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Your question

Step 1:

Creating a question from a scenario will help clarify what it is you want to investigate. This will then help you decide:

  •    where to search and
  •    what to type into the search box.

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

  • You may know this model as PECOT or PICOT, where E is for Exposure and T is for Timeframe.  There is also PICOTT where the 1st T is for type of question eg therapy, prognosis etc and the second T is for type of study eg rct, cohort etc
  • You will usually have something in the P and I/E sections. You don't always need to have something in the C, O or T components.
    Often the combination of P and I is the best to begin with.
  • 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 the PEO framework where P is population, E is exposure and O is outcome. PICo is also useful where P realtes to the characteristics of the population group, patient or problem, I is Interest and relates to a defined event, activity, experience or process and Co is the context or setting.


Scenario 1

You have been taking vitamin C supplements and you are still getting colds. You might ask yourself why is this happening.


Pcommon cold 
IVitamin C supplements
Oprevent getting a cold







Convert PICO to a question

  • Can common colds [problem] be prevented by taking vitamin C supplements [intervention]?
  • Do vitamin C supplements prevent the common cold?
  • Does taking vitamin C supplements prevent getting a cold?

NOTE: Not everyone will word the question the same way.

Select the PICO option from the dropdown menu:

Is it best to use a ct scan intervention compared with an xray comparison to confirm a diagnosis outcome of orbital fracture problem in a child problem ?

Are venous leg ulcers problem treated with an enzymatic cleanser (a non-antibiotic preparation) intervention compared with a chloramphenicol-containing ointment comparison healed outcome at four weeks time frame ?

Step 2:

Once a question is created, the next step is to identify the key words. This will help prepare for a literature search.
For each word or phrase think about synonyms, one word or two (eg healthcare vs health care) and variations in word endings.
Think about how you are going to join or combine the search words using AND and OR.

All words must be found in each result eg,
bariatric AND adolescents finds results with both topics.
Use AND between each of your major concepts to ensure they are all present in your results.
Some databases will automatically join the words with AND without you typing AND between words eg Google Scholar and PubMed
Narrows your search. Less results.
Each record in your search results must contain at least one of the words eg,
obese OR obesity OR overweight will find results with any of these words.
Google Scholar and PubMed  - OR must be in CAPS.
Broadens your search. OR = More
Results must not include a specific word. Can be useful to remove a concept from your search BUT use it with care. Some databases use AND NOTNarrows your search. Less results.

Example search strategy:

Scenario 1

Do vitamin C supplements prevent the common cold?

vitamin cAND    common cold
ascorbic acid      

Question - do we need to add supplement/s as part of the search or can we start fairly broad with eg: vitamin c AND common cold


Scenario 2

What is the best way to manage obsessive compulsive disorder in adolescents?

obsessive compulsive    AND    adolescent/sAND   asian
OR      OR    OR
ocd     adolescence    chinese
      young people  

It may be helpful to specify a particular Asian ethnic group eg Chinese or Korean. If we add eg asian OR chinese as part of our search we may get relevant results. We will get results for studies in China whereas our scenario is a 'western context'. Should we remove asian from our search but leave chinese? We may need to do a broader search removing the ethnicity words from our search. Do we need  to find additional information eg cultural values, ethnic minority teenagers and mental wellbeing such as the studies from Youth 2000 for a holistic response? Do we need to add an extra word or two to our search eg resilience, protective factor/s? There is quite a lot to think about in this scenario.


Scenario 3

Is it best to use a ct scan compared to an xray to confirm a diagnosis of orbital fracture in a child?

xray    AND  ct scan      AND  orbital fracture/s    AND  child
OR     OR      OR
x ray     computed tomography scan/s     children

NOTE: Depending where you do your search you might need to use "   " (double speech marks) to indicate a phrase ie the words need to be next to each other eg " vitamin c",  "x ray".


When you search for 'vitamin C OR ascorbic acid' this will

When you search for vitamin C AND "common cold" this will

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