Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)

The MeSH thesaurus is a comprehensive, controlled and hierarchically-organized vocabulary produced by the National Library of Medicine. It is used for indexing, cataloging, and searching of biomedical and health-related information.

MeSH terms serve as a thesaurus that facilitates searching and was created and is maintained by the United States National Library of Medicine (NLM). It includes subject headings appearing in MEDLINE/PubMed, the NLM Catalog, and other NLM databases. MeSh terms make indexing uniform and consistent.


A Brief Overview

MeSH goes back to the 1960s when the NLM put out a print version of the terms which was discontinued and moved completely online in 2007. It is useable free of charge either by browsing online or downloading the whole catalogue.

The MeSH vocabulary is continuously updated and contains the following main types of terms:

  • Descriptors, also known as main headings, characterize the subject matter.
  • Qualifiers are used with descriptors and make it possible to group documents concerned with a particular aspect of a subject
  • Entry terms, also called “See cross-references” are synonyms, alternate forms, or closely related terms that are cross-references to descriptors.


Advantages of Using MeSH Terms

MeSH terms make it easier to:

  • retrieve relevant articles when authors have used different words or spellings when referring to the same subject so that a search does not have to include all the terms to provide a comprehensive list of publications. Example: a large number of terms can be used to refer to tumors or cancer of the breast, e.g. breast cancer, breast neoplasm, breast tumor, mammary cancer, etc. The MeSH term “breast neoplasm” covers all and avoids having to do repeated searches with different synonyms.
  • find relevant papers even those with no or an insufficient abstract. MeSH terms allow the user to find this publication based on a keyword search.
  • start a search with a broad term and then narrow down the search by using subheadings, e.g. the search for “breast cancer” offers alphabetically sorted subheadings ranging from “analysis” to “virology” that can be used to hone in on a specific field of interest.


MeSH Terms and Monocl Professional

Monocl Professional uses MeSH terms as keywords for the searchers along with free text options.

To find out how you can use MeSH terms to find experts highly relevant to your field of interest, please talk to a Monocl team member by booking a time with them here

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