Information Fluency

What is MeSH?

A subject heading or controlled vocabulary is a preassigned term that is used to index (or label) articles in a subject database. Each database may use its own subject headings. In PubMed, they are called Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) which are organized hierarchically based on a family tree. MeSH is used by indexers who are subject analysts to maintain the PubMed database. MeSH terms are attached to journal articles to reflect subject content. 

Why use MeSH?

MeSH terms are useful in a search to aid in locating synonyms and reduce term ambiguities. It facilitates the retrieval of relevant articles even when authors use different words or spelling to describe the same concept. For instance, using the MeSH term "Blood Pressure" will also find articles that use "pulse pressure," "diastolic pressure," and "systolic pressure."

Since MeSH terms are organized in hierarchies or MeSH trees, it also facilitates the searching of broad and narrow concepts. For instance, the MeSH term "Domestic Violence" will retrieve articles containing the narrower levels "child abuse," "elder abuse," and "spouse abuse." But you can also expand the search, and move to a broader level, such as "Violence."

Where to find MeSH?

To look up if a MeSH term, click on "MeSH Database" on PubMed's homepage. Type your concept and hit search. The MeSH database will return appropriate MeSH (terms) if there are any. Not every concept will have a matching MeSH term. Remember to search one concept at a time.



adolescents => "Adolescent"[Mesh]

Prozac => "Fluoxetine"[Mesh]

Zoloft => "Sertraline"[Mesh]

depression => "Depression"[Mesh]

You can also locate MeSH terms in PubMed by finding a relevant article and scrolling to the heading "MeSH terms" at the bottom of the article. This only works for articles that have been indexed.