Question Frameworks

One strategy for creating a well-built research question is to use a question framework to help you identify the most important elements of your patient’s problem.


PICO is one of the most popular question frameworks, and is a mnemonic device that helps us focus on the most important information in a case and formulate a question for searching. The letters of PICO stand for the following elements of a research question:

P: Patient, problem, or population of interest
I: Intervention or treatment
C: Comparison intervention (if applicable)
O: Outcome

There are other question frameworks such as PICOTS, which adds the elements of Timing and Setting to the original PICO framework; SPIDER (Sample, Phenomenon of Interest, Design, Evaluation, and Research type); and PEO (Population, Exposure, and Outcome), to name a few. For the purposes of this tutorial, we will be using the PICO format throughout.


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