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Searching for evidence: Clinical questions

LKC Searching for evidence guide includes literature searching & reviews, evidence based practice resources and research support


There are alternative tools for clarifying your answerable question.


PICo = Population or problem | Interest | Context

Quantitative or qualitative

SPIDER = Sample | Phenomena of Interest | Design | Evaluation | Research type

SPICE = Setting (where) | Perspective (for whom) | Intervention or exposure or interest (what) | Comparison (what else) | Evaluation (what results or how well)

Asking - Formulating answerable clinical questions

Clarity about your clinical or treatment questions will enable the development of an effective search strategy for your literature review. 

PICO is common tool used to help with formulating an answerable clinical question. PICO enables you focus on outcomes for your patient or population group.

P = Patient or population group
I = Intervention or Indicator (or therapy or treatment or test etc)
C = Comparison (if applicable, eg comparing to gold standard)
O = Outcome (what is the desired measure, improvement or affect)
R / T = Research type / Type of study or evidence (eg, Meta-analysis, Systematic review, Randomised control trial, etc)
See also Levels of evidence page for further information about study types.

Useful format for structuring your question:

In <define characteristics, eg age / gender, etc> patient(s) or population groups with <disease or condition / exposure, etc>
How does <proposed intervention / therapy / treatment> (if comparison is applicable...) compare with <gold standard / alternative>
Effect <reduce (or increase) / improve / change / benefit, etc> <symptoms / care / length of bed stay / costs, etc>

Some tools to assist with formulating your PICO and answerable question are listed below.

CEBM Oxford YouTube - Finding the Evidence - PICO

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