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Searching for scientific information: Medical Sciences: 2. Formulating answerable questions

Formulating an answerable question is a key starting point in the research process. When we talk about formulating an answerable question, we mean the process of breaking down a topic of interest into a focused question that we can answer by searching within the literature. Without a focused question, we won't find what we need in the vast scientific literature.

You first need to identify if the question you are asking is a background question, or a foreground question. This will determine how you structure your search and where you look for information.

Background questions

Foreground questions


PICO is a structure you can use to create focused foreground questions. PICO helps to break down a clinical scenario and turn it into an answerable question that can be used to search for evidence. Foreground questions have three to four essential elements, usually a  populationintervention (or 'indicator') and an outcome.

When using the framework, it's not necessary to use every category, the categories are simply there to guide you in forming a evidence-based question. Many clearly defined questions do not have a comparison or control to consider, so don't worry if this category isn't applicable for your topic.

PICO will make it easier to select the most important keywords to search upon and help you narrow the focus of your topic or question to get a manageable number of relevant search results. Click on the 'i' icons for each section to learn how you decide what information you should include in each section.



Complete the activity below to try this out in practice.

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