HEALTH SCIENCES LIBRARY

What are MeSH/CINAHL headings?

   •   Standardized lists of words and phrases used to describe the contents of articles in Medline
       and CINAHL.
   •   Each article in the database is described with 8 to 15 of these controlled terms or headings.
   •   These subject headings describe the contents of the whole article, not only the words used
       by the author(s) in the title and abstract.
   •   MeSH headings are used in Medline and HealthStar. CINAHL (Cumulative Index to
       Nursing and Allied Health Literature) uses a very similar vocabulary called CINAHL

Why use the MeSH/CINAHL headings?

   •   Eliminate terminology and spelling variation problems.
   •   Allow for more complete results, since they cover a number of possible synonyms for a
       given topic.
   •   Facilitate more precision or focus by giving one or more heading(s) more emphasis.
   •   Allow the search to be customized by narrowing down to certain specific aspects or

The simplest way to start is to type a word or phrase, on the main search screen, in the box left to the
Search button on the Advanced Ovid Search tab. A process called mapping automatically translates
your concept into controlled terms if it finds a match. One or many headings potentially relevant to
your subject appear in blue on the screen.

The second way of finding the MeSH/CINAHL headings consists of using the Search Tools tab at
the main search page. Click on this tab and a window will open, offering a term search on various

   •   Permuted Index
          o What?
          Use this index when the mapping fails to find a MeSH/CINAHL heading for your topic,
          to find out if the word you are using is a subject heading, or is part of a multi-word
          subject heading. You will find an entry for your word, regardless of its position in the
          headings list.
          o How?
          In the empty box, type in a single term, click on the circle beside Permuted Index and
          then click on Search. You will obtain an alphabetical list of entries containing the
          desired term. Read the hints at the bottom of the screen.

   •   Tree structure
          o What?
          Use this tool to check if you would like to include any or all of a heading’s narrower
          (more specific) terms in your search, keeping in mind that Medline/CINAHL indexers

            use the most specific possible expression to describe a concept. Thus, the concept of
            liver cancer will not be indexed under neoplasms but under liver neoplasms, one of the
            terms appearing in the tree.
            o How?
            Type the heading for which you want to see the tree, click in the circle next to Tree, then
            on Search. Or, from the Permuted index, click on the desired MeSH/CINAHL heading
            (in blue). A hyperlink leads you right into the tree for this heading.
            *Terms are displayed in their hierarchical relationships, from the most general to the
            most specific, from top to bottom and left to right.
            **To search all the specific terms as well as the general term, you must click in the box
            below the Explode, besides the selected MeSH/CINAHL heading. If you only click in
            the box besides your heading, without clicking Explode, you will not retrieve all
            documents indexed under the specific terms. If you are interested in only one or a few
            of the specific terms, you can also select only these.

    •   Scope note
           o What?
           Use the Scope note to read a definition of the MeSH/CINAHL heading, guidelines on its
           use, synonyms and year of introduction as a heading.
           o How?
           In the empty box, type the MeSH/CINAHL term for which you want to consult the
           definition and scope as accepted by Medline/CINAHL indexers, and click on Perform

What do I do if I do not find an appropriate MeSH/CINAHL heading for my topic? A Keyword
*You may find that there is no perfect match to a specific heading for a topic such as "green tea." A
search on the word "green" in the permuted index will not bring up any valid MeSH/CINAHL
heading. As well, searching the Permuted index for "tea" will display the heading TEA but not the
narrower term green tea.
*If there is no MeSH/CINAHL heading for your topic, use the Keyword search. At the mapping
screen, simply click in the box next to the word or phrase that you typed, which will appear in black
at the bottom of the headings list. This type of search will look for any occurrence of the concept in
the title and abstract of the record.

Revised by M.Leblanc Health Sciences Library, February 2008


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