Published on February 25, 2014
The Research Question Applying PEO, PICO & SPICE
Your research question Try to start with a clear research question which you can translate into an effective search strategy. The PEO, PICO and SPICE formats are used widely in nursing and health research to help manage and break down research questions. Applying one of these formats will help you to identify the key concepts in your question and to develop appropriate search terms to describe them. Don’t worry if your question does not exactly fit a format. You may find that some elements apply while others do not. The formats are simply there to help you examine your question in detail and develop an effective search strategy.
Unsure of your question? Sometimes it is easier to start the process with a general topic of interest rather than with a clearly defined question. You could try searching for general terms (e.g. lung cancer) and then limit your results to primary research. Examine search results for recurring themes, aspects which might particularly interest you or simply ones for which there is a healthy amount of literature available! Use the initial search results to help refine or focus your topic into a more structured research question.
PEO Format (qualitative) P Population and their problem E Exposure O Outcome or themes
PEO example Research topic: What are the lived experiences of older people recovering from bowel cancer? P Older people with bowel cancer E Bowel cancer O Lived experiences These are the key concepts which will form the basis of your search strategy.
Worked PEO example Research topic: What are the lived experiences of older people recovering from bowel cancer? P Older people, elderly people, geriatric, aging E Bowel cancer, colon cancer, colorectal cancer O Lived experiences, daily living, daily life, QOL, quality of life, wellbeing These are the key search words which will form the basis of your search strategy.
PICO format (quantitative) P Population, Patient, Problem - Who are the users, patients or community being affected? What are their symptoms, age, gender etc. I Intervention - What is being done to or for the population e.g. screening, surgery, rehabilitation, services, therapy etc. C Comparison - Is there a control scenario or comparison element e.g. different treatment options, placebo etc. O Outcome, Expectation - What do you want to achieve or hope to change/measure, e.g. patient’s condition or quality of life to improve, or to find out about people’s experiences of illness or treatment.
PICO example Research topic: Use of acupuncture as aid to stop smoking P Smokers I Acupuncture C Other alternative therapies O Stop smoking These are the key concepts which will form the basis of your search strategy.
Worked PICO example Research topic: Use of acupuncture as aid to stop smoking P Smokers, nicotine, tobacco I Acupuncture, acupoint C Other alternative therapies, complementary therapies O Stop, cease, cessation, quit These are the key search words which will form the basis of your search strategy.
SPICE format (qualitative) S Setting - Where is the action or intervention taking place e.g. home, community, hospital? P Population, Patient, Problem I Intervention C Comparison E Evaluation - How can the outcome or effects be assessed or measured?
Worked SPICE example Research topic: Can dietary changes help improve the behaviour of children with mental health problems? S Mental health, psychiatric P Children, infants, adolescents, teenagers I Diet, nutrition, meals, eating C Normal diet E Effect on behaviour, hyperactivity, ADHD These are the key search words which will form the basis of your search.
SPIDER & FINDER (mixed) For research which uses mixed methods (combining both qualitative and quantitative data) you could apply either of the following models. FINDER SPIDER F I N E R S Pi D E R Feasibility Interesting Novel Ethical Relevant Sample Phenomena of interest Design Evaluation Research type
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