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Medline Training

Searching by MeSH

Experienced searchers prefer using what we call indexed words, or MeSH (Medical Subject Headings).

When an article is published, an indexer (a specialized librarian) assigns an agreed upon term. This obviates the need to think of every possible synonym.

There are four steps to searching

  • Identify the MeSH
  • Check the scope note
  • Decide whether to explode or focus
  • Select Subheadings

Start by entering a word in the search box. Ensure that 'Map Term to Subject Heading' is selected.

Select MeSH

Once you enter a search term, MEDLINE will suggest some terms for you to choose from. If none of them fit, you can check the small box at the bottom to search as a keyword.

It's a good idea to click the scope note to see what the indexers have in mind.


If you click on the term, you will see a map of your MeSH with broader terms, and narrower terms. An example of a broader term for 'foot' would be 'lower extremity'; a narrower term would be 'toe'.

If you explode a term you will get all of the smaller terms. Exploding 'balneology' will give you 'ammotherapy' as well as 'baths', 'mud therapy', and 'steam bath'.

If you are not interested in the narrower terms, you can focus on 'balneology' without retrieving citations on 'ammotherapy', et cetera.

When it doubt, explode.


Subheadings can be problematic. We suggest clicking 'include all subheadings'.

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