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Getting the Most Out of CINAHL: Search Tips

An overview of using CINAHL to find information on nursing and allied health disciplines.

Search Tips

There are a number of tricks you can use to enhance your CINAHL searches and help you find the information that you need:

  • Use Boolean Operators and parentheses to build your search
  • Use truncation to broaden your search
  • Use phrase searching to limit your search
  • Use limits to narrow your search

Knowing how to use these techniques - on their own and together - will help you narrow your search when you have too many irrelevant results as well as broaden your search when your search when it's too limited.

Boolean Operators

Boolean Operators link concepts and are used to broaden or narrow your search. Briefly, here's how they work:

AND - finds results with your all search terms.  AND narrows your search (i.e., get fewer citations).

OR - finds results with any of your search terms.  OR broadens your search (i.e., get more citations).

NOT - finds results with only one of your search terms.  NOT narrows your search (i.e., get fewer citations).

For more help with using this valuable search technique, se the Boolean Operators guide for more detailed information.


Truncation is a search method in which symbols are used in place of letters or words to help you broaden your search (i.e., get more citations).  Here's how they work:

In CINAHL, the asterisk (*) represents any group of characters, including no character. Use it at the end of the root of your term.


prevent* finds prevent, preventative, prevented, preventing, etc.

smok* finds smoke, smokeless, smoker, smoking, etc.

Phrase Searching

Searching for phrases narrows your search (i.e., get fewer citations). Here's how it works:

In CINAHL, enclose the phrase using double quotation marks (i.e. "shift handoff") in order to find citations that have those words in the exact order.

Examples from a CINAHL search on July 17, 2018:

shift handoff finds 61 citations
"shift handoff" finds 18 citations

patient falls finds 2,619 citations
"patient falls" finds 483 citations


Limits allow you to restrict searches to your specific needs. For example, you may want only English language resarch articles published within the last five years. CINAHL allows you to limit a search to those specific parameters.

Some common limits to consider for your search are published date, English langauge, peer-reviewed, and research article. For searches related to age-specific populations, look for the "Age Groups" options located in the bottom half of the list of options.

For more information, go to the page about Limits in this guide.

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