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Physical Therapy: Getting Started on a Research Project

Use this guide as a starting point for your research in the area of physical therapy as well as topics in general health, physiology and kinesiology.

Attack Your Research with a Plan!

Step 1: Choose a topic and find background information

Pick something you’re interested in that falls within the limits of your assignment. You may try browsing through your textbook or through nursing or physical therapy journals or reference books for topic ideas.  Reference books can also provide a basic background for your topic.

Step 2: Narrow your topic

Develop several questions that you plan to answer in your paper. You may be interested in pediatric occupational therapy, but what are some questions that interest you specifically?  Do you wonder how to approach OT for children with cerebral palsy?  Do you wonder if computers can aid in the analysis or treatment of children with motor disorders?...etc.

Step 3: Brainstorm a list of search terms

Think of words and phrases relating to your topic or the concept you are researching. Consider broader and narrower terms, and synonyms (words that have the same meaning). You can look in specialized encyclopedias or dictionaries for help in finding terms that are used in your field of research.  Here is an example list of synonyms for three main concepts

occupational therapy / rehabilitation / recovery              
cerebral palsy / muscle spasticity / ataxia / cerebellar diseases
 children / youth / pediatric
computer / computer simulation / software / clinical assessment tools

Step 4: Combine terms by using Boolean operators

When searching the library catalog, databases, or the internet, Boolean operators help you broaden or narrow your search and its results:

  • AND narrows your search (cerebral palsy AND children finds information on cerebral palsy that specifically pertains to children)
  • OR broadens your search (children OR teenagers finds both information on children or information on teenagers )
  • NOT excludes certain terms (ulcer NOT stomach finds information on ulcers, but not stomach ulcers)

Use truncation symbols (usually ? or *) to capture all forms of words (rehab? will retrieve rehabilitaterehabilitation and rehabilitating).

Step 5: Research! Find different sources to make your paper robust

See guides for Finding Books, Finding Articles, Finding Websites, and Finding Images for more details.

Step 6: Read and analyze the material you find

Evaluate the sources you’ve found, paying attention to their relevance, purpose, value, accuracy, and authors’ credibility.  As you start to create an outline of your project or paper, note areas where you need more information.

Step 7: Search again

Research is circular!  You may realize that the sources you initially found are incomplete.  Perhaps those sources are now leading your research down a slightly different path and you need to alter your research focus.  Perhaps you read book and found a citation to a journal article that seems perfect for your paper…time to do a bit more searching!

Step 8: Gather citations for your sources

As you’re doing research, you should write down bibliographic information (author, title, publisher, date of publication, journal name, volume, issue, database used, date you accessed the information)  This will enable you to be prepared to create a bibliography or “Works Cited” list.

  • In books, you’ll find this information collected on a “title page,” one of the first few pages.
  • Online journals usually print this information at the top of the page.
  • Print magazines and journals usually have this information on their covers.
  • Web pages are inconsistent about this information, so ask a librarian for help if you have trouble locating it. 
  • See the guide for citing sources for more details

PT Work

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