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When searching medical literature, you can use Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) to create targeted searches that will help you locate the most relevant results.
Additionally, you can develop targeted, effective searches with strategic keyword searching. This is a good option when you’re researching a relatively new phenomenon and MeSH or other controlled vocabulary terms haven’t yet been added.
What Is MeSH?
MeSH (Medical Subject Headings) is the National Library of Medicine's hierarchical controlled vocabulary of biomedical terminology used for indexing articles found in databases such as Medline, PubMed, CINAHL, and Cochrane. MeSH reviewers read articles before they're entered into these databases and assign appropriate MeSH headings to each. MeSH terminology pulls together all articles on a concept including synonyms (e.g., myocardial infarction/heart attack) and allows for spelling variations (e.g.,estrogen/oestrogen).
View this tutorial for more information about MeSH headings.
Using MeSH in Specific Databases
Using MeSH in the Cochrane Library:
- Is also referred to as natural language, textword or free text searching
- Does not take into consideration variant spellings (e.g., 'pedriatics' and the British 'paediatrics')
- Does not search for synonyms of a search term (e.g. searching "heart attack" will not retrieve articles that use the term "myocardial infarction")
- Is an option when you can’t find an appropriate MeSH or other controlled vocabulary term for what you’re researching
- Is an option when you’re researching a relatively new phenomenon and MeSH or other controlled vocabulary terms haven’t yet been added
Keyword Search Tips
- Most databases allow for a symbol to be used at the end of a word to retrieve variant spellings of that word
- Truncation symbols may vary by database. Common symbols are *, $, #
- To use truncation, enter the root of a word and put the truncation symbol at the end
- Example: the keyword search “child*” will retrieve results with the keywords child, childs, children, childrens, childhood
Boolean connectors are used to combine concepts when searching. The three most common operators are AND, OR and NOT. The operator you select will determine the number of results you retrieve.
- Retrieves records that contain all concepts connected by the operator.
- Decreases the number of records retrieved.
- Example: smoking AND teens will return only results that include both smoking and teens.
- Retrieves records that contain any of the concepts connected by the operator.
- Increases the number of records retrieved.
- Example: cloning OR genetics will return results that contain either term.
Quotation marks (“ “) are used for phrase searching. When you surround your search terms with quote marks, you’re telling the database that the words must appear as an exact phrase (e.g., “kidney failure).