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SPH511 Research Skills Guide: Using Subject Headings

Using Subject Headings

CINAHL full record showing major and minor subject headings

  • In Topic searching the searching we did was general searching, searching all the main fields of the record. You can get better results if you search for articles where your search terms appear in a Subject Heading, also known as a Subject Term.
  • First, let’s look at an article record in CINAHL.
  • The screen-shot at right shows the full record of a journal article. (We can get this by clicking on the title link in a brief record.) Note that Major Subjects and Minor Subjects have been assigned to this article. This means that someone has read the article and described its content using those subject headings. The subject headings come from an official and authorised list, known as CINAHL Headings.





  • YOU CAN USUALLY MAKE YOUR SEARCHING BETTER by searching for articles where your search terms appear in or as a Subject Heading.
  • So, let’s go back to our search for speech language pathology in relation to communication and dementia. In the screen below, we have searched for these terms without specifying the field to be searched, and received our results list.
  • In the left panel, there are ways that we can refine the results. Notice that the database recommends specific Subject Headings by which we can refine the results. (We need to click on the link for Subject: Major Heading to see these options).  There are relevant subject headings for:

Dementia      |      Speech-language pathology      |      Communicative disorders      |      Communication.

  • Rather than tick the box for one of these subject headings, to limit the search we have just done, it’s better to do a whole new search for our terms as part of subject headings.
  • Back in the search boxes, we can “force” a Subject Heading search, by changing Select a Field (optional) to MW Word in Subject Heading. Our terms will be searched for only in the Subject Heading field(s).
  • So the new search would be:


CINAHL subject search, where we have changed "Select a field (optional)" to "MW Word in Subject Heading".

 CINAHL subject search which includes the use of the OR operator to search for either dementia or alzheimer's disease


Did you notice that there is also a subject heading for Alzheimer's Disease? What if you wanted to incorporate that in your search?  Your search would need to be as in the screen shot at right. We need to keep the dementia OR "Alzheimer's disease" part of the search on a separate line, to ensure the operators (AND and OR) work the way we require.

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