• How-To: Searching with CINAHL

    by Alan Batt. Last modified: 30/01/14


    What is CINAHL?

    CINAHL is the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature.

    Nurses, allied health professionals, researchers, nurse educators and students depend on the The CINAHL Database to research their subject area from this authoritative index of nursing and allied health journals which includes millions of records dating back to 1981

    CINAHL indexes journal articles, nursing dissertations, selected conference proceedings, standards of practice, educational software and book chapters. CINAHL includes:

    • More than 2.7 million records
    • Indexing for more than 3,075 journals
    • More than 70 full-text journals
    • Author Affiliations
    • Searchable Cited References for more than 1,300 journals
    • Full list of content covered


    • On the Basic Search Screen, enter search terms in the Find field to conduct a text word search.On the Advanced Search Screen, enter search terms in the Find field to conduct a subject search.
    • Use Limiters to narrow your search, for example:
      • Publication – limits search results to records from a specific title.
      • Journal Subset – choose from blind peer reviewed, behavioral sciences, nursing, etc.
      • Special Interest – limit to advanced nursing practice, case management, critical care, etc.
      • Publication Type – limit results to source types such as care plans or systematic review.
      • Age Groups (Advanced) – limit to Child, 6-12 yrs; Middle Age, 45-64 yrs, etc.
    • Click the Search button.

    Basic Search Tutorial

    Advanced Search Tutorial

    Videos courtesy EBSCO Publishing Youtube channel.


    The Subject Heading List (controlled vocabulary or thesaurus) provides a more effective searching capability in the CINAHL database.

    On the Advanced Search Screen, enter a research topic (e.g., arthritis). To retrieve a relevancy ranked list of related subject headings, first click the Suggest subject terms box above the Find field, and then click Search. Click on a resulting hyperlinked term for details.

    Subheadings are available by checking the box to the left of the desired subject term. Tree views of the subject heading are shown when you click on the subject term. To retrieve results with arthritis as a subject heading, click the box to the left of the term arthritis. To retrieve results in which arthritis is the major point of the article, check the box in the Major Concept column. To expand on a subject heading, check the box in the Explode column.

    Specific sub-headings can be selected by checking the appropriate box in the sub-headings column. As subject terms and sub-headings are checked, they are added to the Search Term Builder box on the right. Click Search Database to view results. To narrow the focus of your search, click the Show More link under Refine your results. Select the limiters you want to apply to your search, and then click Search for a more focused Result List.

    Field Searching allows you to designate one specific field in the CINAHL record within which your term will be searched.

    These fields include (but are not limited to)

    • Article Title (TI)
    • Author (AU)
    • Author Affiliation (AF)
    • Abstract (AB)
    • Pagination (PG)
    • Source (SO)
    • To search within a field, enter the two-letter field code, followed by your search term. For example, type au Smith to search for Smith in the Author field of the record.NoteField codes are not case sensitive. For a complete list of field codes, click the Field Codes link that appears directly above the Find field on your search screen.
    • Depending upon the format of your Advanced Search Screen, you may be allowed to select the most commonly searched field codes from a drop-down list.


    How do I conduct a search using CINAHL Headings?

    • Click on the CINAHL Headings option on the toolbar
    • Type in field code (mh)
    • From  the Advanced Search screen
      • Suggest Subject Terms box ticked
      • Select the drop down list on the search screen

    How do I restrict my search to articles concerned with Evidence Based Practice?

    From the limit your results choose the Evidence-Based Practice Limiter

    How do I find articles published in patient safety journals looking at emergency care?

    Search for emergency care as a CINAHL Heading and choose explode. Apply the limiter patient safety from the special interest groups.

    How do I find systematic reviews on a particular subject in a particular age group?

    Search for your subject as a CINAHL Heading and choose a subheading if necessary. Apply the limiters systematic review from Publication types and select appropriate age group from Age groups.

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    Alan Batt

    Alan Batt

    Paramedic, educator, researcher
    Alan is a critical care paramedic, paramedic educator and prehospital researcher, currently working around the world as an educator and researcher. He has previously worked and studied across Europe, North America and the Middle East. He holds a Graduate Certificate in Intensive Care Paramedic Studies, and an MSc in Critical Care. His main interests are in care of the elderly, end-of-life care, patient safety, professionalism (including role and identity), and paramedic education.

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