A Review of CINAHL
Featured Article
2 Comments on A Review of CINAHL 2738

Helen-Ann Brown, MLS, MS, AHIP

The Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), considered the premier source of nursing and allied health literature, is owned exclusively by EBSCO Industries and offered on EBSCOhost. The vendor is now offering a suite of different CINAHL databases: The CINAHL Database, CINAHL Plus, CINAHL with Full Text, CINAHL Plus with Full Text, and CINAHL Complete.

The CINAHL Database provides indexing for almost 3,100 nursing and allied health journals. CINAHL Plus expands the CINAHL Database and provides indexing for just over 5,000 journals and includes additional nursing and allied health resources. CINAHL with Full Text provides the CINAHL index as well as full text for 580 journals in the index. CINAHL Plus with Full Text provides full text for 734 nursing and allied health journals indexed in the CINAHL database plus additional resources such as Evidence-Based Care Sheets, Quick Lessons, and more.

Finally, CINAHL Complete provides broad content coverage over 50 nursing specialties, speech and language pathology, nutrition, general health and medicine, librarianship, and more. It provides additional nursing and allied health research materials including healthcare books, select conference proceedings, over 130 Evidence-Based Care Sheets, nearly 170 Disease and Conditions Quick Lessons, 170 Continuing Education Modules, and over 250 Research Instruments. CINAHL Complete provides indexing for more than 5,300 journals, with full text for almost 1,400 journals. There are more than 4 million records dating from 1937 to present. Full text for many of the most-used journals in the CINAHL index is offered with no embargo.

The chart below compares the five different products.


In a 2014 article in the Journal of Electronic Resources in Medical Libraries, McGowan compared the indexing and full-text coverage of core nursing and allied health journals among the five CINAHL versions. Core nursing titles were compared to the Selected List of Nursing Journals from the Nursing and Allied Health Resources Section of the Medical Library Association. The core allied health journals were compared to the 1996 Brandon Hill List. Web of Sciences titles were also used for both fields. McGowan found that most of the core nursing titles were indexed in all five versions of CINAHL, while full-text coverage varied significantly. The core allied health journals were covered significantly better in some versions than in others, in both indexing and full-text coverage; however, overall, they were less well covered than core nursing titles (1).

Certainly, there is no one way to do a search, but a strategy that uses significant words, significant phrases, and the controlled vocabulary are highly recommended. One can start with a basic search by using significant words or phrases in the search box and indicating which search mode to apply. Limits, for example, include full text, date, gender, and type of publication, while age group can be selected at the same time.


In an advanced search mode, significant words and phrases can be placed in designated fields, like TI in quotes with “*” as the truncation symbol. There are many more limit choices, such as the opportunity to exclude MEDLINE records and designate whether or not the first author is a nurse. One of many tutorials on the Help page shows that CINAHL has headings that are searched just like MeSH Headings with keyword out of context entry, explodable hierarchy, and subheadings to attach. Results can be limited to publication date, type of article, or source type. Search history is retained, and it can be saved and become an alert. Times cited in CINAHL are noted and linked. Citations selected are placed in a folder and can be printed, emailed, saved, or exported to bibliographic management software.

CINAHL can be searched in an evidence-based way, by limiting to Evidence-Based Practice or a publication type, like randomized controlled trial. The CINAHL support center (http://support.epnet.com/cinahl/documentation.php) has a Clinical Queries Help Sheet and a variety of help sheets and user guides, including CINAHL Case Scenarios for treatment, diagnosis, and etiology/harm.

EBSCO offers an app for accessing EBSCOhost from iOS (iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad) and Android devices. The EBSCOhost app is available for download from the iTunes app store as well as from Google Play. After downloading the EBSCOhost app, it must be authenticated from within an EBSCOhost profile. Institutions can brand their CINAHL screen.

Of course, one can search the Internet, Google Scholar, PubMed, Web of Science, Scopus, and other databases for nursing and allied health literature, but any version of CINAHL would provide a more focused retrieval. Budget permitting, it is recommended that an institution purchase a CINAHL database with more journal coverage, more full-text availability, and more additional resources.

(1)     McGowan, Beth Ann. Quality vs. Quantity in Versions of CINAHL. Journal of Electronic Resources in Medical Libraries, 2014 Oct-Dec; 11 (4): 179-88. (CINAHL AN: 2012809653).

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Sharon Quirk August 26, 2015 at 2:57 pm

    Thank you for this article. Do you know if the designation for dates of articles within the last 5 years can be defaulted every time you search? Since I work at a nursing school where only the last 5 years are considered as pertinent in journal searching some of my students have been asking for this feature.
    Sharon Quirk
    Galen College of Nursing
    Assistant Librarian

  2. Eilene Re August 11, 2016 at 6:41 am

    Invaluable ideas . I was fascinated by the details , Does anyone know if my business might be able to get access to a sample a form version to fill out ?

Leave a comment

Back to Top