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OSOT 547

Getting Organized for Health Research Projects: Introduction

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

  • Identify the question(s) to be answered
  • Decide where to look for information
  • Design a structured search Review
  • Manage results: Stay up to date

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

Identify the question(s) to be answered


Who or What?




What is the main alternative (if appropriate)


What are you trying to accomplish, measure, improve, effect?


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


Example One:

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 stroke patients (P), do home visits by Occupational Therapists (I) improve activities of daily living (O)?




  Patient/Population/Problem     stroke patients  


  Intervention/Issue     home visits by Occupational Therapists 


 Outcome   improve activities of daily living 


Example Two:

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) ?



 Patient/Population/Problem     psychosocial rehabilitation program 


 Intervention/Issue     recovery envision or perceived  


 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 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:

Health technology assessment sites:

3. Multisearch tools:

4. OR, search the health related databases below:

  C: For publication and study types for differnt 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 therory
Action research
Discourse analysis


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

For your introduction and rationale such an 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 for the cost of these issues, use /economics.


  E: Unpublished material (Grey literature): 

1. Conference proceedings (for emerging research):

2. Theses and dissertations (for previous research)

3. Government publcations (when applicable):

  F: Extended research: 
  1. Reference mining: explore bibliographies of appropriate articles or theses
    Who was cited?
  2. Snowballing see:

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.
    a. Use the thesauri in databases to decide which to use an to gather ideas for other terms.
    b. 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 berry picking). Add these to your search. 
  4. Subject heading field or in the title and abstract
  5. Maintain a table of contents 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!


1 Line/Set 1 exp stroke/ 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 searc word is identifiable as a subject heading by the / on the end.
2 Line/Set 2 stroke.ti,ab. In Ovid the programming syntax is preceded by . In this case .ti, ab indicated that the word stroke is looked for in the title and the abstract.
3 Line/Set 3 Brain infarct* or cva or cerebrovascular accident* .mp. The synonyms and their variant endings such as Brain infarct, CVA etc. are searched for in many places (.mp) - essentially the title and abstract. The truncation symbol * directs the search engine to find variant endings, for example, both the singular and plural versions.
4 Line/Set 4 1 or 2 or 3 The results of the subject heading and keyword searches in sets 1-3 are all combined with the boolean operator OR to create all the results related to P concept.
5 Line/Sets 5 House calls/ These sets repeat the previous process for searching the I concept.
6 Line/Set 6 House call* or home visit* .mp. These sets repeat the previus process for searching the I concept.
7 Line/Set 7 5 or 6 These sets repeat the previus process for searching the I concept
8 Line/Set 8 Occupational therapy/. These sets repeat the previus process for searching the I concept
9 Line/set 9 Occupational therap* .mp. These sets repeat the previus process for searching the I concept. The truncation allows for therapist, therapists, or therapy or therapies.
10 Line/Sets 10 8 or 9 Are the combined results for the two O concepts.
11 Line/Sets 11 7 and 10 Uses the AND boolean operator to instruct the search engine to look for results that reflect BOTH the house calls and the OT concepts.
12 Line/Sets 12 11 and 4 Uses the AND boolean operator to combine the P sets with the I sets.
13 Line/Sets 13 Quality of life/ are the results for the O concept.
14 Line/Sets 14 "quality of life" .mp. are the results for the O concept.
15 Line/Sets 15 13 or 14 are the results for the O concept.
16 Line/Set 16 12 and 15

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 results in zero results. By going back to Line/Set 12 suitable articles were retrieved].

17 Line/Set 17 Limit 12 to yr=2007 to current 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.


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

REFWORKS: 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 UBC eLink or search the article in Summon on the UBC Library home page. or search Journals to access the full-text.
  3. Getting full-text: Print copies
    Search the UBC Library catalogue.
  4. 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 UBC Library branches. 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 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.
  2. Set a personal account in the licensed databases and set up an RSS feed

Where to publish?