Accessing the Literature: Overcoming Barriers to EBP

As behavior analysts, we are driven to utilize evidence-based practices to drive our clinical decision making. While this may sound easy enough, we encounter many barriers to this including the inability to recognize when we need to turn to research, not finding the information we need when we seek it out, not having enough time to research in-depth, and paywalls denying us access to articles. First, as a group of individuals I implore BCBAs to realize that even if you are well versed in a specific treatment or population, there is still a need to access research as there may be new or contradictory evidence you are unaware of. Staying up to date on applications of research to clinical practice and new or varied methodologies ensures we are making informed decisions in providing evidence-based practices to our clients. In order to be efficient and effective BCBAs, there are a few things we can do to overcome barriers to accessing literature and maintain workflow systems to keep up with the ever-expanding base of research within the field.

The first barrier to overcome is not finding the specific information you need. There are a few ways to maximize your searches to hone in on what you are looking for. First, you may want to vary where you are looking for information. While Google Scholar can provide results, perhaps a more systematic search on Scopus or PubMed may yield more specified results. Additionally, don’t forget that with membership to the BACB or ABAI comes access to their databases. Simply click your “Resources” tab in your BACB account to access ProQuest and Wiley Databases (Figure 1).

Figure 1.

When searching, try to think of synonymous words. Colloquialisms that are common in the field of Behavior Analysis may be referred to as something different within another field. Instead of searching for “treatment,” try also “therapy” and “intervention.” When looking at “problem behavior,” perhaps add “disruptive behavior,” “challenging behavior,” or “maladaptive behavior” to your search. The more synonyms you put, the more articles you may find to screen. Additionally, search for terms within the title, abstract, or keywords. An example of a recent search I did to find communication interventions that impacted severe problem behavior (aggression, self-injury) I searched in Scopus ( TITLE-ABS-KEY ( “disruptive behavior*”  OR  “challenging behavior*”  OR  “problem behavior*” )  AND  TITLE-ABS-KEY ( intervention  OR  treatment  OR  therapy )  AND  TITLE-ABS-KEY ( communicat*  OR  language ) ). Note that the * indicates any word ending. For example, communicat* can yield results for communication, communications, communicating, communicated, etc. The wider net you cast, the more fish you will pull in.

Once you have your results, you may feel overwhelmed with the number of articles that show up. Instead of haphazardly skimming and selecting articles, consider a systematic approach. First, screen titles. Any that are clearly not related to your search do not include. Ones that may be pertinent, select (to save a new list of articles at the end). Once you have selected articles to keep, you can export them into Excel (Figure 2).

Figure 2.

After exporting articles, develop your set of inclusion and exclusion criteria. Develop a coding system, where 1 is included/yes or 0 is excluded/no. See Figure 3 for an example.

Figure 3

Once the abstract screening is complete you can save a copy duplicate your sheet, sort by number and delete the rows with 0’s (the excluded articles) and you are left with a list of articles that passed your abstract screen. In Excel you can sort by going to the “Data” tab and selecting the “Z -> A sort” so your selected articles appear on top. From here, you can go on to read complete articles on your topic. Another trick is use forward and backward search; utilizing citations to find related articles. Feel free to find more information in this quick YouTube tutorial:

Another barrier many professionals are facing is a lack of time. One way to make technology work for you is to automate information. You may want to sign up for a digital table of contents to be delivered to you inbox or sign up for google scholar alerts. Google scholar alerts are a convenient way to screen newly published articles in your inbox weekly. For visual instructions to set up google scholar alerts and what it looks like in your inbox, see Figure 4.

Figure 4.

The last, and perhaps most frustrating barrier to accessing literature is hitting a paywall. First, you may want to try another source of finding the article (again, think about searches in the BACB or ABAI portals). When all else fails, email the author. Often, authors want their information disseminated and don’t mind sharing their work. Perhaps this connection could yield more networking and information sharing opportunities. Hopefully, through this post, you may have learned some new strategies for being up-to-date on literature and information. Feel free to comment with any other suggestions that may help fellow BCBAs!

Thank you to VABA Member Carly Dragan, SLPD, CCC-SLP, BCBA, LBA for guest-authoring this blog.

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