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NRS328 Research Skills Guide: Searching in CINAHL Plus with Full Text

General Topic Searching in CINAHL Plus with Full Text

CINAHL (Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature) is the well known index to literature in the fields of nursing and allied health. It is in the EBSCOhost platform and includes the full-text of hundreds of journals.

Other resources that are indexed include legal cases, drug records, clinical trials, professional publications, health care books, nursing dissertations, selected conference proceedings, and Evidence-Based Care Sheets.


CINAHL Plus with Full Text is an EBSCOhost database so here are some tips on searching in EBSCOhost:


  • When you log in to CINAHL Plus with Full Text, you get the EBSCOhost Advanced Search screen, with CINAHL Plus with Full Text as the selected database:

  • If you wish to search other EBSCOhost databases at the same time you can click on the Choose Databases link above the search boxes, or go to the EBSCOhost (Health) option in the list of Allied Health databases.
  • You can use the multiple search boxes to carry out complex searches.
  • The default of Select a Field (optional) means that your search terms will be searched for in the main fields of each record - notably title, abstract, and subject headings. You can make your search narrower if you change this to TI Title or to SU Subject (see the box below on Searching using different fields).
  • If you want to find a CINAHL Heading that matches your topic, enter your search terms in the search box, tick the Suggest subject terms box, and click on Search. [See also Searching Using CINAHL Headings.]
  • EBSCOhost databases, like Primo Search, default to searching by keyword. This means that that if you type in more than one word, EBSCOhost will search for all of those words, but not necessarily together as a phrase. If you want to search for a phrase, you need to enclose your words in double quotation marks - eg.  "nursing diagnosis". 
  • As well as a keyword search  - eg. professional development AND nurs* - you can also do a proximity search. If you type in professional development N4 nurs*, you will search only for articles where these search terms appear within 4 words of each other. (You can make the number whatever you like.) This is a good compromise between a phrase search, which might be too specific, and a keyword search, which might be too broad.
  • There is a huge range of limiters available in CINAHL. You can apply these at the time of searching, or after a search has been run. Click on the Advanced Search link to see the full range of limiters. For more on limiters, see the page in this guide on CINAHL - Other Features
  • You can do as much searching as you like, and return to the results later. To see previous searches, click on the Search history link which is beneath the search boxes. [See also Using Search History.]

Here's an example of a search for information on professional development for nurses in Australia or New Zealand:

CINAHL search boxes showing the phrase "professional development" within 4 words of a term related to nurses (first line of search) combined with Australia OR New Zealand (second line of search)

For more on searching in CINAHL Plus with Full Text, read on!!

Searching Using Different Fields

In the example above, the searching we did was general searching, across 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 below 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 :

Complete record in CINAHL

In many cases, you can make your searching better by searching for articles where your search terms appear in or as a Subject Heading.

    So let’s go to our search for professional development for nurses in Australia or New Zealand. In the screen below, we have run the search shown above and received our results.

    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.)

Suggested major subject headings in CINAHL

Notice that there is a subject heading for professional development and various subject headings that contain the term nurs*. So we can confidently search for those terms where they appear in or as subject headings.

Rather than tick the box for one of these subject headings, which would limit the search we have just done, it’s better to do a whole new search for our all or some of our terms as part of subject headings.

Back in the search boxes, we can “force” a subject 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). There is no point using a proximity operator (N4) in a subject search, so we have removed that (EBSCOhost inserts the AND operator between our two search terms. And we will continue to search for the terms australia* OR new zealand in the main fields of records.

So the new search would be:

In a search in CINAHL, you can choose to search for your terms as "Word in Subject Heading"

In summary, you can:

  • start by running your search to search in the main fields of a record (Select a field (optional))
  • use the Subject: Major Heading refiner as a way to find subject terms that match your topic
  • run a new search where you search for your subject terms in MW Word in Subject Heading.


You might wonder what the Suggest Subject Terms tick-box and the CINAHL Headings tab are for. These represent other more complex ways of matching to and using CINAHL subject headings, utilising the highly structured tree (hierarchy) of headings. This is covered in the page in this guide on Searching Using CINAHL Headings.



In Advanced Search in CINAHL, you can also choose to search in other fields, by selecting them from the drop-down menu at Select a Field (optional):

  • TI Title. Searching for your terms where they appear in the title is another way of finding articles that are more likely to be relevant to your topic. You need to be careful with this, as authors sometimes choose catchy or quirky titles for their articles and they might not accurately represent the content in the same way as subject headings do.
  • AU Author. Use this to search for articles by an author.
  • SO Publication. Use this to search for articles from a particular journal.

Here's an example:

CINAHL search boxes where a search for "nursing diagnosis" in the item title field is combined with "australian journal of advanced nursing" in the publication name field

Charles Sturt University acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands on which its campuses are located, paying respect to Elders, both past and present, and extend that respect to all First Nations Peoples.Acknowledgement of Country

Charles Sturt University is an Australian University, TEQSA Provider Identification: PRV12018. CRICOS Provider: 00005F.