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CINAHL Guided Exercise: Introduction to CINAHL


Purpose of the guide:

The objective of this guide is to teach participants how to build a structured and logical search strategy that will find relevant information to answer a research question. The learning outcomes are that you will know about and be able to do the following:

  • Define your research topic/question
  • Identify relevant search terms
  • Design an effective and efficient search strategy
  • Use the results

As a "guide on the side", the Guided CINAHL Exercise will take you through the process of developing a search strategy, step-by-step.

If you are new to searching, or need a refresher, you can follow along with the Step-by-Step instructions using the demo topic.  You can also use the Build Your Own instructions to create a search for your own topic.  


The step-by-step written instructions are illustrated by video clips, without audio.


A walk through following the Step-by-Step instructions will take 30-45 minutes.

Let's get started!

Step by Step: Getting Started with CINAHL

Why do a structured search?

Using a framework, such as PICO, a structured search involves breaking down the research question into searchable parts. These individual concepts are separately searched for using subject headings and keywords. These two sets of references are then combined to broaden the search (using OR). The combined sets of each PICO element are combined to make the search more precise (using AND). Filters and Limits can be used to further define the relevance for the research question.

This methodical process:

  • Saves time (in the long run)
  • Effectively uses a database’s tools and techniques
  • Allows for greater sensitivity balanced with specificity
  • Provides a transparent and replicable description that is required for knowledge syntheses such as Systematic or Scoping Reviews
  • Can be adapted to other databases

How to use this guide

Build a structured search in CINAHL following these processes:

  1. Identify your research question and analyze the topic using a framework such as PICO
  2. Find relevant search terms - Subject Headings
  3. Find relevant search terms - Keywords
  4. Combine searches
  5. Adding Limits or Filters
  6. Saving searches and results

Each page includes

  1. Step by Step instructions alongside a video presentation of the process. Note that there is no sound.
  2. A Build Your Own activity to create the search on your own topic

To begin, you may wish to view each page and "follow along" with the provided search example. Have in mind your own research topic for following the Build Your Own instructions to create your own search.

Why use CINAHL?

CINAHL (Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature) provides coverage of nursing and allied health literature from 1982 to present. CINAHL indexes 2700+ journals, as well selected books, pamphlets, dissertations, audiovisuals in nursing, allied health, consumer health, biomedicine, alternative therapy, health sciences librarianship.


  1. Go to
  2. Choose the Indexes and Databases tab
  3. Type CINAHL in the search field and click Search
  4. Choose the CINAHL (via EBSCOhost) database from the search results
    • You may be prompted for your CWL
    • You will be taken to the CINAHL search page
Video Demo: Accessing CINAHL