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Health Sciences Systematic Reviews

Guidance for conducting health sciences systematic reviews.

Develop a Research Question

Systematic reviews aim to answer a specific research question.

  • A SR research question should be focused, answerable, and well-formulated.
  • A well-formulated SR question should be focused enough that a comprehensive search strategy to locate all relevant literature is possible. 
  • PICO is the most popular framework utilized for clinical research questions.
PICO Format for Formulating an Evidence Question
  PICO Component Tips for Building Question Example
P Patient population or problem

How would I describe this group of patients?

Balance precision with brevity. 

In patients with heart failure from dilated cardiomyopathy who are in sinus rhythm . . 
I Intervention (a cause, prognostic factor, treatment, etc.)

Which main intervention is of interest?

Be specific.

. . . would adding anticoagulation with warfarin to standard heart failure therapy . . .
C Comparison intervention (if necessary) 

What is the main alternative to be compared with the intervention?

Be specific. 

. . . when compared with standard therapy alone . . .
O Outcomes (measurable)

What do I hope the intervention will accomplish? 

What would this exposure really effect? 

Be specific. 

. . . lead to lower mortality or morbidity from thromboembolism? Is this enough to be worth increased risk of bleeding? 

Source: 

PICO Help

In addition to the resources below, please consult the resources on the Standards page of this guide.

Question Frameworks for Qualitative & Other Types of SRs

PICO is the most popular framework utilized for SRs about clinical interventions. However, if your research question is qualitative or does not pertain to a clinical intervention, consider using one of the question frameworks outlined in the two documents below. 

Is Your Question Right for a Systematic Review?

Not all questions are appropriate for a systematic review. Depending on your question, another type of review, such as a scoping review or literature review, may be more appropriate. 

A systematic review research question should be a well-formulated clearly defined clinical question, commonly in PICO format.