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MIMM 301 Scientific Writing Skills

Research basics

Take a look at the Health Sciences Research Basics guide to learn how to define your research question, create an effective search and manage your citations.

What is PubMed?

PubMed is a free bibliographic database that comprises more that 20 million citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life science journals, and online books.  It is produced and maintained by the US National Library of Medicine (the world's largest medical library).

Access PubMed via the McGill Library in order for the McGill Find Full Text buttons to appear.  More information on access resources off campus is available here.    

Searching with Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)

Medical Subject Headings (or MeSH) is a controlled vocabulary used to index articles in PubMed.  Using MeSH to develop your search means you do not need to worry about synonyms and spelling variations and will increase the relevancy of your results.

Below is a short video (~6mins) demonstrating how to do a search in PubMed using MeSH.   

Brown, R., (2013, January 10). Doing a Medical Subject Heading (MeSH) Search in PubMed [Video file].  Retrieved from  

Searching with Keywords

It's important to compliment your MeSH search with keywords for the following reasons:

  • not all concepts have an appropriate MeSH term 
  • not all articles have been indexed using MeSH

When brainstorming keywords, it's important to consider variant spellings, synonyms, and plural forms.

Below is a short video (~7mins) showing you how to search PubMed using keywords.  

Brown, R. (2013, January, 10).  Searching PubMed with Keywords [Video file].  Retrieved from

Forward and backward citation searching

Citation searching is a good way to track progression in research.  It involves looking backward in time, at the articles that came before your focus article, as well as looking forward in time at what has been published since your focus article was published.    

Backward Citation Searching gives you insight into the resources that informed the author(s) of your focus article. 

  • Look at the works cited, or list of references at the end of your article

Forward Citation Searching allows you to see 

Searching PubMed Worksheet

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