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PICO Research Questions: Formulating a PICO Question

This guide provides tips for creating PICO research questions and searching the databases.

Formulating a PICO Question

How do I Break Down a PICO Question?

You first need to come up with a question that includes all of the PICO components and break those down for searching the database.

For example: In non-ambulatory patients, (P) does turning the patient (I) compared to pressure mattresses (C ) reduce the risk of pressure ulcers? (O)

To search for evidence-based articles related to your PICO question, identify the keywords for each PICO element.

  • P – Patient, non-ambulatory
  • – turning
  • C – pressure mattress
  • O – pressure ulcer

Turn these keywords into subject descriptors or MeSH/CINAHL subject headings to use in your database searches.

Components of Clinical Questions

Ask background questions and foreground questions.

  • Background questions provide the basics for a greater grasp of the concepts.
    • Typically found in textbooks, encyclopedia, or reviews.
    • Not normally asked when clinical decisions are needed to be made about a patient.
  • Foreground questions provide specific knowledge to inform clinical decisions.
    • Typically found in journals and conference proceedings.
    • Require a grasp of the basic concepts from background questions

Think about inclusion and exclusion criteria to help you select and set boundaries for your searching.

  • Inclusion: Elements that must be present to be eligible for inclusion. For example: 
    • Certain types of studies.
    • Certain geographic locations.
    • Published within last 5 years.
    • Comparison of certain treatments.
  • Exclusion: Elements that disqualify the study from inclusion. For example:
    • Use of wrong types of studies.
    • Published more than 5 years ago.
    • Published in another language (depending on if you can read the language or are looking for articles only pertaining to the U.S.).