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Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Bachelor of Psychiatric Nursing, Centre for Professional Nursing Education

Profile V2


PI(C)O is an acronym that stands for: Patient (or Population), Intervention, Comparison, Outcome.

PI(C)O is a technique used in evidence based practice to:

  • Frame answerable questions from a clinical scenario
  • Identify key elements in the question
  • Structure database searches

VIDEO: Using PICO to turn a clinical scenario into an effective search (3:55)

PI(C)O Templates

PICO Worksheet Scenario

Keyword Searching in CINAHL

Finding & Using Keywords in CINAHL Searches

  • Keyword terms can be single words or phrases.

  • Use quotes around all phrases to ensure that the phrase is searched instead of each word individually. (e.g. “public health”)

  • Consult CINAHL's thesaurus for ideas of additional terms to add to your search. You can access the thesaurus by clicking on the "CINAHL Headings" link on the top of the screen. See the video below on how to find CINAHL Headings & use effectively in a search.

  • More information on Finding & Using CINAHL Subject Headings

The above content is adapted from “CINAHL Plus Search Tips” by Simon Robins, which is licensed under Creative Commons 4.0 License, CC BY.

CINAHL Search Tips

Combining Searches Using Boolean Operators

  • A comprehensive and systematic search of CINAHL includes both controlled vocabulary and keyword terms (i.e. free text, natural language, and synonyms).

  • Boolean operators are used to combine search terms. In CINAHL, you can use the operators AND, OR, and NOT.

  • Boolean operators MUST be used as upper case (AND, OR, NOT).

    • OR--use OR between similar keywords, like synonyms, acronyms, and variations in spelling within the same idea or concept

    • AND—use AND to link ideas and concepts where you want to see both ideas or concepts in your search results

    • NOT—used to exclude specific keywords from the search, however, you will want to use NOT with caution because you may end up missing something important.

  • Go to the “Advanced Search” page to combine searches (in CINAHL this is typically the default homepage). Your search history will be located above your results during your search session and can be viewed by clicking the “Search History” beneath the search boxes.

Truncation & Wildcards

  • In CINAHL you can use * at the root of a word to find multiple endings. For example:

arthroplast* will return arthroplasty, arthroplasties, arthroplastic, arthroplastics, etc.

mobili* will return mobility, mobilization, mobilisation, mobilize, etc.

  • You can also use a ? as a wildcard to search for letter variants within a word (e.g. wom?n finds women and woman)

  • In CINAHL you can use truncation and phrase searching at the same time. e.g. "early childhood mobili*"

Proximity Searching

  • CINAHL allows for proximity searching through the use of two operators (N or W), along with a number to indicate the proximity of the words (up to 255 words).

  • N operator: The N operator stands for “Near Operator." Typing N5 would find two words within 5 words of each other without considering the order in which the words are entered. (therapy N5 sleep) looks for the word therapy within 5 words of sleep.

  • W operator: The W operator stands for "Within Operator." Typing W5 follows the order the words are typed. (therapy W5 sleep) would find “therapy for improved sleep,” but it would not find “sleep therapy”)

This content is adapted from “CINAHL Plus Search Tips” by Simon Robins, which is licensed under Creative Commons 4.0 License, CC BY.

So..what's a subject heading and how will it help my search?


What is a Subject Heading?

  • Subject headings are assigned words or phrases that make a database easier to search.  It draws possible terms for a topic under one word or phrase, so a searcher does not have to guess at all of the words used to describe a topic.
  • Subject headings can also be called descriptors, thesaurus entries, subject terms or controlled vocabulary.
  • They may also have a proprietary name, such as MeSH (Medical Subject heading), CINAHL Headings, or LCSH (Library of Congress Subject Heading).

Where do I find for Subject Headings?

  • Almost every database has some kind of controlled vocabulary.  When searching in a database, look for a link on the home page that says thesaurus, headings or index. You can use this link to search for specific subject headings.
  • You can also find subject headings by performing a keyword search and then looking at the subject headings in the record of relevant articles.
  • Remember that subject headings can differ from database to database.  Don’t assume that what works great in one database will work well in another!

Keywords and Subject Headings – there is a difference!

  • Searching by subject headings is often the most effective and precise way to search a database.  However, there are times when a keyword search is useful, too.  Each type of searching is appropriate at different times and for different searches. 

Search Syntax

Search Syntax: Advanced searching in CINAHL

truncation & wildcard symbols: * ?

  • * truncation - use at the end of a word: nurs* (for nurse, nurses, nursing)
  • ? to replace a letter if you are unsure of spelling: dis?billity (for disability)   
  • NOTE: cannot combine wildcard and truncation in a single word

Boolean operators: AND, OR, NOT
  • AND narrows search; use to locate items that contain both terms. Nurse AND patient
  • OR broadens search to include results containing any of the terms used: dementia OR alzheimer's
  • NOT excludes any records where that term appears. STDs NOT AIDS
Brackets () Organizes & prioritizes searches, and tells the search engine which search to do first. Use brackets around OR search terms: needle exchange program AND (HIV OR AIDS). NOTE: search engine boxes act as brackets.
Quotation marks "" Keeps words together as a phrase: "patient education"
Adjacency operators 

Use to keep words or phrases near to one another.

N(#) articles that have teh two words appear within specified number regardless of order: determinant N3 health

W(#) articles that have the two words appearing within the specified number in the order that they are typed: capacity W5 building

Wondering what databases to try after CINAHL?

Sometimes you need to expand your search beyond the basics.  These databases may supplement the nursing research you have found in CINAHL. Check out subject guides such as psychology, social work or sociology for more ideas.

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