MeSH stands for Medical Subject Headings and is the controlled vocabulary that helps to organize the citations found within the MEDLINE database. MeSH can be used within MEDLINE to assist users in finding the appropriate terms for their search.
MeSH reviewers read articles before they go into MEDLINE and assign the appropriate MeSH subject headings to each article. These subject headings are from a pre-set list (or vocabulary). MeSH applies one term to a collection of concepts - even if that exact term is not used in the article.
Let’s say your topic is “how different cultures view a particular medical procedure”. If you search the word Culture in MEDLINE without using MeSH, you get articles about tissue culture, petri-dish cultures, etc. MeSH requires that you choose one (or more) subject heading related to culture. So you would choose ethnography and not organizational culture or tissue culture.
Example: MeSH Subject Headings for "Culture" in MEDLINE
MeSH and databases like MEDLINE and CINAHL works best when you search one MeSH keyword at a time and combine them. After you have found all your MeSH headings, go to your search history and combine your headings with AND. Combining the two searches means that you'll get articles in which both of your headings are the major topics (Culture AND Stroke Rehabilitation).
Example: Combine MeSH headings in search history (MEDLINE)
CINAHL also uses controlled headings and assigns them to each article. CINAHL headings follow a similar structure to MeSH. This structure has been used to develop the CINAHL subject headings which reflect the terminology used by nursing and allied health professionals.