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CINAHL: Tutorial

This guide is intended to assist nurses and allied health users to the effective way of locating reliable nursing/health information

Before attempting to Search CINAHL

If you are looking for nursing/health information; and:


CINAHL is a database that indexes the nursing literature including journal articles, dissertations, reports, book chapters etc,,, in the fields of nursing and all other allied health literature.

To find articles about nursing assessment of substance abuse:

  • First break topic into concepts,
  • Search for each concept alone
  • Combine using Boolean Operators.

This topic could be broken into 2 concepts: 'substance abuse' and 'nursing assessment'.  Start with either concept and search for it at 'CINAHL Headings' to get best results.

Click 'CINAHL Headings'  from the top menu and type substance abuse, then click "Browse". 

You get a screen listing CINAHL Headings (displayed as hyperlinks) related to substance abuse. Browse the displayed list and select the most appropriate one which is "Substance Abuse" by clicking the square box before 'Substance Abuse', a list of subheadings for 'Substance Abuse' will display from which you have the choice to either select All Subheadingss or to select one or more of these. Then there is also "Explode" and "Major Concept", select both then click "Search Database".


Alternatively, click on blue hyperlink Substance Abuse, a page opens giving details about this CINAHL Heading, its tree-structure listing narrower and broader CINAHLHeadings, the choice to select Explode and Major Concept.


When you click "Search Database", CINAHL retrieves documents talking about substance abuse.  Leave this aside and search for the second concept "nursing assessment" as you did for the "substance abuse".

When you finish searching each concept alone, click on "Search History".


The two searches appear as S1 and S2 respectively.



Click on square box before each one, then click "Search with AND" button. A results screen appears listing the retrieved records in pages of 20s.

More CINAHL Search Options


CINAHL allows use of wildcard that is represented by a question mark ? and indicates one single character, search ne?t to find neat, nest or next. CINAHL does not find net because the wildcard should replace a single character.


Searches for all occurrences of words that start with a specific root. This is done by using * at the end of the word root, to designate zero, one, or more characters, search mutagen* to retrieve mutagen or mutagens or mutagenic etc...

Proximity Search

Searches for two words to appear near each other and specify the maximum number of words coming between them by using N, search substance N3 abuse to retrieve documents where the words 'substance' and 'abuse' have a maximum 3 words coming in between them.

Refine CINAHL Search

If you retrieve a large number of citations, Refine your search.

On left-hand corner there is "Refine your results" by Full-text, Publication Date... under which a list is included from which you can select any option to further limit retrieval to the already listed results.


The "Show More" allows you to further apply limits to your result such as limiting by publication year, peer reviewed, publication type (including care plan, case study, clinical trial, critical path, exam questions, Nursing interventions, practice guidelines, protocol, Questionnaire/scale, Research Instrument, Systematic review, etc...), gender (male or female), age group, etc....

Cite CINAHL Citations

AUB Libraries subscribe to a number of most important citation management tools namely RefWorks, EndNote Web and Endnote Client that maybe used to manage your citations from database searching.

For more information on these, visit the complete ABC guide on how to manage your references from the most important Medical, Nursing, and Public Health databases using Refworks, Endnote Web & Endnote Client.