Formulating the Question

There are generally two types of questions: background questions and foreground questions.

Background Questions

Background questions ask about general knowledge and usually consist of two parts: the root question (what, where, when, why, or how); and a specific disease or treatment. Some examples of background questions include:

  • What are the clinical signs of measles infection?
  • What are the potential side effects of NSAIDs?
  • What warming methods are used to treat hypothermia?

Foreground Questions

Foreground questions are focused questions that help us make clinical or situational decisions. They are more complex and include specific information about patients, interventions, and outcomes. Most of the questions we will focus on in this tutorial are foreground questions, and we will use the PICO framework to structure a well-built PICO question.

What is a well-built question, and why is it important?

When you are presented with a scenario or patient case, there is usually a flood of details to digest. To effectively search for the best evidence, you first need to decide which details are important.

Here are some details that you might find important:

  • Who is the patient, population, or problem?
  • Is their medical or social history important?
  • What characteristics of the patient matter?
  • Are certain signs and symptoms relevant?

Identifying the important details and forming a succinct clinical question will make it easier for you to search for evidence later in Step 2.


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