Skip to Main Content


Guide to using CINAHL

Why Should I Search on One Concept at a Time?

The first step in a successful search is to break your question down into key concepts.  We recommend that you then search on each concept individually.  For example, let's say you wanted to know about pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis.  What's the benefit in doing separate searches (one for "pain" and the other for "rheumatoid arthritis")?  Why not just search on "rheumatoid arthritis pain"?

One reason is that CINAHL uses a controlled vocabulary (subject headings) to help refine your search.  When you search on "rheumatoid arthritis" you are presented with subject headings to choose from.  This allows you to retrieve all articles that were tagged with the subject heading "rheumatoid arthritis."  Doing a separate search on "pain" allows you to access all articles in which pain is a major subject. Combining the two searches means that you'll get articles in which both "rheumatoid arthritis" and "pain" are major topics.

If you search for "rheumatoid arthritis pain," CINAHL will try to find a single subject heading that addresses both concepts. When no such subject heading is found, CINAHL will give you a scattered list of terms that are somewhat related.

Steps to a Successful Search

The CINAHL Search Screen

The search screen below is the starting point for all CINAHL database searches. To begin searching, type a subject term into the first search box on the screen. Click Search.

These boxes help you do a search using Boolean logic.  You can put all of the search terms that pertain to one concept in the same box, combined with OR.  In the next box, you can do the same with the next concept.  For example, let's say you are looking for articles about pressure wounds in hospitalized patients.  Your search could look like this: 

If you'd like to use CINAHL's controlled vocabulary (like MeSH terms in PubMed), click  on the tutorial in the column to the left.

The Explode and Major Concept columns give options for broadening and/or narrowing the search. The Explode box, when available, will include search terms that are more narrow for the term pain in the set of results it retrieves. Major Concept retrieves articles in which a significant portion of the article is devoted to that term. Once you have determined whether or not to check the Explode or Major Concept column, select the box in front of the term pain, and click Search Database at the right side of the screen.

The results from the your first search are displayed on the screen. To add a second subject to the search, click the clear button. Then type your other keyword in the box and click Search.


Combining Searches

Select any relevant terms and click "Search database." Once viewing your results, click Search History located below the trio of search boxes.

Both searches are displayed as lines S1(first search term) and S2 (second search term). To find the articles that discuss both subjects, first clear the search box near the top of the screen. Then combine S1 with S2 by checking the box in front of each set and clicking the Search with AND button.                                             


(S1 and S2) will appear in the search box, and the results of that search will appear in your Search History.

Scroll down the page to view your search results.

Limiting Results

Users can limit the amount of results generated by a search by setting Limits. Limits can be found on the search results screen, once a search has been completed.

On the left side of the screen, users can limit by Publication Type, Subject Heading, Publication Year, Age, Gender, etc. The limits shown at left can be expanded and contracted by using the arrow icons at the top of each section.

Moving Citations to RefWorks

That's it!  You now have citations that match your search criteria.  At this point, you probably want to add your citations to RefWorks, or another citation management system.  Simply follow the steps below:

1. Perform your search using the Ebsco CINAHL database. Place items to send to RefWorks in the Ebsco folder by clicking the blue folder icon next to each article.

2. Click the Folder icon to display the results in the folder.

3. Select individual references to export or check the Select/Deselect All box at the top to choose all references.

4. Click Export in the right-hand column.

5. Select Direct Export to RefWorks in the Save Citations to a File Formatted for Section.

6. Click the Save button.

7. In RefWorks, click the View Last Imported Folder button.




Maps and Directions