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Literature searching for Medical and Dental Sciences

Activity 3C: CINAHL and other EBSCO databases

Health and Life Sciences databases on the EBSCO supplier platform include CINAHL (nursing), AMED (some physiotherapy content), SportDiscus (good for sports injury topics).

For Health Economics, EconLit and Business Source Premier are worth consulting.

There is a collection of Education databases on EBSCO.

Use the search screen to build up a search line-by-line.  CINAHL has medical subject headings (MH): these are similar to the headings in Medline.  You can also use freetext keywords which occur in the article or article description.

Then connect the search lines using Boolean logic.

  • AND to focus the search to items about all the lines selected, not just one or other term on its own
  • OR to bring alternatives together in a broader set
  • In the Effective Search Techniques guide, see "Using Boolean and other search operators"
  • The "Rockwell Shrock Boolean Machine" has a simple graphic 

See the next tab at the top for a sample search including video clip (on CINAHL).

Watch the Panopto Video above for a sample search on the CINAHL database. Includes sub-titles.

Sample search using CINAHL: outline

You can use your own topic or follow the sample search below.

Sample search: "Community mental health nursing and postnatal depression"

On the main search page in CINAHL:

K​eep box for "Suggest Subject Headings" ticked before entering your first term in the search bar

  1. Postnatal depression - enter the term in the search bar and select Search on the right

CINAHL search screen with postnatal depression in search box

  • This suggests the subject heading "Depression, post-partum": tick to choose this heading
  • Keep the tick in the "Subheadings" box (this allows for more results)
  • Click "Search Database"


CINAHL subject headings page with options to check scope, select correct heading, then search database for results


      2. Next term:  "Community mental health nursing".  Find and choose the matching subject heading*

      3. AND: on the main screen, connect the above two headings by using the "Search with AND" grey button just above them:

Combining search results using "Search with AND" button

  • The results are further down the screen
  • To view the articles, use the "FindIt@Bham" link which leads to the full text (where available)
  • NB: you can introduce further terms as appropriate: alternative terms to connect with OR; different headings with AND
    • For example, find "Systematic Review" and use AND with the above to identify any systematic reviews about postpartum depression and community health nursing

*NB: When you find a subject heading, always check if the Explode automatically included if you tick that box.  You can check for these by clicking on the heading itself to show the subject tree.  

Keyword or freetext searching

Note that you do not have to use only subject heading searches.  If you prefer, you can use a general keyword or freetext search.  You can also select specific fields for your search, such as Title, Abstract: check the drop-down menu by the search bar(s) which defaults to 'Select a field'.

Untick 'suggest subject terms' above the search bars at the top and enter your chosen keywords below.  Do not enter too many or all at once.  Connect alternatives or synonyms with OR. Think of using the truncation symbol - an asterisk * - to enable searches for variations on a stem word or letters.

For example: 

  • treat* or therap* : this will search for treat, treated, treatment, also therapy, therapies, therapist, therapeutics

CINAHL uses an auto-suggest to display possible search terms, connected with OR, depending on what you start entering.  You can use these if you wish or ignore and enter your own keywords.

The search line can then be combined with other lines, including those for subject headings. 

  • If you want to do a Title and Abstract search, set the first line to Title, the second line to Abstract, and change the default AND to the left of the second line to OR

See the Academic Skills Centre guide on Effective Search Techniques.

Watch this Panopto video from the Academic Skills Centre,  University of Birmingham for an example of searching CINAHL (EBSCO) using Title field only: not subject headings or multi-field keyword searching. Includes sub-titles.

Panopto video from Academic Skills Centre, University of Birmingham: includes subtitles. 

Save Searches / Alerts

To save the whole search history or strategy, select Save searches / alerts above the search lines.

Search history / alerts options in CINAHL

Then set up an individual account (free!) to name and save the search history.  This can be accessed and re-run later. 

Saving to referencing software: EndNote Online

A: Direct export

There is a 'Direct Export to EndNote Web' option for EBSCO databases such as CINAHL.

  1. Tick the blue folder icon by each article or item you wish to save: the folder then will become yellow
    • Or: select all results on that page by using the Share button at the top: then click on Results (1-10)
    • Use Page Options to increase the number of results which display on one screen page
  2. Now use the Folder View option on the right to go to the folder screen with the marked references
  3. In the Folder View screen, select the records and use Export and select 'Direct Export to EndNote Web' from the drop-down options
  4. This should take you through to EndNote Online 
    • Sign in to EndNote Online with your login details if required
  5. Go to [Unfiled] to locate the results and add these to a new or existing Group

Watch the following Panopto video (includes sub-titles).  This uses an example in the database Business Source Premier, but the steps are the same for CINAHL. Both are databases on the EBSCO platform.


B: Export as RIS file ('indirect' export)

Alternatively, an RIS file can be downloaded from the database and then uploaded into any referencing software.  The following sequence is for EndNote Online.

  1. Select the items required (tick individual folder icons or use 'Share'), then go to Folder View
  2. In Folder View, choose 'Direct Export in RIS format' and save the file (eg to Desktop)
  3. In Endnote online, go to Collect - Import references
  4. Locate the RIS file, choose RefMan RIS as the Import Option, and upload the file

Watch the following Panopto video (includes sub-titles) or follow the instructions further below.


The following screenshots illustrate the export process.  

Share options in CINAHL

Results selected for export

A: Direct Export

ADirect Export to EndNote Web (ie EndNote Online)

B: Export as RIS file ('indirect' export)

RIS file option

Import option RefMan RIS in EndNote Online

If items are in the [Unfiled] area in EndNote Online, select these and use Add to group for an existing or named group (folder).

Adding to groups in EndNote Online



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