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CINAHL Guide | Guía de CINAHL

A guide to using CINAHL with videos, tutorials, a walkthrough exercise, and other resources. Incluye instrucciones en español.


In this walkthrough tutorial, we will cover how to use CINAHL to find articles on the sample topic “hypertension and diabetes in the elderly.” Complete the steps described along with this tutorial to practice using CINAHL.

Start by clicking here to access CINAHL via FIU.


CINAHL can be used for quick Google-like keyword searches, which you can do from the start page. Simply enter your keywords on one or more of the three text/search boxes at the top of the page (from top to bottom). Change the Boolean operators as necessary, then click “Search” or press Enter. For our sample search, we will use the keywords “hypertension,” “diabetes,” and “elderly,” one on each row connected with the Boolean operator AND.

Notice you can specify where you want to search for the keywords (article title, author field, abstract, etc.) by clicking on the drop-down menu next to each text/search box.

Keyword searching is useful when you want to quickly access information on a broad topic or when you want to browse through articles on a subject for ideas. However, with keyword searching you may retrieve irrelevant items and miss relevant ones. For precise and comprehensive searching, always start with CINAHL Headings.


Each citation included in CINAHL is assigned a list of terms called CINAHL Headings that describe the content of the associated item. This is done to ensure your searches catch all items on a topic even if different authors use different words or phrases for the same concept (such as heart attack vs. myocardial infarction).

Access the CINAHL Headings from the blue bar at the top of any CINAHL page.

Type your keyword in the search box and click “Browse” or press Enter on your keyboard. We will start with the keyword “hypertension” for our sample search.

Your search will retrieve a list of CINAHL Headings associated with the keyword.

You can click on a heading to view the term’s hierarchy (i.e., where it falls in relation to other CINAHL headings). If you want to specify the topic should be a major focus of the articles to be retrieved, check the “Major Concept” box. You can also click on the speech bubble in the “Scope” column (when available) to see notes about the heading or suggested headings to use instead of/in addition to the one you searched.

When you have selected the options you want (for our sample search, we won’t choose any), check the box to the left of the heading. A list of subheadings will appear at the right.

If you want to use any specific subheadings, check the box next to them. Otherwise, leave the “Include All Subheadings” box, checked by default, as is. (Let’s leave the default option for our sample search.)

When you are ready, click the green “Search Database” button located at the right of the screen, which will take us to our first set of results. However, since we have more than one keyword in our sample search, we need to add more CINAHL headings. Let’s go ahead and repeat the process described above for the keyword “diabetes.”

CINAHL does not include “diabetes” as a heading, but will provide a list of related headings in our results. Now is the time to decide if you want to choose a more specific term, such as “Diabetic Patients” or “Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2.” If not, notice CINAHL states we should use “Diabetes Mellitus” instead of “Diabetes.” Let’s do that now. We can select the new heading by finding it on the list (scroll all the way to the bottom of the screen in this case) or by clicking on the link to see the heading within the hierarchy.

Once you have located the heading, check its box and run a search again. (For now, we won’t select any options and leave the “Include All Subheadings” box checked.)

We’re still missing “elderly” from our search, so go ahead and search the CINAHL Headings one more time for this keyword. As in the “Diabetes” search, you should find that the heading CINAHL uses is “Aged,” not “Elderly.” Select it and search the database one more time.


So far, we have conducted three separate searches for three different CINAHL Headings. Since our search topic includes all three keywords together, now we need to combine the searches.

When you have located all your CINAHL Headings, go to your search history, which you can access from the link located below the search/text boxes at the top of the search results page.

If you have been following along with this walkthrough, you should have four searches in your history: (1) our initial keyword search and (2-4) our three searches for each of the keywords using the CINAHL headings.

CINAHL lets you combine searches with the Boolean operators AND or OR. To do so, simply check the boxes next to searches you want to combine, then click on the “Search with AND” (if you want to include all the terms) or the “Search with OR” (if you want to include any of the terms) button. Since we want our search to include articles about hypertension and diabetes and the elderly, we will use “Search with AND.”

Please note: make sure your search/text boxes, located above the search history, are clear before running a search. If not, whatever is inside them will be added to your search. You can clear the boxes manually by deleting each line or automatically by clicking the green “Clear” button located to the right of the boxes.

Our search using the CINAHL headings turned up over 1,000 items, compared to just 564 in our initial keyword search. If you want fewer results, you can always go back to the CINAHL headings and choose a more specific term from the hierarchy or you can apply limits to your results.

Important note: you can mix-and-match headings and searches as much as you like using the Search History. Add or delete lines, use Boolean operators, explore headings, and more: experiment to find the best combination for you.


You can find the limits available in CINAHL by clicking the “Advanced Search” link located below the search/text boxes at the top of your search results page.

Limits give you the ability to restrict your results based on various categories, such as participant characteristics, location, journal subset(s), language, and more. For our search, we will choose to limit our results to peer-reviewed research articles in English published between 2011 and 2013. Check the applicable boxes and enter the specified publication dates in the “Limit your results” section of the advanced search page. Notice that your last search will remain in the search/text boxes at the top of the page (you can adjust it if necessary before applying the limits).

Applying those limits helps us decrease the number of results to a much more manageable amount. You can keep refining your results from the left side of the search results page or go back to the Advanced Search tab as necessary.


Click on an article title to view its citation.

Citations will show the article’s information as well as its major and minor subjects (a great way to find new CINAHL headings) and abstracts when available. From the citation entry you can print, save, or email the citation, export it to RefWorks, get the PDF (if available), find the article at FIU, and more.

You can also get full text from the search results page. Simply click on the “PDF Full Text” or “find it @ FIU” icons.


By default, CINAHL displays your results in order of relevance. To change this, click the word “Relevance” at the top of the search results and choose another option (such as author or publication date).

In addition, you can change the way your results page looks by clicking on “Page Options” next to “Relevance.” Change the number of results or columns per page, the results’ format, and more.

That's all you need to know to get started with CINAHL. If you need help or want more information, check out the full CINAHL guide or contact us.