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PH 208 B (Yen): Subjects

Professional Skills

What are Subject Terms?

Subject terms refer to a database's controlled vocabulary. Controlled vocabulary systems, such as the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) or the Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms, use pre-set terms that are used to tag resources on similar subjects. Think of these as operating like hashtags on Instagram.

The object is to simplify access – all related entries in the database can be located by using the right standardized term. Identifying the right subject terms used in the database can help to focus a search to find the articles that are the best fit for your research.

Use MeSH to Build a Better PubMed Query

NCIB (3:02)

This tutorial shows how to build a targeted PubMed search starting in the MeSH database. It includes very brief background on MeSH terms and indexing.

How (and Why) to Use the APA Thesaurus When Searching PsycINFO via ProQuest

APA Publishing Training (3:02)

This tutorial demonstrates how (and why) to use the thesaurus tool to find index terms or subject headings when searching PsycINFO on ProQuest.

Quick Instructions for Using MeSH

You can use MeSH from the National Library of Medicine in the PubMed database.

  • In PubMed, select MeSH from the search drop down menu (rather than PubMed) or use the MeSH Database link under More Resources
  • Enter the common term, e.g. nosebleed, flu
  • If more than one term is listed, select the desired term with a check mark
  • Or, select subheadings that match your topic interest
  • Click Add to search builder
  • Search for additional terms if desired, e.g. outbreak, causes, therapy, etc.
  • Click Add to search builder
  • Click Search PubMed

Quick Instructions for Using the APA Thesaurus

Thesaurus Strategy

In PscyINFO's Advanced Search, head to the Thesaurus, located on top of the search boxes. You can them look up one of your keywords to see if there is an official term related to the concept.

Article Strategy

When you find a relevant article, make sure to look at the subject terms listed. You can then look for articles that has been tagged with those subject terms to find other potentially relevant items.

MeSH Examples

Using the keywords from our example, here are some MeSH terms for:

  • Adults: Adult (A person having attained full growth or maturity. Adults are of 19 through 44 years of age. For a person between 19 and 24 years of age, YOUNG ADULT is available.)
  • Screening: Mass Screening (Organized periodic procedures performed on large groups of people for the purpose of detecting disease.)
  • Major depression: Depressive Disorder, Major (Marked depression appearing in the involution period and characterized by hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, and agitation.)

APA Thesaurus Examples

In the following example, I looked up the phrase "mental health" and discovered that it is an official index term, but there are some other terms listed underneath the main index term. I can decide to include any of these related terms.