Restrict to Major Topic - reduces the number of results to article that focus on the concept
    • Restrict results to only the selected topic by checking Do not include MeSH terms found below this term
    • Explore Entry Terms to see what other keywords/phrases represent the concept
    • Explore the Tree to consider more specific or broader terms - this is helpful when you are getting too mnay or too few search results
  • You can "Add" term selection(s) to the PubMed Search Builder as needed and then execute that search in PubMed
    • Make selections about the term (subheadings, major topic, etc.) as needed
    • "Add" to the Search Builder using AND or OR (OR is default for multiple subheading selections)
National LIbrary of Medicine (NLM) MeSH Browser
  • Search using Exact Match or Fragments
  • Details include Tree Structure and Subheadings (Qualifiers)
MeSH On Demand
  • Provides suggested MeSH terms based on submitted text, such as an abstract
  • Cut and paste a chunk of text to generate suggested MeSH terms
Yale MeSH Analyzer
  • Generate a MeSH analysis grid by pasting PMID(s) to the text box and click "Go".
  • It is best to use a smaller number of PMIDs - maximum of 20