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EPIB-619: Systematic Reviews & Meta-Analyses

Subject headings - definition

A subject heading is an assigned word or phrase used in some databases to uniformly describe a concept. Searching using this standardized word or phrase, instead of keywords, means you do not need to worry about synonyms and spelling variations.

Example: The subject heading for cancer in MEDLINE (via PubMed) is the MeSH term Neoplasms. This means that all articles selected for indexing in MEDLINE that are about cancer will be tagged or indexed with this subject heading or a subsidiary one (note: there is a time delay between the addition of records to MEDLINE and their indexing).

Tutorials on using subject headings

We recommend the following resources if you would like to explore subject headings in more detail.

Keywords - definition

Keyword (or textword) searching is when we search for words which we expect to find in the title, abstract, or author-defined terms of relevant articles; it is how we typically interrogate web search engines. Draw up a list of words or phrases related to each concept in your research question. When using this technique, you will need to be aware of synonyms and spelling variations.

Example: Keywords (or textwords) for cancer can include cancer / cancers / cancerous / neoplasm / neoplasms / neoplastic / tumor / tumors / tumour / tumours etc.

Database and platform cheat sheet

Database and platform cheat sheet: PubMed, Ovid Online, Web of Science

 

PubMed (MEDLINE)

 

Ovid Online

 

Web of Science
Command Search

Subject headings

 

MeSH (Medical Subject Headings)

 

MEDLINE: MeSH
Embase: EMTREE

Avoid cross-searching databases so that you can take advantage of the subject headings, if applicable

NA (includes Keywords Plus, searched by default)


TS=("mycobacterium tuberculosis")

Searching subject headings

"MeSH term"[mesh]


Includes narrower terms by default
"Tuberculosis"[mesh]

exp subject heading/


"Explode" to include narrower terms
exp tuberculosis/

NA

 

Searching major subject headings

"MeSH term"[majr]

Retrieves records in which the MeSH concept is considered a central topic of the article

"Tuberculosis"[majr]

exp *subject heading/

Retrieves records in which the subject heading is considered a central topic of the article

exp *tuberculosis/

 

Searching title/abstract

 

term[tiab]


tb[tiab]

Searches author keywords too

term.ti,ab


tb.ti,ab

Does not search author keywords in Ovid MEDLINE; to search author keywords too, use:

term.ti,ab,kf

tb.ti,ab,kf

 

Searching title terms

 

term[ti]


obesity[ti]

term.ti.


obesity.ti.

TI=(term)


TI=(obesity)

Searching title/abstract/
entry terms

term[tw]


infliximab[tw]

term.mp.


infliximab.mp.

TS=(term)


TS=(infliximab)

Phrase searching

 

terms in phrase[tw] OR "terms in phrase"[tw]

NB: Do NOT use quotations around truncated phrases in PubMed as PubMed will then ignore the truncation symbol; PubMed will phrase search by default when the search field is specified after the phrase (except [all fields])


participatory research[tw]

terms in phrase.mp. OR "terms in phrase".mp.


participatory research.mp.

"terms in phrase"
TS=("participatory

research")

Truncation

 

terms in phrase*[tw]


rheumatoid nodule*[tw]

terms in phrase*.mp. OR terms in phrase$.mp.


rheumatoid nodule*.mp.

"terms in phrase*"
TS=("rheumatoid

nodule*")

Adjacency searching

(to search for a term within x terms from another term)

NA; AND terms together instead (or phrase search)


(patient[tw] AND outcome*[tw])

termA adjn termB


patient adj2 outcome*.mp.

NEAR/x (by default,

NEAR = NEAR/15)
TS=(brown NEAR "spider bite")

All databases - Boolean operators

Boolean operators

AND - retrieves records that include all of your search terms

  • e.g. diet therapy AND bulimia

OR - retrieves records that contain at least one of your search terms

  • e.g. dog OR canine

NOT - retrieves records that contain your first term but exclude your second term.

  • e.g. dementia NOT alzheimer's
  • (We do not usually recommend that you use NOT in your searches, as you may exclude relevant results.)

Boolean operators - Tutorial

Boolean operators can be placed between your search terms to narrow or broaden a search, or to exclude search terms.

You will find below a brief video on how to use the boolean operators:

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