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Public Health, Environmental Health, & Health & Safety

The Research Process

When you are given an assignment questions make sure you fully understand what is being asked on you. Refer to the guidance in your module handbook or lecture slides for further information, or discuss it with your tutors. 

1. Identify the 'question' word(s)

You could use the 'Analysing the question' section of the Skills for Learning website to help you. 

2. Identify core concepts/keywords

What is the main focus of the question?

3. Identify synonyms or related terms


Explore the impact of hydrotherapy on rehabilitation of patients following a stroke

'Explore' is the question word - it's what you have to do

Topic 1: Hydrotherapy Topic 2: Rehabilitation Topic 3: Stroke
water therapy recovery cerebrovascular accident
aquatic therapy walking CVA
pool therapy balance  

On the next tab you will find tips and tricks to help you develop your search strategy and make your searching more efficient. 

Once you have identifying your keywords, synonyms and related terms you can start to construct a search strategy. 

4. Use search tools: 

Phrase searching uses speech marks to help you search for phrases e.g. "water therapy" 

Truncation uses the asterisk to help you search for terms with variant endings e.g. nurs* = nurse, nurses, nursed, nursing 

5. Combine terms using AND, OR and NOT 

AND - for combining different concepts

OR - for identifying research that use synonyms or related terms. You need to put the similar terms in brackets. 

NOT - use when you want to exclude a term (use with caution as it can eliminate useful results too)

(hydrotherapy OR water therapy) AND (stroke OR cerebrovascular accident)

Some resources have an 'advanced search' feature which can help you to combine your searches. 

6. Identify appropriate resources to search.

   a. Reading lists - are there any core textbooks that your tutors recommend on your topic?

      i. Check your modules in MyBeckett

   b. Use the Library Catalogue to find additional books and e-books

      i. Available on the 'Welcome' page of this guide

   c. Use Discover to search our e-journals and other subscriptions  

      i. Available on the 'Welcome' page of this guide

   d. Use subject specific resources to help you focus your results 

      i. Available on the 'Specialist Resources' page of this guide

You can search most resources in exactly the same way, the search screen may just look a bit different. 

To help you refine your results and make them more manageable look for limiters such as 'Publication date' or 'Resource type' 

It's important that you think critically about the sources you want to use in your assignments. Evaluate what you find and make a judgment about whether it is appropriate to be used or if any flaws need identifying in your discussions. 

Some research methodologies are more robust and are higher on the hierarchy of evidence. 

For more information about referencing, including the full Leeds Beckett Harvard guide - please visit our Referencing & Plagiarism pages. 

Conducting a Systematic Review

As part of your final year project or dissertation, you may have to conduct a Systematic Literature Review (SR). If you have searched the Cochrane Library for Systematic Reviews, you will know that these are lengthy pieces of research, often taking years to complete and involving several researchers, which combine literature and research around a given subject. Due to time restrictions, the SR which you produce will not need to be as lengthy or as in depth, so please do discuss with your supervisor what they expect of your SR.

The key to conducting a good SR is to start with a good research question. Before starting the SR properly, conduct a scoping review of the literature around your chosen subject to ensure there is enough literature available for you to discuss in your work. You can also use this stage of your SR to identify commonly used keywords or alternative search terms for your subject. Start by searching broadly and simply and use this time to identify gaps in the literature or areas where further research is needed which you may wish to focus on as part of your dissertation.

Many health students use PICO to formulate a good research question. Using PICO, your research question should contain 4 main elements e.g.

  • Population (which group of the population do you wish to discuss) e.g. Amongst elderly adults who experience repeated falls......
  • Intervention (what treatment you are considering investigating) e.g..... does the intervention of a multidisciplinary team of health care professionals......
  • Comparison (this may be an alternative intervention if available) e.g. opposed to relying solely upon the services of one team.....(please note, not all research questions have a comparison element).
  • Outcome (what are you trying to achieve or investigate) e.g. ......lead to falls reduction.....

It is important to clearly define each of the main elements of your research question as this will help establish your inclusion and exclusion criteria. Also think about restricting your search to a specific time period or geographical location. Finally, check Cochrane and Prospero to ensure a systematic review has not been conducted previously in your area.

Don't rely solely upon Discover to conduct your SR. It is important to search several sources and databases. By conducting a SR properly using your search terms and several databases, you are showing your supervisor that you have advanced research skills. In addition, in the workplace, you will be expected to keep up to date with current research by using other resources such as PubMed, Nice Evidence, TRIP so this is a good opportunity to familiarize yourself with these which are used in professional practice.

To find a list of other databases, click on the 'Specialist Resources' tab of this subject guide. or go to our  A-Z list of databases.

Once you have formulated your research question and identified alternative search terms/ synonyms, think about how you can combine your search terms. In many databases, the advanced search function enables you to do this easily. Remember to start searching broadly, then narrow you search using more specific terms. You can join the key concepts of your dissertation using AND to narrow and focus your search. If you do not retrieve enough literature, you can broaden your results by joining terms with OR. You can use NOT to eliminate any irrelevant search terms from your results e.g.

(Elderly OR Age*) AND ("falls management" OR "falls prevention") AND ("multi-disciplinary teams OR interdisciplinary teams OR multidisciplinary teams")

Consider different spellings of words e.g. organization/ organisation, time restrictions, and geographical limitations to make your results more focused. You may also wish to consider narrowing your search to a specific type of research method. Also consider how you can use truncation to search for various different endings of words e.g. child* will search for childhood, childlike, childish, children. You may have to perform several searches to retrieve the results suitable for you, and then transfer your searches into several other databases so make sure you keep a record of the searches you have performed even if none of the results are relevant. Remember, searching is a lengthy trial and error process.

It is essential to write up ALL searches you perform as part of conducting your SR. Best practice is to record the date, database, search terms, limitations, number of results in total, then number of irrelevant results with a general statement as to why others have been discarded. This information can then be used as evidence (even put in the appendix at the back of your dissertation) as evidence that your searching has been thorough. You can record your searches using a simple template (see below), or register with individual databases which allow you to retain your search history.


As part of your SR you may find that you retrieve lots of relevant articles and resources. Various different programmes such as Mendeley and EndNote allow you to store, make notes, and organise your references. For more information available below. 

Now that you have found relevant research articles, it is a case of reading them carefully to identify key themes and arguments. Initially, decide whether an article will be useful by reading the title and the abstract and decide whether it meets your inclusion and exclusion criteria.

Once you have identified the most relevant papers, you need to assess the quality of the studies. You can use tools such as the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP) or the Scottish Intercollegiate Guideline Network (SIGN) to help you with this process. You might also want to look at the information above on evaluating information for more prompts and questions to ask of any research paper you wish to include. 

On this page you will find links to information which will help with critical appraisal. How to Read a Paper by Trisha Greenhalgh is also a good starting point should you need further help (available only to Leeds Beckett students with a student login). 

Your Academic Librarians are available to help you with these stages of performing a Systematic literature Review. You can find details of how to contact us on this page.

For more general help, please contact the 24 hour telephone and chat support using the 'Contact Us' pages.