PSY 309-A Research Methods: CINAHL Complete

Determine Search Terms

Finding the Right Words

Before running a search spend some time finding the correct search terms based off of the concept keywords you put together earlier.  In CINAHL these terms are browsable under the CINAHL Subject Headings tab.


Type your concept keyword into the search box provided to find the correct subject term which describes your concept.  

ExampleI am searching for resources about drug abuse. I searched "drug abuse" in the CINAHL Subject Headings, and discovered that "substance abuse" is how I should refer to this topic. 



If I click on "Substance Abuse," I will see any minor subject headings that fall under that term as well as any major subject headings "Substance Abuse" itself falls under. In the screenshot below, you can see that Substance Abuse has several minor subject headings.  This hierarchy helps you narrow in on specific concepts, such as "Alcohol-Related Disorders" versus searching everything about Substance Abuse (which would generate A LOT of results). 

In this case, choosing to search with Substance Abuse would retrieve articles that addressed the topic generally.  If you wanted to view articles about any of Substance Abuse's minor subject headings, you could click the box by that minor subject heading or string together all the minor subject headings using the Boolean OR operator.


Major / Minor Concept

CINAHL allow you to distinguish between subjects as a Major or Minor concept. Choosing "Major Concept" (to the right of the term) would exclude articles that just make casual mention of a topic, while not selecting this would generate results that might include articles that only have a small section on the topic.

If you want to explore all the possible subheadings within a subject heading, click the Explode (+) box to the right of the term. In the screenshot below, you can see several subheadings that fall under "Alcohol-Related Disorders" (a minor subject heading of Substance Abuse). If you select any of these, you can then click the green "Search Database" link in the box found on the right-hand of your screen to generate a very specific search which means less, more precise results.  



If you need to browse for additional headings you can click the button for this at the bottom of the screen.  CINAHL will compile a list of all of the subject terms you have selected and run a search for you when you are finished.  

Note: It is a good idea to write these terms down, as they will not be stored for your use later.

Find a more in-depth tutorial on using Subject Headings in CINAHL here.

Conduct the Search


Once you have intentionally planned your search, you are ready to execute it! 

Unless you used the green button to "Search Database" in the Subject Headings section, you should return to the main CINAHL interface and enter the terms you have decided on. 

Remember that you may need to refine your search several times before you start evaluating the records.  You can refine a search by using the options on the left hand side of the screen.  This will help you further narrow your results to only those which are most likely to be relevant to you.  The goal is to restrict the search to a manageable number for you to look through.


When you have a reasonable number of search results, you should move on to examining the records in detail. 

While doing this, do not worry about reading the Full Text of the articles just yet.  Instead, pay attention to the subject terms and the abstracts.  Reading these should help you understand whether or not you need to spend time reading the full text of the article. 

When you are ready you can click the "Full Text" link if available or you can request the article through the Interlibrary Loan process.



Citation Management & Interlibrary Loan

Saving the Article

Once you find an article that is of interest to you go ahead and save the bibliographic information so that you can refer to it in the future.  This is helpful when writing papers or for conducting future research.  Managing bibliographic information is made very easy by using a citation management tool like Zotero. For information about how to use Zotero, check out our Zotero guide or ask a librarian for help.

If you use Zotero, the full text of the article will automatically be saved for you along with the citation, but if you do not use Zotero you will want to go ahead and save / download the articles full text now so that you can refer to it later.  When searching for articles it is best to read citations and abstracts while performing the search and read the full text of the articles at a later time.  This way you gather all of the information you are likely to refer to at once without becoming distracted.

If full text is not immediately available, you will want to place an Interlibrary Loan request soon so that the library can have the article delivered to you. Interlibrary Loan is a program your library offers where articles can be requested from other libraries when they are not owned by Corette Library. Interlibrary Loans can be placed using the library's web form or by following the link in the article record when you have searched for the resource in the library's catalog using Saints Search.

Subsequent Searches

The Next Steps

Once you find an article you are interested in there a couple of strategies you might consider for follow up searches.   

1) Look at the subject terms assigned to this article - are there any terms that this article was given that match your research question?   If so add them into your next search in order to find articles similar to the one you are interested in.

2) Look at the article's work cited section - are there any articles listed there that inform your research question?  If so you might consider the citation tracking strategy to read the research that your current article is referring to.

3) Look for a "Cited by" or "Times cited" section of the record.  Sometimes you are able to use citation tracking to see what works have cited an article after its publication.  This is not always available, but when it is it can be a great way to find articles which have responded to the article you are interested in.


Need Help?

We would love to help you with your specific questions on this and any future projects you are working on.  If you'd like to get help from a librarian, please Ask Us.