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Public Health

Explore library resources for the Masters in Public Health program at McMaster.

About This Page

Question development is an integral part of an effective search. On this page, you'll find information on the different types of questions you might ask, along with templates and tools for question formation.

A good question...

  • Focuses your information needs
  • Identifies key seach concepts
  • Points you in the direction of potential resources

Background Questions

These questions are general in nature and provide foundational information on a single concept.  Background questions cover:

  • Terminology
  • General Pathology
  • Patient Education Resources
  • General Drug Information
  • Examination/Assessment Procedures


What is the pathology of asthma?

What drugs are used to treat hypertension?

How do I perform a psychological assessment?

What education resources exist for patients with gestational diabetes?

How is hepititis B diagnosed?

What does a normal heartbeat sound like?

These questions are best answered using the resources found in the Background Info page of this guide.

Foreground Questions

These questions bring together multiple concepts related to a specific clinical situation or research topic. They are typically divided into two categories:

  • Qualitative Questions aim to discover meaning or gain an understanding of a phenomena. They ask about an individual's or population's experience of certain situations or circumstances
  • Quantitative Questions aim to discover cause and effect relationships by comparing two or more individuals or groups based on differing outcomes associated with exposures or interventions.

These questions are best answered using the resources found in the 6S Pyramid page of this guide.

Forming Foreground Questions

Building an effective foreground question can be challenging.  The following models will help:

Qualitative Questions: The PS Model

P - Patient/Population

S- Situation

How do/does ___[P]____ experience _____[S]_____?

Ex. How do caregiver-spouses of Alzheimer patients experience placing their spouse in a nursing home?


Quantitative Questions: The PICO(T) Model

A quantitative approach can answer many different types of questions, but all can be formatted by following the PICO(T) Model outlined below:     


PISCO, an alternate of the PICO Model can be useful for public health research questions. 

P - Population

I - Intervention

S - Setting (if appropriate)

C - Comparison or intervention (if approriate)

O - Outcome you would like to measure or achieve