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Library Resources for DNP Students: Exploring: CINAHL

This guide provides information on how best to utilize library resources throughout your DNP program at the College of Nursing.

Vocabulary used on this page...

Subject Terms

Refers to the controlled vocabulary (or official language for the organization of resources) of CINAHL.


Limits and filters allow you to narrow the results down to only the ones that are most relevant. Common limits that are applied include: article type, date, and language.

Tip: the more limits and filters you set, the narrower your results will be. It is possible for you to limit your results all the way down to 0, so be careful.

Tip 2: do not limit by Full Text. As a student of ECU, you can receive the full text of articles either with your PirateID and password, or through our free Interlibrary Loan (ILL) service if ECU does not own a copy of the article. Electronic resources can be e-mailed to your ECU account.

Creating a personal account

Personal accounts in databases are free, and I strongly recommend creating an account for each database you may use. They are particularly valuable when you need to save your searches for longer than your current browsing period. Closing your browser almost always erases your search history; having a personal account allows you to save searches that you may want to look at again later.

To create an account in CINAHL, click on Sign In at the top of the page.

Screenshot of CINAHL homepage with arrow pointing to Sign in link

Next, click on Create one now.

Screenshot of Sign In page on CINAHL

Fill out the form and follow any additional prompts that may be provided.

Screenshot of account creation page on CINAHL

Advanced searching in CINAHL

Searching the Subject Terms Tree

To fill out the second row of your concept table, you will need to know the controlled vocabulary for each of your concept groups. To search this in CINAHL, search each concept group individually, making sure that Suggest Subject Terms is checked. Then click Search.

Screenshot of CINAHL homepage

This will bring you to the Subject Term Tree. From here, you can select which subject terms you want to include in your search. Select as many or as few as you like.

Screenshot of Subject Heading list on CINAHL

Anatomy of the Subject Term Tree

A couple of things to notice in the image above:

  1. When you check the box beside a term, a blue box will appear to the right. This is a list of subheadings which can be applied to limit your search. Unless you know your search very well, I recommend ignoring this function for now. Ensure that the Include All Subheadings box is checked.
  2. If you select more than one Subject Term, notice that a chart appears below the Search box. Ensure the OR radial has been selected so that CINAHL knows to search each of these terms individually.

Screenshot of Search Database button on CINAHL

After clicking Search

When you are pleased with the number of subject terms you have selected for your concept group, click on Search. This will bring you to the results page. CINAHL will already suggest articles based solely on this search; however, you still need to run the keywords that you have chosen in your concept table.  Locate each concept group individually. The command language for CINAHL to run the terms as Subject Terms is MH (" "). To incorporate this language into your concept table, highlight and copy and paste the entire string into the second row of your concept table.

Repeat this entire process for all of your concept groups. When you have completed the entire process, you should have a Search History that has 2 - 3 searches.

Screenshot of search history on CINAHL

My concept table looks like this after running the Subject Term search for all three concept groups:

  Concept 1:
Concept 2:
Health literacy
Concept 3:
Rural areas
Subject Terms (MH "Nurses") (MH "Health Literacy") (MH "Rural Areas")
(MH "Rural Health")
(MH "Rural Population")
(MH "Rural Health Personnel")
(MH "Rural Health Centers")
(MH "Rural Health Nursing")
Keywords Nurse
"Nursing personnel"
"Health literacy"

"Rural areas"
"Rural health centers"
"Rural population"
"Rural populations"
"Rural health nursing"
"Underserved populations"

Building the Advanced Search in the Search History

In your Word document, combine your Subject Terms row and your keywords row for each concept group using Boolean operators. My search becomes:

((MH "Nurses") OR Nurse OR Nurses OR "Nursing personnel")


((MH "Health Literacy") OR "Health literacy")


((MH "Rural Areas") OR (MH "Rural Health") OR (MH "Rural Population") OR (MH "Rural Health Personnel") OR (MH "Rural Health Centers") OR (MH "Rural Health Nursing") OR Rural OR "Rural areas" OR "Rural health centers" OR "Rural population" OR "Rural populations" OR "Rural health nursing" OR "Underserved populations")

In order to preserve some flexibility in your search, you will now copy and paste each concept group one at a time into the search bar at the top of the page. Running each search individually will allow you to edit each concept group individually if necessary, or to change how you pair your concept groups.

Note: make sure to uncheck the Suggest Subject Terms box before clicking Search!

Screenshot of CINAHL search page with X beside Suggest Subject Terms box

After repeating this process for all concept groups, your Search History should look like this:

Screenshot of search history box on CINAHL with arrow pointing to Search with AND

From the Search History box, put a check in each box beside the full concept groups. Then, click Search with AND. This tells CINAHL to search the concept groups together. When the search has run, you'll notice that CINAHL has created a new row for the combined search, but CINAHL does not report the full search--instead, it uses nicknames. My search is displayed as S4 AND S5 AND S6 rather than using the actual words. Because you may be required to report your search strategy, it is extremely important to keep the prose version of your search in a Word document.

Screenshot of search history on CINAHL demonstrating combination of all searches

To limit your search, click on Edit. This will pull up a large menu of multiple limits and filters that you can apply to your search. (Note: you can also set limits by clicking the limits on the left-hand sidebar; however, I find that if I need to apply multiple filters, it is often much easier to do so with the Edit feature.)

Screenshot of search Edit screen on CINAHL

Ask a Librarian

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1-888-820-0522 (toll free)


How to access the article

To access articles that look relevant to you, click on the article title to open the article page. Click on the purple Find It! button (located in the left-hand sidebar), and follow the prompts.

Screenshot of CINAHL results page

How to save articles

In CINAHL, there are multiple ways to save articles.

1. Saving articles individually: on the article page, choose either Add to Folder or Export in the right-hand sidebar. Saving to Folder saves the article record to your personal CINAHL account. Exporting to a citation manager creates a file that you can download into either RefWorks, Zotero, Mendeley, or EndNote.

Screenshot of Add to folder button on CINAHL

2. Saving articles from the results page: on the results page, click the blue folder icon. This will turn it yellow, indicating that the article has been saved to your folder.

Screenshot of saved record on CINAHL

When you have items saved to your folder, the Folder icon at the top of the page will look like this: Screenshot of Folder icon with saved records on CINAHL

How to save your search

If you created a personal CINAHL account, you can save your search. Click on Save Searches/Alerts above the search history from the search results page.

Screenshot of CINAHL search results page with arrow pointing to Save Search link

Complete the form to save your search or to create an alert. I recommend saving the search with the date within the title so that you can keep track of when you last ran the search on CINAHL.

Setting an alert will allow CINAHL to run your search as frequently as you want it to, and you will receive e-mail alerts when new articles become available that meet your search criteria.

Screenshot of alert page on CINAHL

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