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NRS 528 Research and Evidence-Based practice: Search Strategies: Subject Headings

Subject headings and MeSH terms

To help you narrow your topic, you can use subject headings to get even more specific. Subject headings are fixed terms used to indicated an item's subject matter, and also used to index the article (by subject). A single article can have several subject headings, depending on the content. 

MeSH terms (MEdical Subject Headings) are more specific controlled terms used in the medical field; PubMed uses MeSh terms.

The EBSCO CINAHL database indexes articles by subject heading. Click "CINAHL Headings" in the top blue bar to start searching subject headings.

Clicking on the term will show its' "tree view." In this example, it is clear that the term "Team building" is part of a larger concept: 

You can use this tree to broaden (or narrow) your keywords, and you can also use this tool to create a focused seach. Click on a checkbox next to the term that you're interested in. The "Explode" checkbox next to the term you want should be checked if possible (sometimes it is greyed out and not an option), and checking the "Major concept" will narrow your search even further to articles that are primarily about your chosen topic.

To search for articles with this term, click on the "Search database" button on the right-hand side.

If you'd like to combine several subjects in a search, here's how; in the "tree view" view, go back to the term list view by clicking on this button at the top of the page (if you're already in the "Term List" view, stay there):

Click the checkbox next to the item you want to select. Then, go to the bottom of the list and click "Browse Additional Terms." You'll be taken back to the search box, where you can perfom another subject search and then click the checkbox next to that term as well. This will add the two subjects together:


You can continue this process by adding more terms, but it's best to combine 3 or less, as subject searches are very specific. note: under the "Combine selections with:" heading, BE SURE TO SELECT THE "AND" CHECKBOX to combine your terms!

When you're ready, click on "Search Database" and the search will be performed. If you get no results, try again with less subjects, or combine a subject search with keyword(s) in the other search box(es). 

More ways to find subject headings & keywords

There are a couple more hints for finding related subjects for your seaches, assuming that you've had a least one successful search with a few relevant articles. On the left hand side of the search results screen, you'll see another box titled "Subject: Major Heading":

This box lists the subjects that are in the article that are listed to the right in the search results. Clicking on one of these boxes will only narrow your current results- HOWEVER- this is good list to look and see if there are some better/alternate subject headings you could use for a new search.

Additionally, one good article can lead you to a whole host of clues. If you find a relevant article, click on it and you'll see the article record. This record includes a list of major and minor subjects used to index your article:

You can click on one of these subjects to execute a new search on that subject heading, but realize that the search uses only the subject heading you clicked on; no limiters or additional terms are included in that search. It might be best to modify your current search by copying-and-pasting a new subject into it.