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Health and Welfare – subject guide

Subject terms


Subject terms – specified words describing the scholarly content

A problem when searching for scholarly articles is to know how well the performed search actually covers the topic. Are there in fact some relevant articles you still have not been able to spot? This often happens because researchers around the world can describe one and the same phenomenon in completely different ways, using completely different words and phrases. If you, when searching, on the other hand only use universally defined and accepted terms as search words you can be more assured about what the article is about, even when expressed in a different manner.

Many a database has its own list of subject terms (keywords), much like a glossary. Most articles in a database are tagged with keywords from the database glossary, meaning that by using these keywords as search words you will be able to get search results that well cover your topic.

In Cinahl the subject terms are called Cinahl Headings and in PubMed they are called MeSH (Medical Subject Headings). The Scandinavian database SveMed + also uses MeSH.

As an example, you will see below the topic word Neoplasms, which is the medical subject heading (MeSH) for cancer. Articles about cancer or tumors are highlighted with the topic of Neoplasms in the databases which use MeSH.

Image showing a database using MeSH with yhe example Neoplasms.


In many cases the subject words are the same in both Cinahl Headings and in MeSH, but sometimes they differ. The Karolinska Institute's library has produced a list of keywords for patient/nurse experiences and patient-nurse relationship that contains both MeSH and Cinahl headings.The document is presented in Swedish, but an English speaker will easily be able to compare the English terms with each other.

The online glossary Svensk MeSH translates between English and Swedish MeSH terms.