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Pharmacy resources including books, articles and drug information.

Plan what to search!

Plan what to search! Turn your Research Question into a Searchable Question

A clearly-defined question will: 

  • Focus your search so that it is more efficient and effective
  • Make searching for evidence simpler as a well-formed question makes it easier to find and combine appropriate terms
  • Help you identify relevant results and separate relevant results from irrelevant ones

Some common ways to define and focus your question is to use PICO.

PICO Method

PICO is a tool for distilling the essential components of a research topic into concepts. Finding relevant medical information is often easier if you break down your research topic  by developing a PICO question. PICO is an acronym for:

PICO Definition

  • Patient / Population / Problem: How would you describe this group of patients similar to yours? What are the most important characteristics of the patient(s)? what sorts of participants, from where, with what features? What is the health problem you are investigating? 
  • Intervention: the treatment, drug, or technology; what is the exposure? What dose? 
  • Comparison: What is the main alternative to compare with the intervention? At times your question may not have a comparison!
  • Outcome: What are you aiming to accomplish, measure, improve, make an impact on? Are you trying to eliminate or relieve symptoms? Reduce the number or severity of adverse effects? Improve functions?


EXAMPLEDoes exercise in comparison with diet reduce the incidence of people with heat disease from experiencing a heart attack?

  • Patient or Population: People with heart disease, ie. who have had a cardiac event
  • Intervention: Moderate exercise
  • Comparison: Dietary changes, medications
  • Outcome: Reduction in incidence of heart attacks and mortality rates from heart disease

Notice how this structure forces the researcher to be more specific. With an example like this one, you would also want to clearly define each term.