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University of Portland Clark Library

IHW 312: Research Design & Analysis: From Topic to Search

What is PICOT?

Use the PICOT format to structure your literature search based on a clearly-stated, searchable clinical question.

P = Patient Population

I = Intervention or area of Interest

C = Comparison or Control group

O = Outcome

T = Time frame (e.g. how long does it take for the intervention to reach an outcome?) Not always included

PICOT Searching Tips

  1. Start with the I, C, or O of your PICOT.

  2. Find the best terminology for each term.  Look at the subject headings (CINAHL Headings or MeSH).  Note that CINAHL and MEDLINE may use different terminology for your terms.

  3. Which subject terms are relevant? Add those to your search with "or." E.g., [therapeutic play or play therapy or "play and playthings"]

  4. Next, start combining your PICOT elements. Start by combining your Intervention and Outcome terms. If you have a large number of search results, then add additional PICOT elements.

Research Questions Change as You Search

Revise your research question as you search the literature and determine what's available. Two examples from past School of Nursing student research:

1. This question

Which interventions should hospitals implement using trauma informed care to decrease adverse effects in adulthood?

might become

What is the impact of adverse childhood experiences on adulthood?

if there are not many articles about interventions using trauma informed care -- and you could then look for interventions to mediate the impacts you discovered.

2. This question

How does postpartum care affect maternal mortality rate in minority vs Caucasian women?

might become

How does postpartum care affect maternal mortality rate in minority women?

if you don't find articles comparing minority and Caucasian women.

How to Locate Preferred Terms for Your Database Search

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