Occupational Therapy

Guide to research in the area of occupational therapy. Also helpful for the areas of physical therapy, nursing, health, physiology and kinesiology.

Construct a Complex Search

Construct a Complex Search

Medical databases give you the power to conduct very specific or complex searches.

Use special techniques to combine search words in search boxes to effectively find the info you need:

Example scenario: What are some occupational therapy treatments or issues for aged patients after a stroke?

See below for an example search construction based on that scenario:

(click on image to enlarge)

image of search, showing how to combine terms as outlined in the text below

To start your research, type into the database the search word(s) that describe your topic. Example: occupational therapy

  • Option – Use AND to connect your ideas and focus your search:
    • occupational therapy AND aged
  • Option – Use quotation marks to keep a phrase together in your search:
    • “motor skills”
  • Option -  In the same box, use OR to expand your search to synonyms or related ideas:
    • aged OR elderly OR geriatric
  • Additional Option – Use an asterisk to find word variations:
    • Example     rehab*     finds rehab, rehabilitate, rehabilitation, rehabilitative

Video: How to Use Keywords to Form a Research Strategy

Source: "From topic to search results in two minutes! " by Holman Library is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Learn about strategizing keywords and how databases work when searching keywords.

Construct a Complex Search in Google

Google and Google Scholar also give you the power to construct complex searches.

Use a similar same technique as constructing a search in a medical database:

(click on image to enlarge)

  • Option: Use AND to connect your ideas and focus your search: “high blood pressure” AND pregnancy
  • Option: Use quotation marks to keep a phrase together in your search: “high blood pressure”
  • Option: Within parenthesis, use OR to expand your search to synonyms or related ideas: pregnancy OR prenatal

Note – Google generally finds variants of words by default.

OT Research Worksheet

Try It!

Choose one scenario below and practice constructing a search from that scenario:

  1. What are some occupational therapy considerations for children with autism?
  2. How might occupational therapists help with the physical impairments that patients of traumatic brain injury face?
  3. What should occupational therapists be aware of when treating veterans with PTSD?
  4. Create your own scenario!

PICOT: Develop Your Research Question


  1. Use the PICOT acronym to help you create a research question:

P = Patient/Population/Problem

Who is your patient? Identify a disease, health status, age, race, geographic region, sex, or a specific characteristic important to your question.

  • Example: stroke patients
= Intervention/Indicator

What do you plan to do for the patient? Identify a specific test, therapy, medication or management strategy.

  • Example: virtual reality, occupational therapy
= Compare/Control

What is the alternative to your plan? Examples may include: no treatment or a different type of treatment.

  • Example: non-VR (or option to have no comparison)
= Outcome

What outcome do you seek? Identify possible outcomes/results of the intervention such as less symptoms, no symptoms, or better quality of life...etc.

  • Example: rehabilitation, flexibility, mental health
= Time/Type of Study or Question (This element is optional and not always included)

What is the time frame? What study types will most likely have the information you seek? 

  • Example: systematic review


  1. Search article databases using some of the concepts/words you generated from the PICO acronym: