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Searching for Health Sciences Research

Learn how to create a searchable question to find and access literature to help answer your clinical question.

Using Subject Headings

In addition to keywords, you can also use controlled vocabulary, or subject headings, to find research. For example, if you were searching for ED patients, you might use the term Emergency Department. But you could also search Emergency Room. If you are searching CINAHL, the CINAHL subject heading for emergency departments is Emergency Service; for Pubmed, the MESH term is Emergency Service, Hospital. If you are searching multiple terms to get at the same concept, use OR between your synonyms.

So if you were searching CINAHL, you could search: 

MH "Emergency Service" OR "emergency room" OR "emergency department"


If you were searching Pubmed, your search could be:

"Emergency Service, Hospital"[Mesh] OR "emergency room" OR "emergency department"


You can do this for each PICOT concept you are using. Again, each PICOT concept should be connected using the Boolean Operator AND, while alternative search terms / synonyms are separated with an OR. If you are creating one long search string (rather than entering each PICOT component on a separate search line), make sure to nestle your concepts using parenthesis:

("Emergency Service, Hospital"[Mesh] OR "emergency room" OR "emergency department") AND ("Patient Compliance"[Mesh] OR adherence OR compliance)

Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)

The controlled vocabulary used by the MEDLINE database is called Medical Subject Headings, or MeSH. You can access the MEDLINE database in PubMed or in EBSCO; although the two platforms both house the MEDLINE collection, the way they behave are different.

Let's look at an example: First, go to the MeSH database, and search for "Phthises."

MeSH indexers who have read the current biomedical literature agree that the topic of Phthises is best described as "Tuberculosis, Pulmonary." A search in MeSH for any of the synonyms for this topic take the searcher directly to the "Tuberculosis, Pulmonary" Subject Heading. From there, searchers can see the term's definition and all the synonyms for this topic (listed as "Entry Terms"), the related Subheadings, and the place(s) in which the topic appears in the MeSH hierarchy.

Get Help Using MeSH

The video below explains how to use MeSH in Pubmed. Additional information on using MeSH in EBSCO is linked below.

Exploding Terms??

When using MeSH terms, Pubmed automatically "explodes" the subject heading -- this means that Pubmed will search for your subject heading, but it will also search for any subject headings underneath that term in the MeSH tree. This will expand your search results. For example, if you were searching for Tinea, you'll also see information about Onychomycosis, Tinea Capitis, etc.

If you want to turn off Pubmed's automatic explode option, you can add the following to your search [mh:noexp]

 

MEDLINE in EBSCOhost, on the other hand, does not automatically explode terms. When browsing the MeSH database, you'll see an optional checkbox to "explode" the search term. This means that the database will search for your subject heading, but it will also search for any sub-headings underneath that term. This will expand your search results. In general, it is recommended to explode your search.

The "major concept" checkbox in EBSCO will limit your results just to articles where the subject heading has been designated as a major concept. This will reduce your results, and unless you are working with a huge amount of search results, we recommend that you do NOT check the "major concept" box.

Using CINAHL Headings

Exploding Terms??

When you are browsing CINAHL Subject Headings, you can add subject headings to your search by clicking on the checkbox on the left. This will pop your search terms into a box on the right:

You'll see an optional checkbox to "explode" the search term. This means that the database will search for your subject heading, but it will also search for any sub-headings underneath that term. This will expand your search results. In general, it is recommended to explode your search.

The "major concept" checkbox, on the other hand, will limit your results just to articles where the subject heading has been designated as a major concept. This will reduce your results, and unless you are working with a huge amount of search results, we recommend that you do NOT check the "major concept" box.

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