A well-developed and answerable question is the foundation for any systematic review. This process involves:
Systematic review questions typically follow a PICO-format (patient or population, intervention, comparison, and outcome)
Using the PICO framework can help team members clarify and refine the scope of their question. For example, if the population is breast cancer patients, is it all breast cancer patients or just a segment of them?
When formulating your research question, you should also consider how it could be answered. If it is not possible to answer your question (the research would be unethical, for example), you'll need to reconsider what you're asking
Typically, systematic review protocols include a list of studies that will be included in the review. These studies, known as exemplars, guide the search development but also serve as proof of concept that your question is answerable. If you are unable to find studies to include, you may need to reconsider your question
PICO is a helpful framework for clinical research questions, but may not be the best for other types of research questions. Frameworks like PEO, SPIDER, SPICE, and ECLIPSe can help you formulate a focused research question.
The PEO question framework is useful for qualitative research topics. PEO questions identify three concepts: population, exposure, and outcome.
Research question: What are the daily living experiences of mothers with postnatal depression?
Who is my question focused on?
What is the issue I am interested in?
What, in relation to the issue, do I want to examine?
daily living experiences
The SPIDER question framework is useful for qualitative or mixed methods research topics focused on "samples" rather than populations. SPIDER questions identify five concepts: sample, phenomenon of interest, design, evaluation, and research type.
Research question: What are the experiences of young parents in attendance at antenatal education classes?
Who is the group of people being studied?
What are the reasons for behavior and decisions?
attendance at antenatal education classes
How has the research been collected (e.g., interview, survey)?
What is the outcome being impacted?
What type of research (qualitative or mixed methods)?
The SPICE question framework is useful for qualitative research topics evaluating the outcomes of a service, project, or intervention. SPICE questions identify five concepts: setting, perspective, intervention/exposure/interest, comparison, and evaluation.
Research question: For teenagers in South Carolina, what is the effect of provision of Quit Kits to support smoking cessation on number of successful attempts to give up smoking compared to no support ("cold turkey")?
Setting is the context for the question (where).
Perspective is the users, potential users, or stakeholders of the service (for whom).
Intervention / Exposure
Intervention is the action taken for the users, potential users, or stakeholders (what).
provision of Quit Kits to support smoking cessation
Comparison is the alternative actions or outcomes (compared to what).
no support or "cold turkey"
Evaluation is the result or measurement that will determine the success of the intervention (what is the result, how well).
number of successful attempts to give up smoking with Quit Kits compared to number of successful attempts with no support
The ECLIPSE framework is useful for qualitative research topics investigating the outcomes of a policy or service. ECLIPSE questions identify six concepts: expectation, client group, location, impact, professionals, and service.
Research question: How can I increase access to wireless internet for hospital patients?
What are you looking to improve or change? What is the information going to be used for?
to increase access to wireless internet in the hospital
Who is the service or policy aimed at?
patients and families
Where is the service or policy located?
What is the change in service or policy that the researcher is investigating?
clients have easy access to free internet
Who is involved in providing or improving the service or policy?