Honours Bachelor of Science - Nursing Degree

Bachelor of Science in Nursing BScN nursing nurses

Tools for Success

CINAHL Tutorial

This video helps you to understand and use CINAHL.

Searching the CINAHL database

View Searching the CINAHL database


This tutorial provides an overview of how to use key features in CINAHL and how to print a search history.

Please go to the library’s homepage and select CINAHL Plus with Full Text.

Let’s demonstrate with the example of social media and ethics in nursing.

At the top of the page, we enter key words in the search box one at a time to find matching or relevant subject headings.

First I enter the keyword “ethics” and I select “search.” I can determine from the subject headings located on the left that “Ethics, Nursing” is the most relevant subject heading because I need it to be about nursing practice. It’s important to highlight the scope note located on the right to make sure my definitions are correct. I select “Ethics, Nursing.” Usually I highlight “Explode” to increase the number of articles, but if you can’t do it then you just select “Search” database.

I clear “Ethics, Nursing” from the search box and enter the key concept, “social media” and highlight “Search.” From the list of subject headings located on the left I can determine that “Social Media” is a relevant subject heading to use. I always make sure that I highlight the scope note to make sure my definition is correct. Now I select “Social Media.” Normally I like to “Explode” or increase the search results, but the database doesn’t always allow it. So in this case I highlight “Search” Database.

I highlight “Search History” located under the search boxes so that I may combine and limit search results. I highlight “Ethics, Nursing” and “Social Media” and then I select “Search with AND” because I want my results to be combined and relevant.

I would like to limit the number of search results and I do that by locating the “Edit” icon towards the right. I can limit my results by the English language, by peer-reviewed, and by publication year of 2010 to 2018.

Please don’t click on “Full Text” in CINAHL as this limits the number of full text available to you. I enable those results by highlighting the “Save” icon. I highlight “View Results” to see what journal articles were retrieved. Number ten in my result list is PDF Full Text which means the whole article is full text and I access it by clicking on “PDF Full Text.” Number eleven isn’t full text in CINAHL, but please highlight “Check for Item” to determine if the article is available elsewhere.

Lastly, we can print out our search history by going to the top of the page and highlighting the link “Print Search History.” This outlines all the steps you took.

This concludes the tutorial on how to search the CINAHL database.

All About CINAHL


The Cumulative Index to Nursing & Allied Health Source (CINAHL) database is the most definitive index for nursing literature in the world: It indexes nursing journals, dissertations and more on all topics of nursing practice, theory and research.  It's your first step to find relevant nursing literature to support assignments, evidence-based practice and lifelong learning.  While CINAHL is a key database for nursing research, there are still some tips and strategies to ensure you find relevant and precise results in an effective manner:

Key Definitions:

  • A CINAHL subject heading is a controlled vocabulary which creates a thesaurus of terms to help in more effectively searching the CINAHL database. Each bibliographic record in the database is associated with a set of subject terms or topics that are assigned to describe the content of articles.  The subject headings reflect nursing or other health profession's terminologies. Using subject headings allow people to more efficiently retrieve the needed literature in a consistent and organized manner.
  • A keyword in CINAHL is a word or phrase which describes the main concepts associate with your research topic. Keywords are used when it's difficult to determine subject headings or subject headings don't yet exist which describe a concept. They locate concepts which are in the title, the abstract and content of articles. They tend to retrieve more results but with less relevancy.

The Always and Nevers:

  • Always select on "Check for Item" in CINAHL since not all articles are full text; however, they may still exist full text in other library databases or on the physical shelf.  Articles can also be requested free of charge through the library's interlibrary loan service. This service aims to fill interlibrary loan requests within 1-5 days and articles are sent electronically to student email accounts.  Articles belong to the user once they are sent.
  • Never select "Full Text" in CINAHL since this will reduce search results to only those full text items within the database. This reduces the amount of full text which is provided in all of the library's databases and through interlibrary loan.
CINAHL Tips & Strategies:
  • CINAHL Subject Headings
    • This controlled vocabulary should generally be used instead of keywords to find relevant literature faster
    • Are found after entering keywords and are presented as a listing of underlined subjects or topics
    • Should be checked for relevance by using the Scope Note to determine correct definitions
    • Related and multiple subject headings can be used simultaneously to find comprehensive results
    • Should be examined within the CINAHL record to help locate additional subject headings
    • When selecting subject headings, choose the "Explode" feature in CINAHL to retrieve as much literature as possible on the research topic.  Selecting "Major Focus" is not wrong, but can limit the number relevant search results.
  • Nursing Terminology:
    • Even though it's tempting to use broad keywords like "nursing" in CINAHL to find literature, use more specific subject headings like, "nursing practice" or "nursing knowledge" or "nursing care" or "quality of nursing care" or "nursing education" or "nursing students" or "nursing role" to begin the search
    • Use nursing terms to find literature which discusses the nurse's role or nursing implications. It's easy to find medical or public health literature literature in CINAHL, but to locate nursing literature, ensure that nursing subject headings are used instead of medical terms. For example, use "nursing ethics" instead of "ethics" or "nursing care" instead of "patient care."
  • Nursing Journals:
    • Read nursing journals in CINAHL to locate information about nursing practice and the nurse's role. Nursing journals often have the word, "nursing" in them to help determine the profession's content
    • Represent the medium which nurses convey their current scholarship and contribute towards professional practice. Most nursing journals in CINAHL are peer-reviewed and this is a requirement for many nursing assignments
    • Nurses find value in reading other health literature in related areas such as public health, nutrition, mental health and gerontology and the social determinants of health.



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