Library:Getting Organized for MPT Research Projects

From UBC Wiki

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 therapeutic exercise improves gait speed in elderly patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. It could be broken out as:
In patients with knee osteoarthritis (P), does therapeutic exercise (I) reduce pain and/or improve gait speed (O)?


P Patient/Population/Problem knee osteoarthritis
I Intervention/Issue exercise therapy
O Outcome pain or gait speed

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 is recovery envisioned (I) how does program facilitate vision (O)?


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

Decide where to look for information

A: For your Introduction or Background section

Background information is generally found in books or review articles. Check out ClinicalKey and AccessMedicine for medical textbooks, search Summon for books and ebooks at UBC, and use a point of care tool, Dynamed for overviews. Find review articles via databases/article indexes. Depending on your topic, choose from one or more of the following core resources for rehabilitation topics:

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. OR search the health related databases below:

For medical conditions and diseases.
CINAHL(EBSCOhost) The Cumulated Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature is useful for Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, rehabilitation and psychosocial health issues.
EMBASE (OvidSP) 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.
PEDRO Abstracts of systematic reviews, clinical practice guidelines and randomized controlled trials in Physical Therapy.
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews(OvidSP) Fulltext of systematic reviews mainly related to therapy.

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:


Your background section or rationale may include information about the incidence, cost or other statistics related to your topic. To find this information use sub-headings in the databases:
  • In Medline use: /epidemiology, /economics, /statistics and numerical data.
  • e.g. Osteoarthritis, Knee/epidemiology

E: Unpublished material (Grey literature):


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

F: Extended search (particularly for Systematic, Scoping and other reviews)

  1. Reference mining: explore bibliographies of appropriate articles or theses
    • Who was cited?
  2. Snowballing see: Web of Science or Google Scholar or Cited by links within article databases.
  3. Handsearching journals 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 Thesaurus in the databases to decide which Subject Headings to use and gather ideas for synonyms to use for Keyword searches.
      To start find a few good articles either from a reference list or a quick and dirty search in Google Scholar or one of the databases and check which headings or words they’ve used. (known as reverse engineering). Add these to your search.
  4. Subject heading field or in the title and abstract
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Revise terms and strategies.
    • This is an iterative process; add new terms to each as they are found and re-search the databases.
  8. Save your search strategy to save time!


Based on the question analysis above, structure your search according to the PICO elements.

  1. Osteoarthritis, Knee/
  2. knee
  3. 1 or 2 [knee osteoarthritis]
  4. exp Exercise/
  5. exp Exercise Therapy/
  6. exercise movement techniques/ or tai ji/ or yoga/
  7. exercis*.mp.
  8. 4 or 5 or 6 or 7 [Exercise]
  9. 3 and 8 [Knee OA and exercise]
  10. Pain/
  12. 10 or 11 [Pain]
  13. Gait/
  15. 13 or 14 [gait]
  16. 9 and 12 [OA and Exercise and Pain]
  17. 9 and 15 [OA and Exercise and Gait]
  18. 16 or 17 [Total results]
  19. limit 18 to "all aged (65 and over)"
  20. limit 19 to "review articles"

Note: This search strategy run in Medline(OvidSP)retrieved 24 results on July 8, 2013.


Line/Set 1 The subject heading (MeSH) for knee osteoarthritis is Osteoarthritis, Knee
Line/Set 2: .mp. in OvidSP is programming language that means the words knee osteoarthritis are looked for in the title, abstract, sometimes the subject heading field. In this interface words next to each other are treated as a phrase.
Line/Set 3: The results of the subject heading and keyword searches in sets 1-2 are combined to create all the results related to the P concept.
Line/Set 4 and 5: The subject headings for exercise interventions are "exploded" to include more specific types of exercise listed in the hierarchical tree
Line/Set 6: Specific, applicable MeSH headings were chosen from the Tree.
Line/Set 7 The truncation * directs the search engine to look for variant endings such as exercise, exercises, or exercising
Line/Set 8 Combines all the Intervention (I) sets
Line/Set 9 Combines the P sets with the I sets
Lines/Sets 10-15 Are the combined results for the two O concepts.
Line/Set 16 Combines the the pain outcome O with the results of P and I
Line/Set 17 Combines the the gait speed outcome O with the results of P and I
Line/Set 18 Combines all the results. [On July 8, 2013 this resulted in 895 hits].
Line/Set 19 The appropriate age group limit for the question is applied
Line/Set 20 Results are further reduced by applying the limit Publication Type: Review.[On July 8, 2013 this resulted in 24 hits]

[Note: This structured approach provides flexibility for adjusting the search when results are too low or too high.]

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

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.