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Prosthetics & Orthotics: Research process

1. Preparation is very important. Think about the key concepts and synonyms relevant to your topic.

Find Ideas for your topic from:

  • Class discussions or readings
  • Current events and news reports
  • Articles in journals and trade publications
  • Gaps in published research
  • What interests you

Gain broad understanding of your topic 

  • Become more familiar with the topic
  • Define &/or Identify common terms and language
  • Provide context and identify differing perspectives
  • Narrow your focus on subjects within the topic
  • Identify experts &/or theories related to the topic 

Watch the video Picking Your Topic IS Research!, from the NC State University Libraries

2. Searching for background information:

  • Provides information to answer broad, general questions and enhances your understanding of it, within the larger scope of the discipline.
  • Helps identify important facts -- terminology, dates, events, history, organizations, etc.
  • Helps refine/narrow your topic based on the new information you are learning.
  • Leads to bibliographies which provide additional sources of information.

Knowing where to search is just as important as knowing how to search.  

The publication types below, with links to the search tools, contain different types of information on different academic levels. 

1.    Open Web: 
(online encyclopedias and dictionaries, professional organizations’ sites, universities’ and colleges’ sites, and government sites

2.    Article Databases: 

Reference books include encyclopaedias, handbooks, dictionaries, bibliographies and directories. Use them to define terms, or find topic overviews. These books will help you get familiarized with your topic. Find more by searching the library catalogue.


 Using encyclopedias in the early stages of the research process is a strategy that will  save you time!

Encyclopedia articles are condensed topic overviews. They give great background information and context for your later research. They also provide clues to more keywords that will help you focus on your topic and that you can use in database searches.

Good search results depends on the search terms that you use.

 Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia

 The Gale Encyclopedia of Nursing and Allied Health, 2018

 MedlinePlus includes an Encyclopedia.

 Mosby's dictionary of medicine, nursing & health professions.    R 121 M89 2022

 Wikipedia (use with caution). Use it for a very general overview of your topic and for its list of References or Further Readings at the end of the essay.


 Visual Thesaurus -- allows you to try 3 "visual searches" for free; it is subscription based. It creates word maps.

 Wordnik -- online dictionary that integrates visualization tools, social media, etc. Other features: historical popularity of a word, feeds of real-time mention in twitter, etc.

 Handbook at the BCIT Library: 

 Current medical diagnosis & treatment  

  RC 71 A14 2021   

  BIAS in a literature search

Bias will affect how you formulate the question, where you look for information, and what articles you include in your work. 

Publication bias:

  • Studies with “positive” results more likely to get published.
  • Helpful to question what types of information might not be represented in the literature.

Database bias:

  • Relying on a single database can systematically limit what you find for certain topic areas.

Personal bias:

  • Are you aware of your bias (inclination or prejudice) toward the topic you choose? 
  • Ensure that your biases as a writer have not affected the information you accessed or included
  • Take a moment to identify any previously held assumptions regarding the topic.

Are you selecting sources which confirm your belief and are you disregarding any contradictory evidence or dissenting opinion?

Please, watch the video on Recognizing and Avoiding Bias

P.S. For more information on various types of bias, check this guide from Duquesne University

3. Identify research concepts and alternative terms

  1. State what you need in a sentence.
  2. Select keywords from your statement.
  3. Use these keywords as search terms.
  4. If searching a phrase, enclose the phrase in "quotation marks" -- "verbal communication". 
  5. Use truncation * , if relevant -- example: sonogra* (it will include results that refer to sonography, sonographer, sonogram); imag*. 

Wearable technologies used to assess gait and mobility in stroke patients.

Brainstorming Keywords The words you type into the search box affect your search results. Not all authors use the same language to describe similar topics, so you will need to try a variety of searches.

  • Create a list of possible words that could appear in a book or article related to your topic of interest.
  • Come up with synonyms or related terms for those.
  • Stick to using 2-4 nouns when searching.




 Wearable technolog*   


 “wearable electronic device*” OR “fitness tracker*” OR “cell phone” OR “mobile phone” OR smartphone OR accelerometry* OR accelerometer* OR “activity tracker” OR “ambulatory monitor” OR “outpatient monitor” OR imu (inertial measurement unit) OR “smart watch” OR pedometer OR gps (global positioning system)  

 gait OR mobility 


 “activities of daily living” OR adl (activities of daily living) OR exercise OR “physical activity” OR walk* OR aerobic OR ambulation



 “stroke rehabilitation” OR “cerebrovascular disorders” OR cva (cerebrovascular accident)

4. Search on FIRST SEARCH to see what is available on the topic and to identify other terms: wearable technology gait and mobility stroke patients 

Click on image above to make it larger. First Search will open in a new tab.

5. Search on a Database: CINAHL (other databases to search: MEDLINE; Cochrane)

Limiters – date, language, randomized controlled trials and human (for human subjects only.)

Exclusions -- articles using “exoskeletons” or “robotics”, these augmentative devices enhance the physical performance of the wearer rather than assess the movement.

Click on image above to make it larger. The database will open in a new tab.