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Physical Therapy - Dallas

Physical therapy research guide for TWU Dallas students, faculty, and staff.

The Exhaustive Search

The exhaustive search, in theory, should search for everything available on a given subject. This includes:

  • databases
  • e-journals and books
  • physical journals and books (this is slowly phasing out as libraries transition to online resources only)
  • Gray Literature (Gray Literature, put simply, is scholarly work or material that hasn't been published and/or peer-reviewed, e.g. government documents such as white papers, student dissertations, or conference proceedings and minutes.)
  • Citation pages and cited by references

Searches should seek high sensitivity which may result in low precision.

  • In layman's terms, this means that searches should be as broad as possible in order to capture as many results as possible. This may result in lots of extraneous articles that are not pertinent to the topic and which will end up being eliminated.

Too many different search concepts should be avoided, but any pertinent 'synonymous' search terms should be combined with the OR boolean operator within each concept.

  • Concepts are typically arranged via the PICO format, e.g. Population is concept (A). Intervention is concept (B). Concepts are joined together with the AND boolean operator.
  • For your search, you want as many results as possible and to go as broad as possible. Every time you use an AND boolean operator it makes the search exponentially specific so should be avoided where unwarranted. However, every time you add synonyms using the OR boolean operator you get more results.
  • From a search perspective, the O in PICO 'outcome' should be excluded as it can introduce bias to the results, e.g.
    • Population = headache,
    • Intervention = brand X medicine,
    • Outcome = brand X medicine reduces headache pain 

would  fail to bring back any articles in which brand X medicine did not work or had negative impact.

Both Keywords and subject headings should be used. Both will produce separate results. 

  • Keyword searches will look through the text of an article for whatever word(s) you have specified. 
  • A subject heading search will search for articles on a given subject rather than by keywords.
  • Not all databases use the same subject heading catalog. The most widely featured subject heading catalog is MeSH (Medical Encyclopedia of Subject Headings).

Can you include previous systematic reviews?

One commonly asked question is whether or not you can include other systematic reviews in your review. The answer is yes BUT you can only use its citation page, i.e. you can use previous reviews that relate to your topic as a way to identify primary literature on that topic from their reference page(s).

You CANNOT use anything from the review itself. To do so would be to introduce that researchers bias and quality of work into your own work, e.g. what conclusions they drew, what quotes or statistics they selectively chose to include or exclude.