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SHS Advanced Searching: Using a Question Framework

SHS Advanced Searching

Using a framework to structure your question

Frameworks help researchers structure a research question and clarify search concepts.  There are many different frameworks depending on the type of question.  For clinical questions, the most well-known is PICO.  Sometimes your question may not fit perfectly into a framework.  You can use part of a framework if necessary.

Which Framework?

  • Effectiveness of a treatment or intervention: PICO
  • Prognostic: PFO
  • Prevalence/Incidence: CoCoPop
  • Cost/benefit analysis: PICOC, CLIP, ECLIPS(E)
  • For qualitative questions: PICo, PEO, SPICE, SPIDER

More details about alternative frameworks are available here.


(for questions covering the effectiveness of an intervention, treatment etc.)

Patient, Population or Problem - who is the patient and/or what is the problem?
Intervention - what intervention is being considered?
Comparison - what intervention is this being compared with (a comparison is not always necessary)
Outcomes - what do you hope to accomplish, improve or affect?


Example:  Alternatives to drugs for controlling headaches in children

  • P - children
  • I - alternatives to drugs (complementary therapies? changes to lifestyle?)
  • C - drugs
  • O - controlling headaches


Extensions to PICO

There are extensions to the PICO framework available which you can use if your topic has additional concepts:

  • PICOS- here the S stands for study designs or setting (you can use this framework if you are only interested in examining specific designs of study or if the intervention is setting-specific like a hospital or nursing home)
  • PICOT- here the T stands for timeframe (you can use this framework if your outcomes need to be measured in a certain amount of time e.g. 24 hours after surgery).