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DOH493 Research Skills Guide: Topic Analysis

Topic Analysis

A topic analysis will help you to clarify and understand what your assessment question is asking you to do.

You should be able to break down the assessment task into three components:

  1. The task or instruction terms tell how you are to deal with the content. Charles Sturt's Academic Skills team has a study guide on Common Instruction Words.
  2. The limits or qualifiers tell you the specific focus of the topic or concept.
  3. The key topic or concept words direct you in what to research.


Imagine you are required to write a literature review based on the following topic: 

Discuss the effect of sports or energy drinks on the oral health of teenagers

Instruction word(s) discuss
Qualifying words & phrases teenagers
Key concept sports or energy drinks, oral health


Identify synonyms (alternative terms) to use in your search, e.g.:

teenagers youth, adolescent
oral health dental health, caries
sports or energy drinks drinks, beverages


For full details of your assessment task please refer to your subject outline.

Formulating a Clinical Question

In health/medical research, and particularly in the process of Evidence-Based Practice, it can be useful to express your research topic as a clinical question. That way you can focus clearly on exactly what you need to know and work out the concepts you need to search for.

The clinical question should be:

  • relevant to the patient or the problem
  • formulated in such a way as to help with the search for an answer.   

Using a search framework such as PICO can help you pinpoint your question, and from there your search strategy.


The PICO search framework tool is commonly used to formulate clinical questions around interventions and their efficacy. The PICO letters each stand for a key concept that you'll be looking for in the literature to help you answer the question:

P Patient/Population/Problem Start with the patient, or group of patients, or problem
I Intervention What is the proposed intervention?
C Comparison What is the main alternative, to compare with the intervention (there may not be one)
O Outcome

What is the anticipated, or hoped-for, outcome?


"I work in an aged care facility where urinary tract infections are a common problem. I've heard that cranberry juice can help prevent UTIs. I wonder if there's any evidence for that and whether it might help our patients?"

  • Population        residents in aged care homes
  • Intervention      cranberry juice
  • Comparison     no intervention (status quo)
  • Outcome           prevention of UTIs.

Now the clinical question can be framed as:  Does cranberry juice help prevent UTIs in residents of aged care homes?

The question has been narrowed to its key elements, and includes words that can be used as search terms: cranberry juice; prevent*; utis OR "urinary tract infections"; "aged care home" OR "nursing home".

Topic Analysis

Find additional keywords

Dictionaries and encyclopaedias can help you to find additional keywords and get an overview of the concept.

Oxford Reference Online is a huge repository of subject-specific dictionaries, encyclopaedias, and other reference-type material.

The Clinical Question - More Help

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