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Nursing Library Orientation: 3. Find Peer-Reviewed Articles

An online library orientation for nursing students.

3. Searching Nursing Databases for Peer-Reviewed Articles

Library databases are searchable collections of thousands of articles, many of which are not available freely online. These articles come from scholarly journals, trade publications, magazines, and newspapers. Some databases cover many different subjects, and some are specialized for certain subjects. Databases provide tools to fine-tune our searches to get the best available evidence. The databases sometimes link us to full text as well. 


Nursing students need to know how to use the following databases effectively: 

  • The library's database CINAHL searches thousands of nursing and allied health journals.
  • The government database PubMed searches 30 million citations in biomedicine.

Watch the video playlist below to learn how to search in CINAHL.


1. Enter your terms (keep it simple!) into separate search boxes

2. Before hitting search, scroll down to "Search options" and complete the following: check "apply related words", "peer-reviewed", and English and then enter date range.

3.  You can edit the search by clicking "Advanced Search" or "Edit" in the search history.  You can add nursing specific limiters to get articles from nursing journals or written by nurses.  Use "First Author Is Nurse", "Author is Nurse", and "Nursing Journals".

4. You can also limit by specific publication types (such as systematic reviews) and by population characteristics (such as age and gender).

5. If you decide not to set limiters or want to add or edit limiters, you can refine your results further by using the limiters available in the menu next to the results. There are exceptions, such as "apply related words" and publication types; you'll have to click Edit or go to the Advanced Search Screen.  NOTE: Use limiters one at a time so that you don't make your search too narrow!




1) When the full-text is available, you will see a link to either a PDF or HTML version in the left hand corner of the record.

2) You can find useful information about the article, including the DOI (or digital object identifier); you will need the DOI for your APA citation.

3) Use the Publication Type field to determine what kind of journal article you have. 

4)  There are several useful tools in a record.  You can print the article, save it to Google Drive, or email it to yourself.  You can also generate a citation, but be sure to check it against an APA manual!

5)  If the full-text is not available in CINAHL, you can click on the computer icon that says "Check on Godot system"; this is located in the left-hand corner of the record. If an article is available in another database, there will be a link; if not, you'll be prompted to fill out a request.  You can also check Google Scholar for access.


Watch this brief series of videos to learn how to search PubMed and use PubMed tools to refine your results. 


1. PubMed uses automatic term mapping and should find synonyms for you.

2. Be as specific and precise as possible. You might only want to start with two concepts.  

3. Do not use punctuation or abbreviations (ER, ALS, etc).

4. Use the filters to focus your results

5. You can copy article titles you are interested in into Google Scholar to see if the author has provided a full text link. If not, you can email to request an article. 

6. In addition to checking the keywords and MeSH assigned to promising articles, Look for the Similar articles link.


More PubMed Resources: 





BSN Students: Go through the tutorials linked below to learn how to search using MeSH subject headings.


What is MeSH:

MeSH for PubMed. Read through Introduction and MeSH Tree Structures, (click the page numbers to go through the tutorial):


Searching PubMed Using MeSH

PubMed Subject Search, How It Works:

Use MeSH to Build A Better PubMed Query:


Searching MeSH in CINAHL: 

Nursing students should NOT rely solely on Google Scholar for their research. Why?

1. There is no guarantee as to the quality of the content found via Google Scholar.

2. There is no way to limit results to peer-reviewed articles in Google Scholar. 

3. Google Scholar lacks any tools to limit results by publication type or to nursing journals. 

However, Google Scholar does come in handy for finding full text! Watch the brief video below to learn how to use Google Scholar to find the full text. 

If the full-text of an article is not available through the library's databases or Google Scholar, send the article's citation to from your BSC email to request an article through inter-library loan.

Some requests take up to a week to arrive, so plan ahead!