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MRS213 Research Skills Guide

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.

PICO for evidence based medicine


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?

Example - Assessment task

You are required to consider the developments in role of imaging in guiding therapy and management of either melanoma, gastrointestinal neuroendocrine tumour, pancreatic endocrine tumours, merkel cell carcinoma, neuroblastoma, Ewing's sarcoma, osteosarcoma or renal cell carcinoma.  You should only choose one of these pathologies. Using a systematic approach, you will source and evaluate literature and write an evidence-based literature review that will demonstrate the clinical relevance and application of diagnostic tests (imaging and non-imaging) in improving the pathology’s outcomes and provide insight into the pathology’s treatment and management.  


P Patient/Population/Problem chosen pathology, e.g. melanoma
I Intervention diagnostic imaging tests
C Comparison non-imaging diagnostic tests
O Outcome improvements in the management/treatment and outcomes of your chosen pathology

The question has been narrowed to its key elements and includes words that can be used as search terms: melanoma (or other pathology as chosen), imaging, "diagnostic tests", management OR treatment, outcomes. After placing all your concepts into the PICO framework you can then use this information to develop your clinical question.

Please note: the information provided on this page is for demonstration purposes. Please refer to your subject outline for full details and requirements of your assessment task.

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.

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