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Evidence Based Literature Searching: PICO question

PICO Questions

The first step toward performing an effective literature search is to ensure that you have a well defined question. Thinking carefully about exactly what question you are asking, framing it clearly as a question, and breaking it out into PICO components helps you identify a clear picture of what kind of information you are hoping to find to answer your question and advance your project.

Breaking your question out into its PICO components is helpful in order to make sure you've fully considered all the elements of your question, and also to help you start thinking about your question as separate pieces and how they fit together. Learning how to break your search topic into smaller components is an important part of translating your question into a search strategy!


What is a PICO Question

A PICO question is the best way to build a well defined clinical question. It is a way of trying to ask the right question. There are usually 4 parts to a well built question:

P - Patient/Population or Problem (among)

I - Intervention / Exposure (does)

C - Comparison (verses)

O - Outcome (affect)


A school nurse is asked if zinc lozenges are an effective treament to shorten cold symptoms for a child in grade school. Let's turn that into a PICO question.

P - school aged child with a cold

I - zinc lozenges

C - nothing

O -shorten cold symtpoms

Patient/Population or Problem

  • How would you describe the patient?
  • How would you describe the population?
  • What is the common problem?


  • What is the diagnostic test, management strategy or exposure you are interested in?


  • What is the test, mangement strategy or exposure that you want to compare vs the intervention
    (remember you will not always have a comparison)


  • What are the consequences of the intervention that you want to see?