When crafting your foreground question, PICO is a mnemonic that helps you formulate a specific, answerable clinical or research question.
P = Patient (population or problem) - Who or what are you studying?
I = Intervention - What is the diagnostic test, treatment or therapy? Or what are the prognostic factors or exposures?
C = Comparison - What are you measuring this intervention against?
O = Outcome(s) - What are you trying to accomplish, measure, improve or effect?
- Your question does not have to be in “PICO” order. For example: “Does hand washing (I) among healthcare workers reduce (O) hospital acquired infections (P) compared to an alcohol based solution (C)?”
- If you are asking a question about etiology or harm, swap out the "I" for an "E." E would stand for the exposure a patient experienced.
Once you have your PICO question, you can break down each concept into a search strategy. You'll need to add two more letters to your mnemonic: T (Type of Question) and T (Type of Study).
- P =Patient (population or problem)
- I = Intervention (prognostic factor or exposure)
- C = Comparison
- O = Outcome
- T = Type of Question
- T = Type of Study
See the next section, Levels of Evidence to learn about the T (Type of Question) and T (Type of Study).
Before you go on to the next section, download a copy of the Document your Research Worksheet. This worksheet will help you practice crafting clinical questions and constructing search strategies in the next sections of this guide.