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Databases and Journals

Why Search 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. The entire screen is divided into three sections. The top section (1) has the search boxes where search terms can be entered. The middle section (2) allows the searcher to select different options to apply to a search. The bottom section (3) displays all the limiters the searcher can apply to a search strategy.

Note:  You must check the box for Suggest Subject Terms (immediately above the search box).  If you want to search by keywords (natural language, as in a Google search) just uncheck that box.  You will need to check it every time you do a search.

CINAHL search screen

Searching with CINAHL

To begin searching, type a subject term into the first search box on the screen. Be sure to check the box for SUGGEST SEARCH TERMS. Click SEARCH

Be sure to check the box for suggest subject terms.

The next screen displays a list of CINAHL subject headings for the term you entered. This list allows you to select the most relevant term for your search. In most instances, the most relevant term will be at the top of the list.

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.

Check the boxes to explode terms, and then click Search Database.

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 from the Subject Terms menu 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.