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Researching in Physical Therapy

Conducting Research for DPT

Creating a search strategy

  • Identify the key concepts.
  • Determine alternate terms for these concepts, if needed.
  • Use Boolean operators to broaden or narrow your search.
    • AND – narrows your search results
    • OR – broadens your search results
    • NOT – narrows your search results
  • Use wildcard and truncation sympbols.
    • Symbols used depend on database (*, ?)
  • Use built-in subject terms (i.e., MeSH in MEDLINE, CINAHL Headings in CINAHL), thesauri and other indexes – use this specific language whenever possible.
  • Using bibliographies (works cited or reference lists) for other relevant articles, etc.
  • Refine your search to dates, studies, etc., as appropriate

Advanced Search Techniques

Pre-limiting searches

On the front page of many databases you have the opportunity to select options to make your search smaller before you begin.  Limiters may include:

  • Date
  • Peer-reviewed
  • Evidence Based Practice / EBM
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Geography
  • Language

Click here to see an example of the pre-limits in Medline.


Post-limiting searches

After you have run a search, you can add precision to your results by using the filters (frequently found on the left side of the screen.)  Filters may include:

  • Same options as pre-limits above
  • Subject Headings
  • Full-text
  • Academic Journals
  • CEUs

Click here to see an example of CINAHL's filters.

You can also re-sort your results based on Relevance, Date, and other options.



Using Search History

Many databases allow you to combine multiple searches for added precision.  In MEDLINE and CINAHL look for "Search History" to use this feature. Click on View Results to see the results from each search.


In Cochrane, use the "Search Manager" feature. Click on the number on the right to see the results from that search.


Help Using these resources