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Postgraduate Medicine: How to Search the Literature

This guide offers an eight step approach from identifying your topic to managing your search strategy and results.

2. Identify Search Concepts

Identifying search concepts is important for effective literature searching. Concepts are easier to identify once the research question has been formulated using one of the stated frameworks (e.g. PICO or PS) on the Formulating a Research Question page.

Below is an example of how to use the PICO(T) framework to identify search concepts for a specific research question.

Question: In patients with lateral elbow pain (P), is surgery (I) effective in improving pain and function (O)?

Patient / Population / or Problem (P) Intervention (I) Comparison / Control Intervention (C) Outcome (O)
Concept A Concept B Concept C Concept D
Lateral elbow pain Surgery N / A Improving pain and function

It is not necessary to include all the elements of PICO(T) in your search strategy.

  • For example, in the above question there is no comparison / control intervention
  • Generally speaking, you should scan the search results for the outcome(s) rather than including these terms as a search concept