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You've got more time to think about the assignment and you want to get a better grade this time...

3 steps:

  • Clarify/understand your research question
  • Conceptualise your search ie make a search plan
  • Search, read and refine
    • Search databases using the key words/phrases.
    • Find a (or some) relevant reading(s) and start reading.
    • If necessary, refine your search strategy

Clarify your research question

Clarify what you are being asked to find. It might help to rewrite your topic into one sentence either as a question or as an ideal title for an article.

Example topic:
Is bariatric surgery beneficial for obese teenagers?

Identify /underline the main key words or concepts.

For example:
Is bariatric surgery beneficial for obese teenagers?
bariatric surgery,  teenagers

You can omit 'obese' as bariatric surgery is a particular type of intervention for obesity. You may need to add another concept depending on the number and relevancy of results for your bariatric surgery and teenagers search eg beneficial or other aspects you define as 'beneficial' such as quality of life.

You can type a sentence into some databases, in others this is not possible and you will need to use key words. This is why it is important to think about the words you will use in your search to find information.

The PICO framework

The PICO framework is used to make one sentence out of a scenario in preparation for searching for information. 

PPatient or population or problem
Who is the patient, what is the problem?
Is gender, age or ethnicity relevant?
IIntervention or Exposure
What treatment eg drug, diagnostic test, education programme, type of service delivery?
CComparison or Control
Is there an alternative treatment or intervention?
Are you comparing one drug with another, with a placebo, with usual treatment?

Outcome eg Ease pain, prevent infection, increase healing rate,

  • You may know this model as PECOT or PICOT, where E is for Exposure and T is for Timeframe.
  • It can also be PICOS where S is the type of study eg randomised controlled trial.
  • It can be PICOTT where T is type of question eg intervention or therapy, diagnosis, prognosis  etc and the second T is type of study design eg randomised controlled trial, cohort study etc.
  • You will always have something in the I intervention. You will usually have something in the P section. You don't always need to have something in the C, O or T components.

  • The combination of P and I is the best approach to begin with.

  • Where possible omit O when doing your search. Outcomes are rarely part of the search strategy.
  • The PICO framework is mainly used in quantitative research. For more information and a worksheet see the University of Oxford, Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine's Asking focused questions.
  • Qualitative research often uses either the PEO framework where P is population, E is exposure and O is outcome, or the PICo framework where P is population or problem, I is phenomena of interest and Co is context eg where?

For more about this see an explanation and worked examples of the PICO and PEO frameworks.
Source: Bettany-Saltikov J. How to do a systematic literature review in nursing : A step-by-step guide. Maidenhead, England: McGraw-Hill Education; 2012.

Example PICO

Other frameworks

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