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Literature Searching

Need to find literature for your research, but don't know where to start? This guide is here to help!

Start with a Plan

Beginning a literature search can sometimes feel overwhelming. One of the best things you can do to build an effective search is to spend some time developing a clear and concise research question. This practice will help you focus on the most important parts of your question and to provide the database with search terms it can understand.

Depending on a researcher's goals, there are several models or frameworks available to help in structuring a research question. There are at least 25 of these different tools, which are typically expressed in mnemonics. Not any one is superior to another or mandatory to use. It is all dependent on the nature of the research question, if qualitative or quantitative data is needed, and what works best for a project as a whole.

Developing a Clinical Question with PICO

When looking at topics that surround clinical interventions, PICO is a mnemonic that helps organize a case scenario or research topic into a focused clinical research question. PICO stands for:


What are the most important characteristics of the patient or problem you are trying to solve? Characteristics could include age, gender, or race. Or, what is the primary problem, disease, or condition you are researching? Example: 
Intervention What is the main intervention you are considering. Or, what do you want to do for this patient or problem? Example:
Comparison What is the alternative to the intervention? Is it a different drug, course of treatment, or placebo/no intervention? Example: 
Outcome What is the relevant outcome? What do you hope to accomplish, measure, improve or affect? Example:



Developing a Non-Clinical Question