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PICO Questions

Formulating the Search Strategy


You have already learned that PICO is a formula. When planning your search strategy, you again utilize the PICO formula. Once again, the intervention takes the center stage, as it is the FOCUS of the search.

Think about it this way: if the intervention is not part of the search strategy, finding relevant studies in the search retrieval will occur by accident, and you will spend too much time looking through search results. Starting with the intervention, you will know that the results list will address that concept at least in the title or abstract.

If you cannot find articles with that intervention, try using other terms with the same meaning. If that does not work, you may have found a gap in the evidence. Check with the librarian for additional help.

One thing to keep in mind is that databases are very different from Internet browsers such as Google. The database platform (the programming used to locate and display the content of the database) usually includes several ways to focus search using boolean logic, a controlled vocabulary, and limiters such as Ages and Publication Types. Utilizing these features take some planning before beginning the search, but will result in a more focused, relevant retrieval. This will save you considerable time when evaluating the search results.

Watch the video below for an example of using the PICO question when planning your search strategy.


Using PICO to Structure Your Literature Search