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Nursing Resources

1. When to Use CINAHL Plus

The main focus of the Cumulative Index of Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL Plus) is nursing, along with biomedicine, health sciences librarianship, alternative/complementary medicine, consumer health and 17 allied health disciplines. In total, the EBSCO-hosted database contains nearly 7.6 million records, indexed from over 5,500 journals dating back to the 1930s. The documentation on this page references the EBSCOhost version of this database.

2. How to Use CINAHL Subject Headings

Controlled Vocabulary: (CINAHL® Subject Headings)

  • CINAHL Plus has a thesaurus that you can use to access its controlled vocabulary. These are a standardized set of terms that are used to bring consistency to the searching process. To access the thesaurus, click on the CINAHL Headings link on the top of the homepage.
  • When searching for controlled vocabulary in the thesaurus use scope notes. These are found to the right of each term and provide a definition of the term.
  • Databases predating CINAHL Plus do not yet have subject headings assigned, so if you are searching for articles published between 1937 and 1961, you’ll want to use keywords.
  • Terms are arranged hierarchically by subject categories with more specific terms arranged beneath broader terms.

Subheadings

  • Use subheadings such as "adverse effects" or "therapeutic use" to focus your search. You can access them once you click on a controlled vocabulary term in the thesaurus. Warning: applying too many subheadings leads to missing important articles on the topic.
  • See next page for more information on applying field tags, and visit CINAHL’s Subject Headings info page to learn more.

3. How to Use Keywords

Using Keywords

  • Keywords can be any words used to describe your idea or concept.
  • Keywords can be single words or phrases.
  • Use quotes around all phrases to ensure that the phrase is searched together.
  • For more ideas, visit the MeSH database and look at the entry terms listed in the MeSH record.
  • Also consider using synonyms, acroynyms, initialisms, variations in spelling, and other closely-related terms used interchangeably to describe the topic.

Keyword Generation

Keywords can be generated by:

  • browsing entry terms in PubMed's MeSH database and synonyms in Embase's Emtree database (both are controlled vocabularies) to add additional keywords to a concept;
  • looking at a few key articles and seeing how the terminology is used; and by
  • doing a few preliminary searches and browsing the results to see how the terminology is used.

4. CINAHL Plus Pro Tips

Fields

You can use fields to specify where the database looks for the search term. In CINAHL Plus, first type the field and then the search term.

TI "endarterectomy" will return endarterectomy in the title of the record

  • TI — Searches the Title field
  • AB — Searches the Abstract field
  • AB OR TI — Searches the Abstract field and the Title Field at the same time
  • AU — Searches the Author field
  • AF — Searches the Author Affiliation field (organization or university the researcher works for)
  • SO — Searches the Publication field (field to enter names of journals)
  • MH — Searches the exact CINAHL Plus Subject Heading, searching both major and minor headings
  • MM — Searches the exact CINAHL Subject Heading, searching only in major headings

Applying Filters

  • On the left side of the screen, you will see an option to "Refine Results" with options for Source Types, Publication, Subject Headings, Language, Age, Gender, etc. To access the complete list of options for limits, click on the “Advanced Search” link beneath the search boxes at the top of the page.
  • Warning: filters such as species, ages, text availability, and subject discipline may unnecessarily exclude articles you want to see. When you apply these filters, you are using controlled vocabulary or database indexing to exclude articles. This is not always a reliable method of excluding articles.

Truncation and Wildcards

  • In CINAHL Plus you can use a * at the root of a word to find multiple endings.  For example:
    • arthroplast* will return arthroplasty, arthroplasties, arthroplastic, arthroplastics, etc.
    • mobili* will return mobility, mobilization, mobilisation, mobilize, etc.
  • You can also use a ? as a wildcard to search for letter variants within a word (e.g. wom?n finds women and woman)
  • In CINAHL Plus you can use truncation and phrase searching at the same time. e.g. "early childhood mobili*"

Proximity Searching

  • CINAHL Plus allows for proximity searching through the use of two operators (N or W), along with a number to indicate the proximity of the words (up to 255 words).
  • N operator: The N operator stands for “Near Operator." Typing N5 would find two words within 5 words of each other without considering the order in which the words are entered. (therapy N5 sleep) looks for the word “therapy” within 5 words of sleep.
  • W operator: The W operator stands for "Within Operator." Typing W5 follows the order the words are typed. (therapy W5 sleep) would find the phrase “therapy for improved sleep,” but it would not find “sleep therapy”.

5. Combining Search Terms and Concepts

  • A comprehensive and systematic search of CINAHL Plus includes both controlled vocabulary and keyword terms (i.e. free text, natural language, and synonyms).

  • Boolean operators are used to combine search terms. In CINAHL Plus, you can use the operators AND, OR, and NOT.

  • Boolean operators MUST be used as upper case (AND, OR, NOT).

    • OR—use OR between similar keywords, like synonyms, acronyms, and variations in spelling within the same idea or concept.

    • AND—use AND to link ideas and concepts where you want to see both ideas or concepts in your search results.

    • NOT—used to exclude specific keywords from the search, however, you will want to use NOT with caution because you may end up missing something important.

  • Go to the “Advanced Search” page to combine searches (in CINAHL Plus this is typically the default homepage). Your search history will be located above your results during your search session, and can be viewed by clicking the “Search History” beneath the search boxes.

6. Saving Your Searches

  • By saving your search, your strategy will be reproducible for another time and properly documented.
  • Explore options for citation management here, and find tips on how to export results.
  • To save searches in CINAHL Plus create an EBSCOhost account by clicking on the “Sign In” link in the upper-right corner of the screen. Then, click on “Search History” underneath the search boxes and “Save searches/Alerts.”
  • Create an alert within CINAHL Plus to receive updates on a topic. Follow the same steps for saving a search, but choose "Alert" instead.

7. Printable PDF Handout

8. CINAHL Plus Practice

If you would like to practice comprehensive searching in CINAHL Plus, use the link below to access CINAHL Plus, and the three worksheets to achieve steps within the search process.