CINAHL – Part 1 – Starting Your Search

Welcome to the Health Sciences Library Online
Tutorial Series. This multi-part tutorial will explore the keys to successful searching
within CINAHL, the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature. In part 1, we
will look at starting a search: turning key concepts into subject headings and adding
them to our search history. CINAHL is easily accessible from the Health Sciences Library’s
homepage, at You’ll find it located under “Article databases” in the
“Key Resources” box. If you are off-campus, clicking the CINAHL link will redirect you
to LibAccess, where you can sign in using your MacID and password. Before we start searching,
we need to clearly define the question we are trying to answer. When searching databases,
we like to take a concept-by-concept approach. When you take the time to strategically develop
your question, the concepts are easily identified. In real life, the questions we encounter generally
don’t come in a form that is ready made for searching. We often need to fill in some gaps,
so take some time to identify your information needs. For the purposes of this tutorial,
we will trace the following sample question through the various search stages: In teens
trying to quit smoking, is cognitive behaviour therapy more effective than nicotine replacement
therapy? So let’s fill in some of those gaps. Who are we looking at? Teenagers who smoke. What
are we looking for? Proof of the effectiveness of two types of therapy: cognitive behaviour
and nicotine replacement. Why are we looking for this information? We want to find the
most effective way to quit smoking. Finally, where might we find this information? Likely
in an academic journal, and the best way to find those is in a health database like CINAHL.
So we’re in the right place! Before starting our search, note that the default screen features
three search bars. However, because we are searching for one concept at a time, we will
only ever use the first search line. Also notice that the checkbox labeled “Suggest
Subject Terms” is selected. This feature suggests potential subject headings for your concepts.
Let’s give it a try with our concept of quitting smoking. Enter our concept into the search
box and click search. The results are a list of potential subject headings. Here’s one
called smoking cessation. If we need clarification of subject heading we can look at the yellow
scope note. “Discontinuing the smoking habit”. That sounds about right. Selecting the checkbox
next to smoking cessation will bring up a list of potential subheadings that will narrow
your results to articles covering specific aspects of smoking cessation. These can be
tempting as they will quickly narrow a search, but be careful. They will often exclude relevant
results. Let’s leave this search with the default, “Include all Subheadings” and click
search database. This brings the subject heading into our search history and tells us how many
articles were returned. The results of our latest search will be displayed beneath the
search history. Great. Now let’s add a second concept. Type cognitive behaviour therapy
into the search bar. Again, we are given a list of potential subject headings. Cognitive
behaviour therapy does not exist as a standalone subject heading, but the subject headings
“Cognitive Therapy” and “Behavior Therapy” might be worth investigating. Clicking on
a subject heading will take you to its place in CINAHL’s subject index. Entries are arranged
in a hierarchy, with broader terms appearing above narrower ones. Here we see that “Behavior
Therapy” is a broader heading that includes the more narrow term “Cognitive Therapy”.
“Cognitive Therapy” can be broken down even further. To represent our concept of cognitive
behaviour therapy, we want to include all these terms in a single search line. This
is where CINAHL’s explode function is useful. Exploding the term “Behavior Therapy” will
find articles about behavior therapy or any of its more narrow terms. In this case, we
are searching for four subject headings with a single search line. Located beside the explode
function is the major concept checkbox. This option narrows our results to articles in
which our subject heading has been identified as the primary topic. Because our search question
deals with multiple concepts, we’ll leave the major concept box unchecked and search
the database for the exploded subject heading “Behavior Therapy”. “Behavior Therapy” has
been added to our search history. A plus symbol following a subject heading tells us the term
has been exploded. Our next concept is nicotine replacement therapy. It has a subject heading
all its own. The explode checkbox is faded out, meaning that this subject heading has
no narrower terms. Simply check the box beside the term and click “Search Database”. We’ve
now successfully translated our three main concepts into subject headings and have added
them to our search history. In the next video we will look at supplementing these subject
headings with keywords, combining our concepts with search operators, and using limits to
retrieve the most relevant results. Thanks for watching!

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