Skip to Main Content

Occupational Therapy

OTD 725 - Scholarship & Evidence-based Research I

[Course description:  This course will provide the students an opportunity to apply basic research skills gained in the OCC 714 course.  This course introduces students to evidence-based practice and knowledge development and how to create focused clinical questions, investigate and interpret research literature, and incorporate outcome-measures into practice.  It is designed to foster professional writing skills as to become evidence-based practitioners in occupational therapy.]

Researching & Writing a Systematic Review

Hello again! I’m your friendly neighborhood librarian, Greg Ullman, I visited you last year to give searching tips to help you find the best, most reliable information for your research papers in the least amount of time and I introduced you to RefWorks for organizing the articles you found. So let’s expand on these skills for your systematic review where you have a different goal – to find everything on your subject in 10 weeks, while published systematic reviews take about 18 months.

I’ll describe the process for a published systematic review, so that you can appreciate the amount of work and detail they require, and I’ll let your professor explain the requirements for this course assignment.


Definition of a Systematic Review 
“… a summary of the literature 
that uses clear methods 
to perform a thorough search 
and critical appraisal 
of individual studies 
on a defined topic area 
for which there are sufficient studies of a similar design.”


Steps of Researching a Systematic Review

1.   Specific clinical question

2.   Comprehensive literature search

3.   Critically appraise the validity of each study

4.   Synthesize and report the results


Steps of a Comprehensive Literature Search

A.   Search for previous systematic reviews

B.   Define search strategy, inclusion / exclusion criteria

C.   Choose databases, websites, books & other sources of article citations

D.   Search for citations; write down details of each search and the results

E.   Organize results & delete duplicates

F.   Find full text of all articles


Signing in to the WCU Library Catalog and Databases

If you’re on campus, go to, under the Academics tab click on Library, to get to the library’s home page that lists all of the library’s services. If you’re off campus, click My Library Account to sign in with your Library ID -- What’s your Library ID? – it’s the start of your West Coast email address, and a Password – What’s your Password? --  you made it up by clicking the Set/Reset Password link. If you forget to do this right away, you’ll be prompted to sign in when you start any of the databases.

We give you three places to find our databases, these collections of citations and full-text articles.
A-Z Database List – Most of the library’s 30 databases are here; (I’ll explain later why you shouldn’t start with Google Scholar)
A few of the databases that are limited to CGS students are placed on the Library page in Blackboard, along with another link to the A-Z Database List
Search Box – Always use first to get an overview of your topic

Step A:  Search for Previous Systematic Reviews

  • Search for previous systematic reviews – Has it been done before? Then you will still have to update it. Try broader and more specific terms.
  • Look at a typical Systematic Review – Notice the format of the journal article; the detail of search documentation


Where to Search for Systematic Reviews:
PubMed -- PubMed comprises more than 23 million citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life science journals, and online books. Citations may include links to full-text content from PubMed Central and publisher web sites.

Typically, NLM does not retrospectively re-index MEDLINE citations with new MeSH heading concepts. Therefore, searching PubMed for a new MeSH term tagged with [mh] or [majr] effectively limits retrieval to citations indexed after the term was introduced. PubMed Automatic Term Mapping (ATM) expands an untagged subject search to include both MeSH Terms and All Fields index terms and may retrieve relevant citations indexed before the introduction of a new MeSH term. Searchers may consult the MeSH Browser or the MeSH database to see the previous indexing terms most likely used for a particular concept before the new MeSH Heading was introduced.

Exception for 2019: The new publication type Systematic Review will be added to appropriate existing MEDLINE citations. NLM made the decision to do this re-indexing based on the importance of providing a mechanism to retrieve all MEDLINE citations to articles that are systematic reviews.

What is this about? Is this about a book, or is this a book? Is this about systematic reviews, or is this a review?

autis* AND play AND Systematic review [sb]    subject filter

[sb] combines:  | systematic review | PT Publication Type |
And variations of “systematic review” in the title of unindexed articles,
And systematic reviews discovered by Cochrane Institute


Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews -- Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews contains full text articles, as well as protocols focusing on the effects of healthcare. Data is evidence-based medicine and is often combined statistically (with meta-analysis) to increase the power of the findings of numerous studies, each too small to produce reliable results individually.

Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects -- Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE) includes abstracts of published systematic reviews on the effects of health care from around the world, which have been critically analyzed according to a high standard of criteria. This database provides access to quality reviews in subjects for which a Cochrane review may not yet exist. They stopped adding to this collection of abstracts in January 2015. (sample on 2nd slide)


TRIP Database -- A searchable clinical research evidence library--allows searching by PICO.

PEDro (Physiotherapy Evidence Database)


OT Seeker -- Australian website in Tagalog? Modeled on PEDro


PROSPERO -- An international registry for prospective systematic reviews.


Step B:  Define your clinical research question (using PICO)

Choose your protocol (inclusion/exclusion criteria)

Specific clinical question        P. I. C. O.
Patient (Problem)    Intervention    (Comparison)    Outcome    (Time)
    OR        AND        OR    AND        OR    AND        OR
    NOT                NOT

Your topic should be as narrow as possible so that you can find all of the studies that cover your topic, and minimize the number of full-text articles you will have to request through interlibrary loan or by searching many different databases.

Your selection criteria for articles has to be defined so precisely that any two people – you and you -- could follow the same directions at the same time – since collections change – and come up with the exact same list of articles. It is best to design a search using AND, OR (for synonyms), and NOT for excluded terms), and parentheses and truncation, so that you can copy it into nearly any database search

Some databases have advanced search checkboxes and dropdown menus to save you time with your limits, but if a database doesn’t have it, then you have to create the same limits in your search words, or leave that limit out and look through the title, abstract and subjects of every article yourself, and keep the ones where you see those words in the right fields, as if you are the search engine.

PubMed Medical Subject Headings - Search MeSH and dictionaries to find synonyms, alternate spellings, broader/ narrower/ related terms. Write them in groups under each column, so that you can search for them in every possible combination using AND and OR.


Step C: Choose databases to collect citations (including books and nonacademic)
Remember, you are not searching for the few best articles, but collecting all of the citations that come up using your search strategy. Sometimes you find the citation in one place and the full text in another.
Only a couple dozen of them can be searched at one time using the Search Box – here you can find journal articles, journal citations, ebooks, along with books in the campus libraries and at other libraries you can check out. It gets articles from databases that have different collections of articles and have different ways to search and sort and limit the results, so instead of searching “everything”, you target the articles you want and bring them to the top of the list by choosing one collection of articles or one database at a time.

These are the journal article databases that I recommend for most occupational therapy topics.
Medline Complete -- MEDLINE Complete provides authoritative medical information on medicine, nursing, dentistry, veterinary medicine, the health care system, pre-clinical sciences, and much more. With coverage dating back to 1857 and full-text back to 1865.
CINAHL Plus with Full Text -- CINAHL Plus® with Full Text is a collection of full text for nursing & allied health journals. Full text coverage dates back to 1937.
SPORTDiscus with Full Text -- SPORTDiscus with Full Text has full text for sports & sports medicine journals. Full-text coverage dating back to 1985
Health Source: Nursing/Academic Edition -- About 550 scholarly full text journals focusing on many medical disciplines. It includes AHFS Consumer Medication Information.
Health Source - Consumer Edition -- This database has consumer health information in medical sciences, food sciences and nutrition, childcare, sports medicine and general health. From nearly 80 full text, consumer health magazines.
Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection --This database provides access to more than 530 full-text journals, in Psychiatry, Neuroscience, Behavioral Medicine, Neuropsychology, Mental Health, and especially child & adolescent psychology and various areas of counseling.
SocINDEX with Full Text -- SocINDEX with Full Text has 1600 full-text journals on sociology research, abstracts for core coverage journals dating as far back as 1895
Rehabilitation Reference Center -- A clinical reference tool designed for use by rehabilitation clinicians, physical therapists, and occupational therapists at the point of care. It has clinical reviews, journal articles, books, and patient information with customizable patient information sheets with illustrated instructions for therapeutic exercises.
ERIC -- ERIC, the Education Resource Information Center, provides has articles on any aspect of teaching and education for all ages, including teaching physically and mentally handicapped persons.
Academic Search Complete -- Academic Search Complete is a comprehensive scholarly, multi-disciplinary full-text database of journal full text and abstracts, monographs, reports, conference proceedings, etc.

Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials -- Cochrane Controlled Trials Register is a bibliography of controlled trials identified by contributors to the Cochrane Collaboration and others, as part of an international effort to hand search the world's journals and create an unbiased source of data for systematic reviews.

Notice that I mentioned all of these are provided by EBSCO. You could search all of them at once, but it’s best to search them one at a time since they have different features in their Advanced Search.

We also get journal articles from ProQuest, which has almost 50% more journals than their comparable EBSCO databases. 
You should search these two together, since they have the same Advanced Search features.
ProQuest Nursing & Allied Health Source -- This database has journals and reference books in the fields of nursing and allied health.

ProQuest Health & Medical Complete -- This database has journals covering clinical and biomedical topics, consumer health, health administration and more.

If there is an academic book that has a chapter or article on your topic, then you can check the list of references for more citations:

eBook Academic Collection -- We have more than 250,000 eBooks on all academic subjects.  The 300 ebooks that your West Coast University Librarians individually chose to support our degree programs are in a collection called eBook Collection, without the word Academic.

Credo Reference – Articles in medical reference books have Reference Lists

Those are the databases that I recommend searching for journal citations for almost all topics in Occupational Therapy. And remember, if you need background information about anatomy or an illness or drug, we have other databases with authoritative information in those fields; just read the descriptions in the A-Z Database List. Notice that we also have links to resources that appear to cover all topics like Open Library and Directory of Open Source Journals, but Open Library and Public Library of America have books and photos that are in the public domain, mostly from before 1924, and the articles in open source journals are already included in our databases and PubMed.


Steps A, B and C are called the Scoping stage. At this stage, you should be trying different searches in various databases to get a feel for the amount and focus of previous research in order to adjust the scope of your topic, develop search strategies and compile synonyms for your search terms, and identify some of the key papers as you develop your search protocol.


Step D:  Search for citations; write down details of each search and the results

  • Search strategy – I covered these skills last term
  • MeSH subjects, keywords, limits, Boolean operators,
  • What search words? You planned your topic, with synonyms and related words, using PICO:  Patient,  Intervention,  Comparison,  Outcome.
  • Boolean and truncation
  • Databases have different collections of articles and an Advanced Search with different ways to search.
  • When you search more than one database at once, you search more articles, but can only use search tools/choices that all have in common.
  • When you want info for comparing which is better, articles that have both words, you may mean AND.
  • When you have a list of synonyms, put them in parentheses with OR between them.
  • Too many results? Use a more specific subject, or add more words, limit by date, article type. 
  • Scrolling through too many articles that are not on target? Put NOT before words you don’t want to appear in the descriptions of articles.
  • In Advanced Search look at the other choices of checkboxes and scrolling boxes.
  • After seeing how much research has been done in the field, limit to the last 5 years, or 10 years, or 1-2 years.
  • Look at the list of Subjects of article descriptions (Major subjects, Minor subjects) and write down ideas for more search words.
  • Too few results? Take away words (no small words). Start broad and then narrow down. Are you using the right words? Browse subject headings and perform a subject search.

Document Each Search (see your professor for the recommended list for this class)
1.    Write details of each search (date found) and results
2.    Notice the key papers; search for their references
     a.    Find papers that cited the key papers using Google Scholar
3.    Import your citations/full text into RefWorks
    To export, click Save; choose RIS; click create file; save to computer
4.   If full text is available, download file to your computer


Step E.  Organize Results

RefWorks is an online tool used to gather, organize, read, and cite sources for research papers. Install the bookmark to import citation data from databases, websites, articles, & blogs or tag and annotate citations for your research projects.

1. Create a new Project – your systematic review citations stay separate.
2. Share with email addresses of other members of your group
     a.    Make a folder for acceptable citations/full text, and under consideration
     b.    Find/eliminate duplicates
     •    New feature added Sep 4, 2018:  change to Table View (lower right corner dropdown) to make references from Systematic Reviews easier to scan and compare.
3.  References List:  choose APA 7th edition (not No Title Casing)

Step F.  Find Full Text for All Articles
      If your topic appears to be too broad or too narrow, change your topic or scope and start over.
      Repeat search strategy with next database

      Get full text for articles that you have only a citation
           Google Scholar / WCU Library Catalog / Interlibrary loan

     Have a citation that may be mistyped?  Use the A-Z Journal List to browse titles of journals, then volume, then issue

     You might notice that the other large, free index to academic journal articles, Google Scholar, isn’t on the A-Z Database List. Do not start your search with Google Scholar, since it doesn’t have many search tools. There are a lot of predatory journals on the Internet (more about this in my future lectures, but basically, many of them will publish any article as long the author pays the fee), and Google gathers every article that is mentioned, and doesn’t reveal any secrets about its standards for including and ranking articles when you search. However, if you know that an article with a certain title actually exists, and was cited by a reputable study, you can copy and paste the title to Google Scholar and to the West Coast library catalog, to see if the full text is available for free online, or in our paid databases.

So, how many of your articles can you get through your computer before requesting interlibrary loans? According to this survey of the most-cited journals of occupational therapy, either MEDLINE or CINAHL have 5 out of 5 citations. However, there are a dozen journals that are further down the list that are not indexed at all in either database.

Interlibrary Loan procedures  -- See the Interlibrary Loan Research Guide, or email the citation & the link where you found the citation to the Librarian.

Make a profile in ResearchGate; it is a good way to contact the main author of articles to personally ask them for a copy of one of their papers, or provide data that was not included in the published article.  The service is intended for academics to collaborate with other academics, but I expect that most of them are glad to share copies of their papers for free to students who are genuinely interested in their work. But don’t use the automatic one-sentence canned request; tell them who you are, what you want to use their paper for, and when your paper is due, and thank them for their time. I tried this service three times, and they usually send the article in about a month; it depends upon how busy the author is.



The steps of a Comprehensive Literature Search:

a. Search for previous systematic reviews

b. Define search strategy, inclusion / exclusion criteria
c. Choose databases, websites, books & other sources of article citations
d. Search for citations; write down details of each search and the results
e. Organize results & delete duplicates
f. Find full text of all articles

Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Legal Notice | Federal Disclosures | State Disclosures | Title IXAccreditation

Student Consumer Information | BPPE Annual Report & Performance Fact Sheets | BPPE Website | Catalog | Careers With Us

West Coast University © 2024 All Rights Reserved