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Science Honours: Advanced searching in CINAHL


CINAHL - Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature - is a major literature database for nursing and allied health. We get it via the EBSCOhost platform as CINAHL Plus with Full Text, so named because EBSCOhost adds in the full-text of many of the articles.

Advanced Cinahl

Searching Using CINAHL Headings

When you are searching on a complex topic and want to take advantage of the system of official subject headings, you need to search for one idea at a time, and then combine the results later. In the case of the cranberry juice/UTIs topic, we need to search for articles about  UTI, articles about cranberry juice, and articles about aged care homes, and then find which articles are in all three search sets. Let's start with our first component, UTIs:

Tick the box for Suggest Subject Terms.

Type "urinary tract infections" in the search box and click on Search. CINAHL matches our term to the official subject heading Urinary Tract Infections.

There is another CINAHL Heading for Urinary Tract Infections, Catheter- Related, but that's probably a narrower term. We can confirm that by clicking on the Urinary Tract Infections heading (we are following the instructions to "Click linked term for tree view") to take us into the tree (hierarchy) of subject headings. In fact, there are two narrower terms:

If we tick the box in the Explode column (the first of the two columns of tick-boxes) we will select the two narrower terms as well. This is an important concept in using the official subject heading hierarchy, and is a useful way to broaden your search to include other related subject headings.

Ticking the Explode box also displays all the subheadings for this topic: notice that there is one for Prevention and Control. As this matches what we want, we can tick this box, and then proceed to search the database for articles with a subject heading of Urinary Tract Infections - Prevention and Control.

The use of subheadings is another useful feature of using the Suggest subject terms feature of CINAHL

When working with these subject headings, the idea is to work across the screen from left to right. At the top right of screen, you can see that Urinary Tract Infections/PC is our chosen search term. We can now run this search by clicking on Search Database.

CINAHL will run the search, finding all articles that have Urinary Tract Infections > Prevention and Control as a subject heading. It will retain the search for us to come back to later.


Now we need to search for our next component of our topic:

If we search for "cranberry juice" with the Suggest subject terms box ticked, we see that Cranberry Juice is a CINAHL heading. The Explode tick-box is greyed out, meaning that there are no narrower terms. In this case, we can just tick the box beside the heading, and can then click Search Database.

Lastly, we need to search for the third component of our topic, which is the Population component of our PICO. Again, tick Suggest search terms, and type "aged care home" into the search box. You will see that "aged care home" is not a CINAHL Heading. We are presented with a list of matching or related terms, and the best of these is probably Nursing Home Patients. Again, there are no narrower terms, so we can proceed as before.

We have now done 3 searches, each one representative of one of our PICO components, and each one using an official CINAHL Heading. We now need to combine these search sets to only the articles that are in all of them.

Combining Search Sets

To combine our search sets to get only the articles that are about UTIs AND cranberry juice AND nursing home patients, we need to:

  1. Click on Search History beneath the search boxes on the search screen. This displays all our searches in a table
  2. Clear the search boxes at the top of the screen
  3. Tick the boxes beside each of the searches we wish to combine
  4. Click on Search with AND.

Can you see that the resulting combined search results will have to number less than 236 results?

Creating a personal folder (account) in EBSCOhost

If you wish to ...

  • save records more permanently
  • save searches
  • set up Search Alerts

... you need to create a personal folder (account). Here’s how ...

  1.     At top right of screen, click on Sign in.
  2.     Beneath the login and password boxes, click on the link for Create a new Account.
  3.     Follow the instructions and prompts to set up your new account.
  4.     Make a note of your login and password for future use!

   You can use your personal account to:

  • Save records of articles, until you choose to delete them
  • Save searches, until you choose to delete them
  • Set up search alerts
  • Set up journal alerts
  • [And, also, download an eBook from the EBSCOhost eBooks collection].

    For more information on setting up and using a personal account, see EBSCOhost Help, or contact the Library.

Saving a Search

If you wish to save your search for later:

  1. Log in to your CINAHL account
  2. Go to your Search history
  3. Tick the box beside the search you wish to save
  4. Click the Save Searches/Alerts link above the table.

You can save your search or create an alert. Tick the Save Search (Permanent) box, and click the yellow Save button.

The next time you need to access your search, simply log in to your personal folder, and choose Saved Searches from the left menu.

Sharing Your Search Strategy

If you need to share your search strategy, you can do this by using the Share drop-down menu at the top right of your results list. If you click on this, you will see a persistent link ("permalink") to your search in the drop-down, as displayed in the screenshot below:

You can copy and paste the link into a browser window.

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