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CINAHL Complete

Cinahl covers the journal literature of nursing, biomedicine, alternative/complementary medicine, and 17 allied health disciplines

CINAHL Headings

As you know, the health sciences use very specialized vocabulary, and the same thing can be referred to with several different terms.

The concept of stroke, for example, could be referred to as stroke, cerebrovascular accident, or CVA. Does it matter which term you use when searching CINAHL? Yes!

Librarians organize and classify information according to what's known as a controlled vocabulary. This means that we consistently use the same term to describe the same thing. If half the articles were described with the term stroke and the other half with CVA, you'd have to perform two searches to find everything relating to the same concept.

So how do you know which term is the correct one to use?

The CINAHL Headings feature of this database allows you to find out which term the database "prefers," as well as construct a search from those preferred terms and subheadings. You can also the Headings' "tree view" to get a sense of where your concept fits in with other medical concepts. These headings describe the content of the article, and if used for searching, help you find the most specific, targeted results. Rather than finding articles that may only mention your search term, you can find articles that are focused on your topic.

  • To access this feature, click on CINAHL Headings from the menu at the top of the CINAHL home screen.
  • On the search screen, type in your search term. Leave the bubble on "Relevancy Ranked", and hit 'Browse.'
  • If your term is not in the controlled vocabulary, your results will tell you to Use: [Preferred term], instead.
  • For more information on what a term refers to, click on the caption in the Scope column, and an explanatory note will pop up.

Steps to search with CINAHL Headings:

Step 1: Please Note: Searching with CINAHL Subject Headings will remove any limits you have placed on your search, and you can reapply them after you search.

Step 2: Click "CINAHL Subject Headings" at the top of the page, as illustrated below. Click "CINAHL Subject Headings" at the top of the page

Step 3: Type your search word(s) in the search box and click "Browse," as illustrated below:

Step 4:  If available, click the icon under the Scope column to see a definition of the subject heading, referred to as the “scope note.”

Step 5: Select the desired subject heading by checking the box next to it. This will also display the subheadings associated with the subject heading.