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HIP202 Research Skills Guide: Using Limiters

An Introduction to Limiters

CINAHL Advanced Search screen showing limitersIn Searching Using Different Fields, our search – even as a subject search – got hundreds of results. What can we do to make this search more specific?

Most databases allow you to limit your search by various criteria. You can usually apply these limiters either at the time the search is run, or after you have got your results.


Some limiters are available in most online databases. For example:

  •         Full-text
  •         Date of publication.

Some limiters are available in some databases but not others. For example:

  •         Peer-reviewed [If you don’t know what “peer-reviewed” means, please see the Library’s video on Peer-Review.
  •         English language.

Some limiters are specific to a database, because they relate to the content of that database. For example, in CINAHL you can limit your search to particular types of articles that are relevant to health research:

  • Research article
  • Randomised controlled trial
  • Systematic Review
  • Meta-analysis.

Using limiters in CINAHL

In most databases you can choose to limit a search either at the time the search is run, or after you get the results.

The best way to limit a search is to use the Advanced Search screen. Every time you click on the Advanced Search link, you will see all the limiters. If you have already run a search, the search terms will still appear in the search boxes, and you can click on Search to apply your limiters to that search. Or you can run a whole new search and apply the limiters to the new search.

Here's the Advanced Screen where no search has been run. This is the screen you see when you log in to CINAHL. Here we can see the top part of the Limiters panel. The layout of the Limiters panel might vary according to the browser you are using:

CINAHL Advanced Search screen showing some of the various limiters available

There are limiters for all sorts of things. You can activate them either by

  •         ticking a box (eg Research Article; Randomized Controlled Trials); OR
  •         entering data (eg Date of Publication); OR
  •         choosing from a drop-down menu (eg Publication Type > Systematic Review; Publication Type > Meta-analysis).

 Here’s the Limiters screen, with Publication Type > Systematic Review selected:

CINAHL search screen with limiters

In the Publication Type drop-down, there are no fewer than 83 options! – everything from Anecdote to Website!

Reminder: whenever you click on the Advanced Search link, below the 3 search boxes, you will see all the limiters. But note that every time you do this, any limiters that you have previously selected will be cleared. On the other hand, once you have selected a limiter, it will keep affecting your searches until you click on Advanced Search again!

Try It Now

Go to CINAHL Plus with Full Text.

Search for ... "occupational therap*" AND "cerebral palsy".

  • How many results do you get?

Click on the Advanced Search link, and select Systematic Review from the Publication Type drop-down menu, and click on Search.

  • How many results do you now get?

Click on the title link for one of the results to view the full record. In the full record, you should see something like
<Publication Type: journal article - research, systematic review>
which confirms that the article is regarded as a Systematic Review.