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Evidence-based Practice

What Is MeSH?

Some library users might be familiar with searching using natural language, the way we speak or using keywords. A keyword is a word or phrase used to describe the main ideas or issues the user is searching for. Natural language and keywords change based on the person, place, or culture. Some examples of keywords include high blood pressure, hyperpiesia, or hyperpiesis.

Library databases use a controlled vocabulary, or specific phrases or terms, that describe the subject matter within a source. Using a controlled vocabulary helps to organize information and provides users with consistent terms to find information. Each library database uses its own controlled vocabulary, so the controlled vocabulary in CINAHL might be different from those used in Academic Search Complete. Most databases allow users to browse the specific controlled vocabulary terms used in that database by clicking on the Subject, Subject Headings, or Thesaurus.

MeSH, which stands for Medical Subject Headings, is the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s controlled vocabulary thesaurus used to organize sources in PubMed. The MeSH for high blood pressure or hyperpiesia or hyperpiesis is hypertension.

MeSH or subject headings or other controlled vocabulary are specific to a given database, so you should look up the term for the given database. For example, if the user searches for the controlled vocabulary for radiation protection in CINAHL the best match might be protective clothing or recommendation to search for this concept as a keyword while in MEDLINE the MeSH recommendation is to use radiation protection. Learn more by reviewing the resources below.

Searching PubMed

PubMed, a free library database from the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), "[supports] the search and retrieval of biomedical and life sciences literature with the aim of improving health–both globally and personally".

MEDLINE is the NLM's bibliographic database of journal article citations and abstracts used by healthcare practitioners, nurses, clinicians, and researchers. Articles in MEDLINE can be found by searching PubMed.

Review the video below about how to construct a search query in PubMed using MeSH.



Review the video below about how to find full-text articles in PubMed.

Searching MEDLINE

MEDLINE is the NLM's bibliographic database of journal article citations and abstracts used by healthcare practitioners, nurses, clinicians, and researchers. 

Review the video below about how to search MEDLINE from EBSCO.

Searching CINAHL

CINAHL, or Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, includes content to support nursing and allied health professionals.

Searching Cochrane Library

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