Highlighted Database: CINAHL

The “Cumulative Index of Nursing & Allied Health Literature,” as it was previously known, has its origins in the 1940s, when two women heroically took on the task of ‘indexing’ every single article appearing in a total of thirteen different nursing journals over a period of five years.  In the 1960s, the number and subject coverage of indexed publications expanded rapidly, to include a broad array of allied health, biomedical, consumer health and professional nursing association publications. As it currently stands, the version of CINAHL available at DePaul, “CINAHL with Full Text,” contains around 2.3 million articles appearing in 3,000 different journal publications, in addition to content in a variety of other source types and formats, such as nursing dissertations, book chapters, conference proceedings, nursing practice standards and audio-visual materials.


One of CINAHL’s ‘stand out’ features is its built-in vocabulary of subject terms, known as “CINAHL Headings,” a tool which appears at the top of every search screen. CINAHL headings shows you the specific (‘controlled’) vocabulary the database itself uses to describe your topic.  In fact, the CINAHL Headings tool is in itself, a sophisticated database that contains thousands of standard and specific words and phrases used to describe nursing and health-related concepts. For instance, when searching the phrase ‘caregiving burden’ (as in the burden of caring for a chronically ill spouse or relative), you’ll find that CINAHL recognizes the controlled vocabulary term ‘caregiver burden’-an apparently subtle difference in expression, but one that will greatly increase the productivity of your article searches.

In addition to its value as a built-in thesaurus, CINAHL Headings will show how your topic relates to other nursing and health-related concepts.  It will situate your subject within a huge and sophisticated ‘tree’ of related nursing and medical subject headings, showing those that are ‘broader’ and more general in scope, and conversely, those that are ‘narrower’ and ‘branch off’ from your subject.  CINAHL Headings even anticipates where a term can have multiple meanings or uses, by providing helpful ‘scope notes’ that define how CINAHL uses and interprets a specific term.

From the DePaul Libraries website, you can access the CINAHL database in several ways-by searching “cinahl” in the library website search box, finding it alphabetically in our A-Z list of databases, or by browsing through the Nursing & Medicine Research Guide.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.