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CINAHL: Keyword searching

Selecting keywords (search terms)

To find articles/document on a topic, enter keywords (search terms) into CINAHL's search boxes. CINAHL then searches for documents that include your keywords in their titles, abstracts (summaries) and other key fields. The following steps will help you carefully identify and organise your keywords so that you're more likely to find the best results:

  1. Identify the words/keywords in your assignment/research question that are most relevant to your topic (i.e. words that distinguish the title from any other title). For an example, let's consider this question: "Evaluate the integration of telehealth and nursing interventions to support the needs of caregivers". 

    Using our example, you might select the following keywords: telehealth, nursing, caregivers. Generally, it's best to ignore generic words such as "evaluate".
  2. Treat each word that you select from your title as a "separate" concept within the overall topic. Then, for each concept, identify any alternative words that have the same/similar meaning (or have opposite meanings e.g. inequality, equality). Different authors use different words to describe the same concept and if your keywords don't reflect this, you may miss important articles. Here's a list of keywords, organised by concept, based on our search example: 

Concept 1

telehealth telemedicine "mobile health" m-health others?
Concept 2 nursing       others?
Concept 3 caregivers carers     others?

Searching for different endings / spellings of the same word

  • Plural versions: CINAHL automatically searches for both the singular and plural versions of a word in singular form, so if you enter nurse it will also search for nurses
  • Truncation: sometimes you can increase the number of your results by entering an asterisk at the end of the stem of a word e.g. if you just enter nurs*, the database searches for these:

    Similarly, if you enter ethic*, CINAHL searches for ethic, ethics, and ethical.  

  • US spellings: CINAHL searches for both the UK and US variant spellings of some, but not all words. For example, If you enter behaviour, it also searches for behavior.  However, if you search for analyse, it doesn't find analyze as well. 

    If you're uncertain as to how CINAHL will handle an English spelling, replace the relevant letter with a question mark. For example, analy
    ?e - the database will then retrieve both versions of the word (though note, this will also retrieve the word analyte).

Entering keywords

  • Using multiple search boxes: note the screenshot above. If your topic contains multiple concepts (e.g. microfinance AND empowerment AND women), enter your set of keywords for each individual concept in a separate search box. To display an additional search box, click the (plus) button just below the search boxes. Don't change the default "AND" setting between each search box - you need this so that each of your results relates to each of the concepts.
  • Entering alternative search terms: If you've identified alternative keywords for the same concept, you must enter OR in between each one e.g. telehealth or telemedicine or "mobile health". Otherwise, CINAHL limits your search results to those that only feature ALL of the alternative keywords you enter.
  • Entering phrases: it's generally a good idea to enter these in "speech marks" (e.g. "human rights") so that CINAHL only searches for the exact phrase. Otherwise, the database searches for all the individual words in a phrase which can produce too many irrelevant search results.

Peer-review & other limit options

  • Peer-reviewed option: You can select the peer-reviewed option further down the screen on the left-hand side - this limits your results to those from peer-reviewed journals for which submitted articles are appraised by other researchers and only permitted for publication if they satisfies various quality standards. 
  • Limit options: Below the search boxes, there are various options for limiting or expanding your search. For example, you can limit by published date but be cautious - some older documents might still be relevant and cited in more up-to-date literature. Other options include document type (such as journal article, clinical trial, code of ethics, critical path, legal case, nursing protocol/intervention, practice guidelines, protocols, questionnaires/scales, randomized controlled trial, review and systematic reviews). Be cautious if selecting 'also search within the full-text of article' - this may prove useful if little has been written on your topic but it could retrieve lots of irrelevant results! 

    Business Source Complete: some of the options for limiting a search.


    After your search: you can return to the limit options by clicking the Advanced Search link just below your search boxes. 

    Proximity Searching

    • Proximity searches enable you to limit your search to titles and abstracts in which two or more keyword appear in close proximity. This is useful where multiple variations of the same phrase exist e.g. corporate social responsibility, socially responsible corporation, corporation demonstrating social responsibility... 
    • To run a proximity search, enter the capital letter N followed by the maximum number of words you want appearing between your keywords .eg. N2, N5, N10 etc. For example, if you might want the keywords "training" and "strength" to appear in close proximity within the space of 5 or fewer words, enter: 
      corporat* N5 "social* responsib*"

    • If you have a set of multiple alternative keywords that need to appear in close proximity to another keyword/set, enter the multiple keywords within a set of brackets as follows: 
      (corporat* or business*) N5 ("social* responsib*" or "social* aware*")

    • If you need to enter further search terms on the same theme but they don't require a proximity search, you must enter an additional set of brackets around all of those that are proximity-related - as follows:
      "mental health campaign" or ((corporat* or business*) N5 ("social* responsib*" or "social* aware*"))