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Researching in Physical Therapy

Conducting Research for DPT

What's the difference between Keywords and Subject Headings?

Keywords may appear anywhere (title, abstract, full-text, even the author's name!) in a record.  Searching with keywords also depends on the search algorithm being used by the database.  It can be a good way to find results the rely on a particular spelling, combination of terms, or of a new term.  The search algorithms used in most databases are good enough to surface what you are looking for.

Subject Headings are a way of using controlled vocabulary to apply specific language that describes the content of the article to ensure that all the entries related to a particular topic are tagged with the same heading.  They are different from keywords because they relate to the content of the article and can give precision to searching.

Table showing where to find Subject Headings
Image of CINAHL Subject Headings

Go to Advanced Search Builder

Use drop-down to add a MeSH Term


Adding Search Terms

  • Click on 'Scope Note' to see how the term is defined.
  • Tree-view allows you to see broader and narrower subject headings.
  • All subheadings searched by default in CINAHL & MEDLINE.  You can select/deselect the one's you want to make your search more precise.
  • Explode (a term) includes sub-terms.
  • Major Concept restricts search to articles where selected term is identified as a major focus of the article.


Deep dive (1hr 11 min) training session on how to use MeSH headings.