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Pacific Lutheran University

Inquiry. Service. Leadership. Care.


General nursing research guide and course and degree specific pages.

Today's goals

Leverage your PICOT questions and develop your knowledge of and familiarity with library research databases in order to find and retrieve evidence-based articles on your topics, while keeping track of your search paths and organizing what your find for later consultation.

  • Similarities and differences between MEDLINE on EBSCO and PubMed
  • Turning PICOT into a search query
  • Leveraging Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) to focus your research
  • Work with your results sets to refine scale and scope
  • Get your articles

MEDLINE and PubMed

You can access research databases relevant to your projects on this guide, or using the A-Z database list

Uses EBSCO interface, which you may be more familiar with.

Uses publicly accessible web interface; does not require login. (However, you must use the link on the library website for links to full text to show!)

Contains some full text; links to other library resources and Interlibrary Loan. Links to free/open access content; library links are less reliable.
Journal articles that have been formally published. Includes pre-prints/ahead-of-print. This makes for more comprehensive and up-to-date search results; however, we often can't get these until they're formally published.
Less immediate online help for using MeSH and other tools. MeSH is integrated into the interface.
Can save search history with an EBSCO login. Search history disappears when you close your browser window.


Developing your search strategy

  1. Turn your PICOT question into a query: identify major concepts and use them as keywords for your initial search. (As you go, you may find better search terms--or you may find your topic shifting!)
  2. Keep track of your search path: what database(s), what keywords, search refinements, and resources you use. Database search histories can help with this, but don't rely on them exclusively!
  3. Extrapolate to MeSH: identify MeSH subject headings that your key words map to and use those in your research.
  4. Scope and scale: refine as you go to the appropriate number and relevance of results.
  5. Organize your citations/resources so they're easy to pull together later. A citation manager like Zotero can help you with this.

Demystifying MeSH

What is MeSH?

MeSH stands for Medical Subject Headings, which are used to organize and categorize citations in MEDLINE/PubMed.

How can I use them?

Identifying MeSH terms that map to your topic keywords can get you stronger results, because you are addressing the database using its language.

How do I know which MeSH terms to use?

An easy way is to start with your keyword search and look at subject headings in relevant citations. You can also search MeSH directly.

What are those slashes and asterisks in MeSH terms?

MeSH headings can use qualifiers to further refine them. These are demarcated by a slash between the main term and its qualifier. An asterisk means that that MeSH heading is a major subject for that resource. For example: an article with the heading Chronic pain * / drug therapy has chronic pain as an important part of its subject matter, and deals more specifically with drug therapy.

To learn more: Welcome to Medical Subject Headings


Working with results sets

Results not relevant

Try adjusting your search terms. Choose articles that are closest to what you want and look at their MeSH indexing.

Too many results

Use more focused search terms. Is your topic too broad? Can you add qualifiers to state your topic more precisely?

Too few results

Use broader search terms, or try adjusting them using MeSH. Is your topic too narrow? Do you need to use sources that aren't exactly about your topic but could still inform it?