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Occupational Therapy: Library Portal

A portal to the Library's resources for the Occupational Therapy Students

Guides and Tutorials

Literature Reviews

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review collects, discusses, and analyzes studies, data, and other relevant information for a research question or problem statement. Evidence-based studies in peer-reviewed journals, professional publications, and government data are all crucial to a thorough review. 

Why write a Literature Review?

A literature review helps to:

  • Provide the background and evolution of research on a topic
  • Highlight the relationships between various studies and data
  • Identify gaps in the research so far and point to new opportunities for further study
  • Prevent duplication of research
  • Connect your particular research question or problem statement to the existing knowledge on the topic. This is your chance to contribute to the scholarly conversation on your topic. 

How do you find the information you need?

Finding the studies and information you need means using library databases such as CINAHL, PubMed, and Cochrane, as well as general tools like Google Scholar.

Step 1: Develop and focus a research topic or question

The Research Question

A research question helps provide a roadmap to your research. It can be very easy to get lost if you only have a vague idea of where you're going. You may have a general idea of a topic to study and maybe even a group of clients or patients as well. But you will need to focus your topic into a discrete question to avoid getting overwhelmed by all the studies you find.

The research question also provides you with the terms and parameters you will use to search the databases. For Example:

General topic vs. Research Question
General Topics Research Question

Children with autism spectrum disorder

Using technology to help build communication skills

Can the use of social robots help build interpersonal communication skills in early childhood for children with autism spectrum disorder?

PICO - A tool to develop a research question

Patient - Intervention - Comparison - Outcome (PICO) can help focus your topic.

P - Children with autism spectrum disorder (early childhood, 3-8)

I - using social robots

C - compared to other technologies (ipads, VR, etc.)

O - build interpersonal communication skills 



Step 2: Finding Studies & Data

Developing keywords

Breaking your question in key terms helps you navigate and focus a search in a database or on the web. You should also be looking for synonyms, subject headings, and clinical terms to include in your searches. You can use AND and OR to combine keywords.

A search might look like: early childhood AND (autism spectrum disorder OR asd) AND social robots AND interpersonal communication

The AND combines the keywords to get a pool of relevant articles -- the OR helps expand the pool with synonyms or clinical terms.

Wildcards and Phrases

You can use an asterisk * at the spot where the spelling of a word might change: child* = child OR childhood OR children OR childs

You can use quotation marks around a specific phrase: "Activities of Daily Living"

Subject Headings

Databases have specialized terms for the concepts in an article called subject headings. PubMed has a specific set of terms called MeSH. Look for these terms to help find all the relevant studies on your topic.

Databases (sign in with okta)

These databases are best bets for OT research. Click the link and scroll down the page to the databases you want to use.

  • CINAHL - Peer-reviewed journals, standards of professional practice, dissertations, evidence-based care, and research instruments
  • Cochrane - Controlled trials, systematic reviews, methodology
  • PubMed - Index of bio-medical research (limited full-text)
  • PsycInfo & PsycTests - PsycInfor has articles and PsycTests has instruments, questionnaires, surveys, etc.
  • Nursing & Allied Health Premium

You can also use our meta-search database Iceberg, as well as Google Scholar to find more resources.


                Expand your Search

Step 3: Organize Your Research

Step 4: Analyze Your Research

Try using a Literature Review Matrix to help analyze articles and highlight the connections

                Literature Review Matrix

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