Subject headings are words or short phrases that are added to the records of every reference in the database. Subject headings use a ‘controlled language’, meaning there is only one word or phrase used to describe a specific concept. In theory, this means that every reference discussing melanoma will have the ‘melanoma’ subject heading. Searching using subject headings will retrieve references on a topic regardless of the wording used by individual authors.
The CINAHL Headings feature of the databases allows you to find out which term the database "prefers," as well as construct a search from those preferred terms and subheadings. You can also get a sense of where your concept fits in with other medical concepts. If you are searching for something but keep getting fewer results than you think you ought to, try using the CINAHL Headings to make sure you're using the correct terminology.
To access this feature, you must be in the CINAHL database specifically. You can get to the individual database by using the Research tab on the library navigation bar, and then selecting Databases. You can also get to it through the Search by Database link on any search results page.
On the search screen, type in your search term. Leave the bubble on Relevancy Ranked, and hit 'Browse.' In this example, we want to see if cerebrovascular accident is the term we should use to look for articles on stroke:
If your term is not in the controlled vocabulary, your results will tell you to
Use: [preferred term], instead. In this case, we find that stroke, not cerebrovascular accident, is the preferred term.
Now that you know the preferred term for the database, you can construct a search right from the Headings screen by following these steps:
1. Select the checkbox for the term or terms you'd like to search.
2. A menu of subheadings will appear to the right; these are specific aspects of the main term that you might like to focus on. Select one or more subheadings.
3. Click on the green Search Database button on the right side of the screen.