Using CINAHL’s Search Options to Enhance Your Research


One of the key scholarly resources for nursing students, faculty, and practitioners is the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, better known as CINAHL Complete. CINAHL provides indexing for over 5000 nursing and allied health journals, with about 1200 available in full text. There are over six million records in CINAHL, with content ranging from 1937 through the present. That may seem overwhelming, but we can offer you some advanced search techniques for optimally using CINAHL for your research needs.

To begin with, you can direct CINAHL to locate peer reviewed articles within nursing-specific journals. These limits can be found in the search options. Check the “peer reviewed” box on the middle right side of the page and then under the “journal subset” option on the middle left side select “nursing.” Next, you can further refine your search to find document types popular within nursing literature. These include systematic reviews, meta-analyses, and randomized controlled trials. You can type keywords related to your topic in one search box and the type of document in the other (see image). Alternatively, you can select from over 60 publication types in the search options.

In order to ensure that you’re locating the most recent information on a topic, it’s critical to list a date range in the “published date” option on the middle right side of the page. Limiting a search to literature published within the past five to ten years is common, but your professor might ask for a different range. Date range is always the first limit I put on my own librarian searches!

An important part of nursing research and professional practice is evidence based practice (EBP). EBP can be defined as “a problem-solving approach to clinical decision-making within a health care organization. It integrates the best available scientific evidence with the best available experiential (patient and practitioner) evidence.” If your professor asks you to locate EBP literature you can check the “evidence based practice” box in CINAHL in the search options. For help on evaluating the hierarchy and levels of evidence in the articles you find, you can check out East Carolina University Libraries’ free guide.

For more resources related to nursing check out this research guide maintained by the Mina Rees Library! The guide offers information on finding articles, books, data, dissertations, and more on nursing and allied health topics. Mason Brown is currently the library’s nursing subject specialist, and students are welcome to contact him to schedule a research consultation.

About the Author

Kate Angell is an Adjunct Reference Librarian at The Graduate Center.