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Subject Headings

Library database resources are indexed by subject headings

Think of subject headings as labels or tags that someone has used to identify the subject of a book or article. The subject headings are standardized so that only one term is used for a specific subject.  They work similarly to #hashtags in Twitter, subject headings categorize and pull together all articles on a topic.

  • Some databases, such as PubMed, will follow established subject headings (PubMed uses MeSH) while other databases, such as CINAHL, follow their own proprietary subject headings. 
  • Subject headings may also have hierarchical or categorized concepts.  For example, a MeSH search for Craniofacial Abnormalities will also find its subheading, cleft palate.  However, a MeSH search for cleft palate will not find other craniofacial abnormalities.
  • Subject Heading searches pull all records with a specific concept to the result list.  Results may be fewer, but may also find articles missed in keyword searches. 
  • Subject searching only searches the subject heading field, NOT the title/abstract fields or any other fields.