Module 5: MeSH (Medical Subject Headings)

Module 5 Summary

The medical professions have a very unique and specialized vocabulary, which is often used in medical articles needed by nursing students.  In order to get the most from your searches, nursing students should be familiar with how to use the Medical Subject Headings, or MeSH for short.  In addition to using the specific language of the medical profession, MeSH searches also allow for even more precision by allowing for two unique options, Explode and Major Concept, and with subheadings that allow you to combine terms like you would in a Boolean AND search in a quick and efficient way.

Module 5 Objectives:

1.  Know how to search for and find a term in MeSH.
a.  Know how to use the MeSH hierarchy.
2.  Know when and how to use Explode and Major Concept.
3.  Know how to use scope notes and subheadings.
4.  Know how to put them all together to do a search using MeSH terms.

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Module 5 Video Tutorial: MeSH (Medical Subject Headings)

Module 5 Screenshot Walkthrough

1.  Look for MeSH in the database (usually at the top) and click on it.  This takes you into the MeSH search.

Medline home page--MeSH

2.  Type your term into the search box and click Browse or press the enter key.

MeSH search box

3.  You may get a “use” term–this is the suggested term or terms in MeSH.  Click this term.

MeSH cardiac arrest--use heart arrest

4.  Usually, MeSH provides a breakdown of your term, from the broadest classification to the narrowest.  Notice that Heart Arrest is classed under the very broad term of Heart Diseases, along with Cardiac Arrhythmias and Heart Aneurysms.  Heart Diseases, in turn, are classified under the even larger category Cardiovascular Diseases.

Heart arrest hierarchy

5.  Note the plus and minus signs in the boxes by some of the words.  These tell you whether you can expand the term (the plus sign tells you there are other, narrower terms classed under it) or to collapse an already expanded term (the minus sign will “hide” those narrower terms).  Note how Heart Arrest has a minus sign and two indented options underneath.  These are the narrower terms classed under Heart Arrest.  When you click on Explode, you are telling the database to search for all the narrower terms under the broader one you selected.  If you choose to research a term that doesn’t have any other terms beneath it, you won’t be able to use Explode, because it is already the narrowest term possible.  You can only use Explode if the term has a plus or minus sign by it.

Heart arrest--explode option

6.  Major Concept is used when you want the focus of your research articles to be on that topic.  Sometimes, articles may mention the condition but it may not be the main topic of the article.  Major Concept tells the database to look for those articles where the main topic is your MeSH term and any terms you may have exploded, too.  Note the box to the far right that keeps track of your choices; if you aren’t satisfied with any part of your search, you can change it here.  The red box with the white x will clear all your choices.

Heart arrest--major concept

7.  Selecting a term also brings up a list of subheadings.  These subheadings are a list of terms that are common to combine in medical searching.  You can create easy and quick Boolean AND searches by clicking the appropriate subheading box or boxes (you can search more than one subheading at a time).  If you aren’t sure what a particular subheading is about, you can double-click on the speech bubble on the right side of the subheading to bring up a bit more information about the subheading; this is called a scope note.

Heart arrest scope notes and subheadings

8.  When you’re satisfied, you can press the enter key or click search.  Your results will be displayed like any other EBSCO database, with your limiter choices at the left and your articles to the right.  You can see that our search for Heart Arrest drug therapy is in the subjects list of our results–a sign that our major concept is working for us.  As with any EBSCO database, you can limit by full text and date.  Medline is different from many other databases–all Medline results are already peer-reviewed, so the peer-review limiter doesn’t exist in this database.

Heart arrest final results



Searching Simplified home
Searching Simplified introduction
Module 1: Simple Search (choosing your database and a very basic search)
Module 2: Boolean Searching (using AND, OR, and NOT to combine search terms)
Module 3: Limiters (limit your search by date, full text, and peer-review)
Module 4: Search Tips (using subject terms and abstracts, citations, and email functions)
Module 5: MeSH (Medical Subject Headings–for nursing students)