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Keyword and Subject Heading Development for a Systematic Review: Home

Keyword and Subject Heading Development for a Systematic Review

Generating a list of as many possible relevant keywords and subject headings takes a lot of creative thinking and looking in the right places.


1. Brainstorm your major keywords and add synonymous terms below them.

2. Once you have exhausted all synonymous terms, it's time to look for the subject headings of those terms. The below example uses the PubMed database's Medical Subjet Heading (MeSH) thesaurus to look for the MeSH term for some keywords.

3. Once you have found the correct subject headings, add them to your list. This will come in handy later when we search using a blend of keywords and subject headings.

4. Continue to search for the subject heading of each of your terms. You may sometimes find more than one relevant subject heading. Add as many as necessary.

5. Remember to add the subject headings to your running list of terminology.

6. In some cases, when you are looking for subject headings or MeSH terms, you can see other keyword ideas from the Entry Terms section of the MeSH thesaurus. Add whatever is relevant to your keyword list.

7. Once you have completed looking for subject headings, you are ready for the next step.

8. Next, go through your list to see if there are any phrases that need to appear in the exact order in your search results. Put quotation marks around those phrases in order to conduct a phrase search. For example: searching for "chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder" will ensure that the results only pick up those terms in the exact order that you typed them.

9. Next, look for terms where you can add a truncation symbol *. The truncation symbol will allow you to search for the root of the word and any spelling variation that follows. For example, by searching adolescen*, the results will retrieve adolescent, adolescents, and adolescence.

Tutorials created by: Eugenia Opuda
Gifs created in Camtasia or taken online from Giphy