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Advanced Search Techniques


On this page you'll learn more about how to:


Methods for Identifying Search Terms:

  • Review notes from class or readings
  • Try spelling out abbreviations or abbreviating where appropriate (e.g., DNR vs. do not resuscitate)
  • Use quotes to search an entire phrase (e.g., "do not resuscitate")
  • Look at words and phrases in the Subject field (see image below). Another way to find subjects is using the CINAHL Subjects Headings option in the blue bar at the top of the CINAHL search screen.

An orange box surrounds all the subjects listed under an article found through the CINAHL database. Subjects are located under the article title and author/publication information, next to the icon showing the type of resource, in this case "Journal Article." An arrow points to the box around the subjects to draw attention to it.

Methods for Narrowing a Search:

  • Look for broader or narrower terms (e.g., "advance directives" is broader than "resuscitation orders," DNR is narrower than "resuscitation orders"). These can be subject words or keywords.
  • Narrow by publication date (e.g., last 5 years)
  • Narrow by publication type (e.g., academic journals, professional magazines)
  • Narrow by age group referenced in the article (e.g., Infant: 1-23 months, Aged, 80 and over, All Child)
  • Narrow by type of clinical query (e.g., review, qualitative, causation)

Many of these options are available either on the left side of the screen after a CINAHL search or in the CINAHL Advanced Search.

I like to start a search with broader terms and gradually narrow down my search, like an inverted pyramid. If you add in a term or limit and suddenly you get 0 results in a search that before gave you 2,000, something is wrong. Remove that last change and try something else.


Tips for Combining Search Terms:

  • Keep concepts in different boxes of the advanced search so that you can "tweak" them independently.
  • If you aren't sure which word or phrase to use, use them all, separated by OR. Be sure to use quotes (" ") around phrases.
  • You can use keywords and subject words in the same search box.

The search in the image below reads (dnr OR "do not resuscitate" OR "resuscitation orders" OR "no code order")" AND (nurs* OR "healthcare professionals" OR "healthcare workers" OR "hospital staff")  AND ethic*

  • The first box contains all the terms that might be used for DNR, so terms can be added to or removed from that box without influence the other boxes.
  • The second box contains all the terms that could be used for nurse or healthcare professionals
  • The third box includes any terms related to ethics. In this case I've decided to search only for ethic*. Remember that the asterisk (*) is a truncation symbols, so this term will return: ethic, ethics, ethical, ethically, etc.

Also highlighted in the image below are the "Advanced Search" link and the link to explore CINAHL Subject Headings mentioned above.


Shows a CINAHL advanced search box including the search terms described in the text above. There are boxes highlight other elements mentioned previously, including the CINAHL Subject Headings link at the top of the screen and the link to the Advanced Search below the search boxes.