PICO framework

Each letter represents a different aspect of your question:

  • Population / Patient / Problem

  • Intervention

  • Comparison 

  • Outcome

This framework can be used to build your literature search strategy.

Population, Patient, Problem
  • Who is your patient or population? 
  • How would you describe them?
  • What is their condition?
  • What type of intervention is being considered?
  • Interventions can include medication, surgery, or therapy.
  • What are you comparing the intervention against?
  • Comparators could be a gold standard treatment, or no treatment at all
  • What are you hoping to achieve because of the intervention? 

Variations of PICO Framework  

PICO can be modified for questions without elements such as a comparison or specified outcome. 

  • PIO = Population, Intervention, Outcome (no comparison)

  • PIC = Population, Intervention, Comparison (outcome is not defined)

PICO can also incorporate additional factors, such as types of studies or timeframes. 

  • PICOT = Population, Intervention, Comparison, Outcome, Timeframe

  • PICOTT = Population, Intervention, Comparison, Outcome, Type of question, Type of study

  • What is the timeframe of the intervention? Is there follow-up scheduled? 

Type of Question

  • Is this clinical question about diagnosis, treatment, prevention, prognosis or aetiology?
Type of study
  • Which study types are you focusing on? Which study types best answer this type of clinical question? 

PICO in qualitative research

PICo is adapted from PICO, to help structure qualitative research questions and find qualitative literature. 

  • P = Population / Problem 

  • I = Phenomenon of Interest

  • Co = Context

This model is commonly used in population health, medical education and healthcare service research.

Population, Problem Phenomenon of Interest Context
  • Who is your population? (E.G. gender, age, ethnicity, profession) 
  • Which problems, conditions or diseases are you interested in? (E.G Neurodiversity)
  • What is the defined event, activity, experience or process. (E.G Bullying)
  • Where is this happening? (e.g. geographical location or school setting)
  • What is the social or cultural context for your population? (EG employment status) 
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