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PT 7327: Research in Physical Therapy I: FINDING PEER REVIEWED ARTICLES

This course guide was created for Professor Denise Gobert's PT 7327 (Research I) class.

Finding Articles

Finding Journal Articles involves the following steps:

  1. Accessing the Databases
  2. Selecting a Database
  3. Developing a Search Strategy
  4. Filtering Search Results to Peer-Reviewed articles

Some additional steps:

  1. Saving and Citing 
  2. Checking if an article is Peer-Reviewed

Details for each step are provided below.


Accessing the Databases

  1. Starting from the library homepage, click Databases.
  2. On the Databases page click in the Subjects field and select Physical Therapy from the drop down menu, click Search. 

Database search page with Subject Physical Therapy highlighted.



Selecting a Database

  1. On the Databases page, the databases considered the most useful to Physical Therapy are listed under Best Bets!  However, there may be other useful databases listed so be sure to go through the entire list.
  2. As you go through the list of databases, note the following about each database:
    1. Types of research (e.g., articles, systematic reviews, clinical trials, videos)
    2. Content (e.g., health journals, clinical trials, clinical practice guidelines)
    3. Dates of coverage (e.g., 1949-Present) 
  3. To select the database, click the title of the database, on the following page click Access Database.
  4. If you are accessing the database off-campus, you will be prompted to enter your NetID and password.

*Google Scholar:

  1. Access Google Scholar on the Databases page so you will see the option FindIt@TxState with your search results. This options allows you to see if the full text of an article is available through the library. 

Screenshot of Databases page with Google Scholar link shown.


Developing a Search Strategy

Once you have selected a database(s) you will need to come up with a search strategy to search for articles in the database.  The following steps will help you create a search strategy.

  1. Identify keywords
  2. Search Database for Subject Terms/MeSH terms for concepts
  3. Add commands to the search string
  4. Find additional keywords

Identify Keywords

  1. Keywords are the main concepts from your topic/research question.
  2. Eliminate unimportant words (e.g. for, in, of, on)
  3. Tip:  don't use U.S. or America as keywords unless the results include a lot of articles on other countries. Doing so could exclude articles that don't specifically mention the terms U.S. or America.


Example Topic Keywords
In people who have had strokes how effective are treadmills in helping them with walking? stroke, treadmills, walking

Search Database for Subject Terms/MeSH terms for concepts

Advanced search in database Cinahl  Ultimate with Cinahl Subject Headings link highlighted.

Search for one concept at a time in the thesaurus/Subject Terms.  Add any terms to your search string.

Example search for stroke in CINAHL Subject Headings:

Subject Headings search results for stroke in database Cinahl Ultimate.


Add Search Commands to the Search String

Most databases recognize the following commands:

Search Command Result
Boolean Command AND stroke AND treadmill AND walking brings back articles that mention all three concepts.
Boolean Command OR stroke OR cerebral vascular accident brings back articles that mention either concept.
Boolean Command NOT NOT heat stroke will exclude articles that mention the concept.
Phrase Searching "cerebral vascular accident" returns articles containing the exact phrase in the order it is typed.
Truncation walk* returns articles containing words with the root addict such as walk, walks, walker, walking

Put it all together

The search string below will bring back articles that mention the following terms:

stroke AND treadmill AND walk (walks, walking, walker, etc..)

cerebral vascular accident AND treadmill AND walk (walks, walking, walker, etc..)

Advanced search in the database Cinahl Ultimate for stroke or "cerebral vascular accident" AND treadmill AND walk*


Find Additional Keywords

It is unlikely that you will find all of the articles you need with your first search string.  You will have to try different search combinations using different keywords. 

You can find additional terms in the subject terms found in an article record. 

When you find an article that is relevant to your research, click on the title of the article and look for the subject terms listed in the article record. Add the relevant terms to your search string with the appropriate commands.

Article record with subject terms highlighted.

Add the relevant terms to your search string with the appropriate commands.

Search string in database Cinahl Ultimate with terms added to previous search terms highlighted.


Filtering Search Results 

Once you have perfected your search string and returned viable looking results, you may need to filter the results list, especially if you have more than 20 results.  At the very least you will want to limit the results to Peer-Reviewed articles.

Many databases have filter/limiter tools that allow you to filter the results.  Look for these tools on the search interface.  

The example below shows the limiters for Peer-Reviewed and publication date in CINAHL Ultimate:

Screenshot of limiters under Refine Results in database Cinahl Ultimate.  The publication date and Show More link are highlighted.


The Show More option in CINAHL allows you to narrow to more limiters including:

Screenshot of limiters Peer Reviewed, Exclude Pre-Cinahl, Exclude MEDLINE records, Evidence-Based Practice. and Randomized Controlled Trials.


Save and Cite your Sources

Many databases have tools that allow you to save articles or export them to a Citation Manager, and most databases have a citation generator.  Be sure to...

  • use the Permalink tool to link to the article (don't use the url because it won't work)
  • use the Cite tool to get a citation for any article you use
  • export articles to a citation manager (if you use one)
  • check your citation to make sure it is correct

The tools below are from the database CINAHL Ultimate, but most databases have tools so be sure to look for them!

Screenshot of Tools in MEDLINE Complete


Checking if an article is Peer-Reviewed

If you are unsure if an article is Peer-Reviewed you can use the database Ulrichsweb to find out.

  1. Note the name of the journal the article is published in or the ISSN number of the journal.
    1. The ISSN is better because it will bring up the exact journal.  If you use the name of the journal you will probably get multiple journals with the same title.
    2. You might have to do a Google search for to find out the ISSN of the journal:

      1. Example Google search:  "Journal of Rehabilitation Research & Development" ISSN

  2. Access the database Ulrichsweb from the Database page.
  3. In the search box on Ulrichsweb enter either the name of the journal or the ISSN.
  4. If the journal is Peer-Reviewed, you will see a referees jersey.

Search for an ISSN in database Ulrichsweb with the search results showing the journal is refereed.  The referees jersey symbol is highlighted.