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_KINS5508: Exercise Prescription for Individuals with Chronic Diseases and Health Conditions — Explore PubMed: Executing a Search

Library research guide for students in KINS 5508.

What Will You Learn on This Page?

In this tab of the research guide, you will learn:

Once you've engaged with all the content on this page, you should:

Putting It All Together: Creating Your Search Strategy

This video combines all the helpful tips in this tab, which you'll find below, into a demonstration of how to go from concept table to PubMed search. You can then use the rest of the page as a resource to refer to as you begin searching. Be sure to watch the whole thing, as it covers a lot of ground!

A quick, but important, caveat!

One important thing to remember, which I reiterate later in this guide, is that searching is iterative. To execute a high quality systematic review, you need to be sure you're capturing all the literature on a topic. That means that sometimes you'll approach the search in one way, and then decide later it needs modification.

I've been reflecting on the searches I did in these videos, and I think that ultimately, increasing motivation is the Outcome of my PICO question, and by including it as a search component I may inadvertently be excluding articles that mention motivation but aren't explicitly indexed that way.

It is vital to evaluate your search results, and consider whether broadening your search, by using fewer components of your research question or incorporating broader search terms, is necessary to find all relevant articles.

The fact is, even experts have to evaluate their search strategies and modify them as needed. Don't be afraid to experiment with different terminology or including more or fewer elements of your PICO to see the impact on your results!

Using Search Tags to Searching in Specific Fields

PubMed is a database, which means each citation is a record made up of many different fields. Some examples of fields include title, abstract, and MeSH. Search tags allow you to tell PubMed where in the record to search. As you construct your search, you'll be looking in a few specific fields:


Searches only the MeSH field.


Searches only in MeSH, and explicitly excludes the narrower terms underneath your search term in the hierarchy.


Searches in title, abstract, and keywords (also collection title and other abstract, but those are less relevant for article searching).

[tiab] is the best choice, in most cases, for searching keywords from your concept table. You should also use it to search your MeSH terms as keywords, just in case!


This searches in lots of different fields, including title, abstract, MeSH, MeSH Subheadings, Publication Types, Substance Names, various author name fields, and more.

Because [tw] includes the MeSH field, it has a tendency to duplicate your MeSH search. It may also be too sensitive, returning lots of irrelevant results. As a result, I recommend using [tiab] instead, in most circumstances. There may be cases in which [tw] is appropriate, but we can work that out together.

Truncation of Terms in PubMed

Essential things to know about truncation in PubMed:

  • You can't use a wildcard within a word, just a truncation symbol -- the asterisk * -- at the end of a word: exercis*
  • You can only truncate after 4 or more letters (which means, for example, you can't type wom* to find women or woman): xxxx*
  • Truncation disables ATM, which is fine, since you'll generally be avoiding using ATM in your searching

You can truncate a phrase, but only the last word in the phrase. To do this:

  • Use double quotes around the phrase: "cardiovascular exercis*"
  • Use a field tag: cardiovascular exercis* [tiab]
  • Use a hyphen: cardiovascular-exercis*

Phrase searching works differently in PubMed than in most databases, so see the next box on this page to learn more about it.

There are some useful examples of truncation in the Develop & Document Your Search Strategy tab, so don't hesitate to look back at those as you plan you search!

Phrase Searching in PubMed

Phrase searching in PubMed is a little tricky! There are three different ways to do it:

Option 1:

Put "double quotes" around your phrase: "cardiovascular exercise"

PubMed first checks to see if it’s indexed this as a common phrase in [All Fields]. If it is indexed there, so PubMed executes the search as requested. If it doesn’t show up in the phrase index, PubMed ignores the quotation marks and tries to match the words x AND y using ATM.

Option 2

Use a [search tag]: cardiovascular exercise [tiab]

PubMed behaves exactly as in Option 1.

Option 3

Use a hyphen: cardiovascular-exercise

PubMed first checks to see if it’s indexed this as a common phrase in the broadest field (All Fields). If it isn't there, PubMed returns no results for your phrase.

Limiting by Publication Type to Systematic Reviews

CADTH is a Canadian non-profit focused on evidence-based practice. CADTH’s Information Services Filters Working Group has developed search strings they call "hedges," which allow you to limit your search results in PubMed. 

One hedge is designed to limit search results to only systematic reviews, meta-analyses, and health technology assessments.

To use this hedge:

  1. Start with your final, optimal search strategy.
  2. Copy and paste the entire hedge (below) as a new search in the PubMed Advanced Search query box.
  3. Use AND to combine your optimal search with the results of the search hedge.

In the image below, imagine that #2 refers to your optimal set of search results.

Full text of the hedge to use in your search:

systematic[sb] OR meta-analysis[pt] OR meta-analysis as topic[mh] OR meta-analysis[mh] OR meta analy*[tw] OR metanaly*[tw] OR metaanaly*[tw] OR met analy*[tw] OR integrative research[tiab] OR integrative review*[tiab] OR integrative overview*[tiab] OR research integration*[tiab] OR research overview*[tiab] OR collaborative review*[tiab] OR collaborative overview*[tiab] OR systematic review*[tiab] OR technology assessment*[tiab] OR technology overview*[tiab] OR "Technology Assessment, Biomedical"[mh] OR HTA[tiab] OR HTAs[tiab] OR comparative efficacy[tiab] OR comparative effectiveness[tiab] OR outcomes research[tiab] OR indirect comparison*[tiab] OR ((indirect treatment[tiab] OR mixed-treatment[tiab]) AND comparison*[tiab]) OR Embase*[tiab] OR Cinahl*[tiab] OR systematic overview*[tiab] OR methodological overview*[tiab] OR methodologic overview*[tiab] OR methodological review*[tiab] OR methodologic review*[tiab] OR quantitative review*[tiab] OR quantitative overview*[tiab] OR quantitative synthes*[tiab] OR pooled analy*[tiab] OR Cochrane[tiab] OR Medline[tiab] OR Pubmed[tiab] OR Medlars[tiab] OR handsearch*[tiab] OR hand search*[tiab] OR meta-regression*[tiab] OR metaregression*[tiab] OR data synthes*[tiab] OR data extraction[tiab] OR data abstraction*[tiab] OR mantel haenszel[tiab] OR peto[tiab] OR der-simonian[tiab] OR dersimonian[tiab] OR fixed effect*[tiab] OR "Cochrane Database Syst Rev"[Journal:__jrid21711] OR "health technology assessment winchester, england"[Journal] OR "Evid Rep Technol Assess (Full Rep)"[Journal] OR "Evid Rep Technol Assess (Summ)"[Journal] OR "Int J Technol Assess Health Care"[Journal] OR "GMS Health Technol Assess"[Journal] OR "Health Technol Assess (Rockv)"[Journal] OR "Health Technol Assess Rep"[Journal]

Image of the PubMed Advanced Search page's search history, showing a topic search combined with the systematic review hedge using AND.

Limiting to Human Research

Sometimes you'll notice you're getting a lot of results on animal research that are making it hard to find the relevant human research studies. Because humans are technically animals, asking PubMed to limit to human research is harder than you might expect. 

This hedge is designed for identifying research on humans.

To use this hedge:

  1. Start with your final, optimal search strategy.
  2. In the PubMed Advanced Search query box, combine your optimal search set with the full text of the search hedge. Because this hedge uses NOT, you won't need to put AND between your search and the hedge.

In the image below, imagine that #1 refers to your optimal set of search results.

Full text of the hedge to use in your search:

NOT ("animals"[MeSH Terms] NOT "humans"[MeSH Terms])

Image of PubMed Advanced Search query box showing combining a search set with the human research hedge.

What's Next?

Have you:

Then you're ready to move on to the next tab, Learn to Search Cochrane!