Physiotherapy: Address a topic

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Start <image, public domain>Before you start actually searching for information for your assignment, first:

1. Understand your topic and task
2. Identify main research concepts and alternative terms
3. Connect research concepts to form a search strategy

The video below shows the full process.

1. Understand your topic

You must have a broad understanding of your topic before you can search for information or write your assignment. Consider:

  • Thumbs up <image, public doman>What do you need to do?  

  • What do you know? Or need to explore further?

  • Do you need to define any terms?

  • What types of evidence do you need?

  • Does information need to be current?

  • Do any theories apply to your topic?

  • Do you need facts and figures, or statistics?

Breaking down your question

Your assignment question / topic has been provided

Organisng your ideas and mapping your search can be useful when thinking about how you are going to search. Watch the following video to see how to do this.

[Watch low quality version of video]

You can easily create a mind map using Microsoft Word or Power Point. Below are some web tools that you may want to try:

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Define terms, get background information

Before you search for information you may need to do some initial background reading to gain a general overview of your topic, or clarify terms you are unsure of.

Try consulting:

  • your recommended readings (ereadings)
  • course textbooks or introductory books
  • discipline specific reference material such as dictionaries, encyclopaedias, or handbooks
  • recommended journals and databases
  • reliable websites

Reference books include encyclopaedias, handbooks, dictionaries, bibliographies and directories. Use them to define terms, or find topic overviews. Find more by searching the Library catalogue.

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2. Identify research concepts and alternative terms

Example question: Effectiveness of physiotherapy interventions for people suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis

The main concepts in your question form the foundation of your search:

  1. physiotherapy
  2. Rheumatoid Arthritis

To cover the range of terminology used in the literature, you must also identify any synonyms or similar keywords for each concept:

  1. physical therapy, neurophysiotherapy
  2. atrophic arthritis

Also consider:


  • word plurals (women vs woman),
  • different word forms (diabetic vs diabetes),
  • different word spellings (celiac vs coeliac),
  • key acronyms (COPD vs Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary disease), and
  • hyphenated words (gluten-intolerance vs gluten intolerance).

Once you have your list of terms for each concept, you can combine them to create a search strategy.

3. Connect research concepts to form a search strategy

First, simplify your search. Use truncation, wildcards and phrases to cover word variations:


finds unlimited characters after the symbol

must be used at the end of a word/wordstem


finds diabetic, diabetics, diabetes etc...


finds zero or one character to replace the symbol

can be used anywhere in a word


finds woman, women



finds celiac, coeliac

   " "

keeps two or more words together in the entered order

"Rheumatoid Arthritis"

Now connect your remaining terms using AND, OR.

  • Use OR to connect different terms within the same concept

  • Use AND to connect each concept.

For example:

physiotherapy OR "physical therapy


"Rheumatoid Arthritis" OR "atrophic arthritis"

Need more info? Check out our "How to" guides below.

Next steps

Find Evidence <image, public domain>Now you have finalised your search strategy, you are ready to start finding the evidence. Click the image to learn how.