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Database Searching

What are Subject Headings & Keywords?

Keyword searches look for your terms anywhere in the record -- e.g., in the title, abstract, subject heading, or other notes. Keyword searches may be less precise or relevant than searches using subject terms.

Subject headings (sometimes known as descriptors) describe the content of each item in a database. Use these headings to find relevant items on the same topic.  Searching by subject headings is often the most precise way to search databases.  

Identifying Subject Headings

Tips on how to locate subject headings

Option 1:

Start with a keyword search.

Browse your results until you find 2 or 3 relevant titles.

Look at the "subject" or "descriptor" assigned to the titles and re-do your search using the terms listed.

Option 2:

Look to see if the database has an online thesaurus to browse for subjects that match your topic. (Check the Help screens)

PubMed's MeSH

MeSH (Medical Subject Headings) is the NLM controlled vocabulary thesaurus used for indexing PubMed citations.

You can use the MeSH database to look up terms and add them to your PubMed search.

Librarian Assistance

Our friendly reference librarians can help you with general information (such as locating full-text articles) or in-depth research questions (like how to use research databases). Stop by the Reference Desk for one-on-one help. You may also call, email, or chat us!

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