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College of Rehabilitation Sciences

Guide for OT, PT, RT, and MSc Rehab

Steps in Searching for the Best Evidence

  1. Create a searchable question using PICO
  2. Know the type of question (domain) you are searching and the type of research studies or designs that go with that type of question/domain.
  3. Build a search map
  4. Add a search filter (corresponds to your question type/domain)
  5. Select databases (rehab, health, all disciplines)
  6. Execute search, appraise, edit search strategy if required and search again

Class Notes and Resources

Vancouver Style Guide

Medical Reference Tools

Physiotherapy Reference

Patient Education

Question Types (Domains)

  • Every searchable question falls into a category know as the "type of question" (a.k.a. domain).
  • There are many types of questions, in health the main ones are therapy, diagnosis, prognosis, etiology, and feeling/experience (qualitative studies).
  • Each question type is associated with specific research methods and designs, understanding the question helps identify the research methods and designs you want for your filter.

Search Filters

  • The following are basic filters can be used for evidence-based searching
  • Filters (a.k.a. hedges) are used to find articles that contain research based on methodology or design that you require for your question, based on your "type of question" (see box above).
  • Create your filter search and add that filter to your topic search

  • Therapy: “randomized controlled trial” OR “clinical trial” OR (double AND blind*) OR random* (* indicates wildcard) 
  • Diagnosis: “sensitivity and specificity” OR diagnosis OR “diagnostic use” OR (predictive AND value*) OR reliability OR validity 
  • Prognosis: incidence OR mortality OR “follow-up studies” OR prognos* OR predict* OR course 
  • Etiology: “cohort studies” OR risk OR (odds AND ratio*) OR (relative AND risk*) OR (case AND control*)
  • Qualitative: ethnography OR phenomenology OR grounded theory OR focus group OR narratology OR qualitative research OR "case study" OR participatory action research 

Key Concepts

Background Question

A basic who, what, where, when, or why type of question to ask of a single concept - it gives you background information on that topic

Boolean Operators

Boolean operators are used in databases to combine terms and phrases. AND is used to combine terms and phrases so that all terms and phrases are contained in the results, OR is used to combine terms and phrases so that any term or phrase is contained in the results. Use AND to focus your search and OR to expand a concept.


An evidence based question resides in a domain (aka type of question). It will most likely be a therapy, diagnosis, prognosis, etiology, or qualitative question. Knowing this tells you what kind of study design filter you need to include in your search.

Evidence-based Practice/Medicine

Making clinical decisions based on the best available evidence, patient wishes, self-knowledge, and clinical experience


Filters are pre-formatted searches that are applied to your search to focus your search to a specific set of information, i.e. English only articles, randomized controlled trials, last 10 years, etc.

Foreground Questions

A question of two or more concepts that is more complex in nature, where the one concept affects the other concept


Nesting is a convention used in databases to dictate the order of functions that a database search will run. All terms and phrases contained within parentheses (the nest) will be run as a complete separate searches before the database combines the two or more nests. I.e. the database will search (stroke OR cerebral vascular accident) and then (therapy OR rehabilitation) and then combine those two sets to give you your results, this is what it would like in the database: (stroke OR cerebral vascular accident) AND (therapy OR rehabilitation). Without nesting the search would not give you what you are looking for.


Acronym for patient/population, intervention, comparison, outcome, and study design

Quantitative Research

Research based on quantitative data and study designs. Usually the are therapy, diagnosis, prognosis, or etiology studies

Qualitative Research

Research based on qualitative data and study designs, used to capture impressions, opinions, ideas, feelings, etc.

Search History

Search History refers to the area of the database that holds the results of all of your searches. You can use this area to combine different search results to create a complex search.

Search Map

A search map is device that is used to strategize and organize the search you intend to run in a database. It is only needed for complex searches.

Subject Headings

Specific terms or phases used to describe a concept. Subject headings must be a controlled vocabulary, that consists of an agreed-upon term used to describe that concept, i.e. the phrase “heart attack” will be used to describe that concept over myocardial infarction which is synonymous. The subject heading will be applied to an article if a concept is described in an article but that exact concept is not used, i.e. the article uses the term myocardial infarction instead of heart attack, the subject heading heart attack will be given to that articles so a search using the heart attack subject heading will also capture the article that uses the term myocardial infarction.

Recommended Evidence-Based Resources