Library:Getting Organized for Health Research Projects

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PDF: Getting Organized for Health Research Projects.

If you are doing a Systematic Review please refer to the Systematic Review Search Methodology Research Guide

The following is a brief outline for acquiring and managing information for your research project:

  1. Identify the question(s) to be answered
  2. Decide where to look for information
  3. Design a structured search
  4. Review and manage results
  5. Stay up to date

Identify the question(s) to be answered

Different questions may arise during the course of your project. Analysing your topic(s) and identifying separate concepts helps identify where and how to find relevant information. It is useful to use the PICO mnemonic to break out the elements:

PICO: Building blocks for a structured search

Image Credits: [1]
P Patient/Population/Problem Who or What?
I Intervention/Issue How?
C Comparison What is the main alternative? (If appropriate)
O Outcome What are you trying to accomplish, measure, improve, effect?


If looking for information on whether home visits by occupational therapists to stroke patients improve activities of daily living or quality of life. it could be broken out as:
In stroke patients (P), do home visits by Occupational Therapists (I) improve activities of daily living (O)?


P Patient/Population/Problem stroke patients
I Intervention/Issue home visits by Occupational Therapists
O Outcome improve activities of daily living or quality of life

How do clients of an older adult psychosocial rehabilitation program envision recovery, and how does the program facilitate this vision? could be phrased as:
In psychosocial rehabilitation program (P), how does program facilitate vision (I), how is recovery envisioned (O) ?


P Patient/Population/Problem psychosocial rehabilitation program
I Intervention/Issue program facilitate vision
O Outcome recovery envisioned or perceived

Decide where to look for information

A: For your Introduction or Background section

Background information is generally found in books or review articles. Check the new UBC all items search Library Catalogue for books using keywords, or by doing a subject search. Find review articles via databases/article indexes. Depending on your topic, choose from one or more of the following core resources for rehabilitation sciences:

B: For information on current state of research in your area look for systematic reviews, practice guidelines, or clinical trials.

  1. Reviews: In addition to the databases listed in the table below:
  2. Current research, including clinical trials:
  3. Multisearch tools:
  4. Health related databases:

MEDLINE(Ovid). See Tutorials
For medical conditions and diseases.
CINAHL(EBSCOhost). See Tutorials The Cumulated Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature is useful for occupational therapy, rehabilitation and psychosocial health issues.
EMBASE (OvidSP). See Tutorials Useful for European research and allied health topics
PsycINFO (EBSCOhost) For psychological issues.
ERIC (PROQUEST) Good for materials relating to education and school aged children.
OTseeker Abstracts of systematic reviews and randomized controlled trials in Occupational Therapy.
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews(OvidSP) Fulltext of systematic reviews mainly related to therapy.
Compendex (Engineering Village 2) Good for studies related to biomedical engineering, technology, acoustics etc.
Linguistics and Language Behavior Abstracts (LLBA)) Good for studies related to speech and hearing.
Communication and Mass Media Complete Good for studies related to speech and hearing.
Speechbite Database of intervention studies across the scope of speech pathology practice with access to citations, abstracts from systematic reviews, randomised controlled trials, non-randomised controlled trials, single-case experimental designs and case series. Includes Clinical Practice Guidelines.

C: For publication and study types for different domains

Type of Question Study Design/Levels of Evidence
Therapy Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses
Randomized Controlled Studies
Diagnosis Cross-sectional Study:
Consecutive sample design
Prognosis Observational Studies:
Cohort Studies
Case Control Studies
Case Series
Etiology/Harm Cohort Studies
Case Control Studies
Case Series
Qualitative Grounded theory
Action research
Discourse analysis

D: For information about questionnaires, surveys and measurement tools:

For help on using these resources see the video tutorials


For your introduction and rationale on cost and statistics information use sub-headings in the databases:
  • e.g. In Medline, for describing the extent of the disease or issue you can use /epidemiology or /statistics and numerical data; and for the cost of these issues use /economics.

E: Unpublished material (Grey literature):


  1. Conference Proceedings (for emerging research):
    • Google
    • Embase
    • Web of Science
  2. Theses and Dissertations (for previous research):
  3. Government Publications (when applicable):

F: Extended search

  1. Reference mining: explore bibliographies of appropriate articles or theses
    • Who was cited?
  2. Snowballing see: Web of Science and Google Scholar and other cited by links within article databases.
  3. Handsearching or browsing online tables of contents
  4. Key researchers in the field.
    • Locate contact information via Google or from online article indexes and full text.

Design a structured search

  1. Develop a strategy based on your PICO concept analysis.
  2. Understand how different search engines function.
  3. Discover which subject heading or descriptors, and which keywords are best for each concept.
    • Use the thesauri in databases to decide which to use and to gather ideas for other terms.
      To start find a few good articles either from a reference list, or a search in Google Scholar or one of the databases, and check which subject headings or natural language they’ve used. (known as reverse engineering). The Scope Note in databases is another good place to find additional search terms. Add these to your search.
  4. Maintain a table of concepts and Search terms.
    • Expand this by looking at a few key articles’ subject headings, and the thesaurus scope notes for additional terms and synonyms. Also known as berry picking.
  5. Search each concept separately.
    • Create different result sets.
    • Combine like concepts with OR.
    • Combine different ideas with AND.
    • Apply Limits such as age, gender, publication date, language, type of study as a last step.
  6. Revise terms and strategies.
    • This is an iterative process; add new terms to each as they are found and re-search the databases.
  7. Save your search strategy to save time! - Make an account for each platform eg Ovid, Ebsco, Proquest


A search question analyzed according to the PICO elements:
In stroke patients (P), do home visits by Occupational Therapists (I) improve activities of daily living (O)?
[The search was run in Medline on the Ovid platform]

  1. exp stroke/
  2. stroke.ti,ab.
  3. Brain infarct* or cva or cerebrovascular accident* or cerebral vascular accident*.mp.
  4. 1 or 2 or 3
  5. House calls/
  6. House call* or home visit*.mp.
  7. 5 or 6.
  8. Occupational therapy/.
  9. Occupational therap*.mp.
  10. 8 or 9
  11. 7 and 10
  12. 11 and 4
  13. Quality of life/
  14. "quality of life".mp.
  15. 13 or 14
  16. 12 and 15
  17. Limit 12 to yr=2007 to current


Line/Set 1 The subject heading for stroke is “exploded” to include the more specific concepts listed under it in the Tree. This is a search using the Ovid platform and the search word is identifiable as a subject heading by the / on the end.
Line/Set 2: In Ovid the programming syntax is preceded by . In this case .ti,ab indicates that word stroke is looked for in the title and abstract.
Line/Set 3: The synonyms and their variant endings such as Brain infarct, CVA etc. are searched for in many places (.mp) – essentially the title and abstract. Using the truncation symbol * directs the search engine to find variant endings for example both the singular and plural versions.
Line/Set 4: The results of the subject heading and keyword searches in sets 1-3 are all combined with the operator OR to create all the results related to the P concept
Lines/Sets 5-10: These sets repeat the previous process for searching the I concept.
Line/Set 9 The truncation allows for therapist, therapists or therapy or therapies
Line/Set 11 Uses the AND operator to Instruct the search engine to look for results that reflect BOTH the house calls and the OT concepts
Line/Set 12 Uses the AND operator to Combine the P sets with the I sets
Lines/Sets 13-15 are the results for the O concept.
Line/Set 16 Combines the O with the results of P and I

[Note: This structured approach provides flexibility for adjusting the search when results are too low. For example, adding the O element in resulted in zero results. By going back to Line/set 12 suitable articles were retrieved.]

Line/Set 17 A set of results is limited to those articles published between 2007 and the present. Other limits which are available include gender, ages, language, study types etc.

Review and manage results

  1. Managing output
    • Use a bibliographic citation manager, such as Refworks, to gather and organize citations and to track progress. And, of course, to do in text citations and create bibliographies.
  2. Getting Full Text
    • Electronic copies: Use UBCeLink Ubc-elink.png or search the article title in Summon on the UBC Library homepage or search Journals to access the fulltext.
    • Print resources: Search the UBC Library catalogue.

If an article or book you need is available at an off Point Grey campus branch use the Doc Del service to order it for pick up at one of the Life Sciences Libraries. If it is not available at any UBC Library you may request it via the free Interlibrary Loan service. Delivery times vary; articles are sent to you via a weblink and generally within 2 days.

Stay up to date

  1. Set up auto alerts
    • Set up a personal account in the licenced databases and save your search strategy as an Alert. You will be emailed new content as it is added to the database.
    • Set a personal account in the licensed databases and set up an RSS feed.


  1. Use a bibliographic management programme
    • Refworks
    • Similar resources: Endnote, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley


  1. Scholarly communication
  1. Where to publish

Image Credits:
  1. Beck, Charlotte and Zagar, Suzan, UBC Library. 2012 [online]. PICO Building Blocks. Available from [accessed on 4 July 2012].

    CreativeCommonLogo.jpg Creative Commons license

    This work PICO Building Blocks, by Suzan Zagar, Charlotte Beck, identified by UBC Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.