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How to Search the Literature (Advanced)

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

Formulate a Research Question

The research question or statement is crucial. A well-formulated question will focus your information needs, help to identify key search concepts, and guide you in the direction of potential resources. 


  • 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
  • Qualitative Questions aim to discover meaning or gain an understanding of a phenomenon


There are a variety of frameworks that can be used to formulate your research question and identify possible search concepts for your literature search. Here are some selected frameworks to help you: 


PICO(T): Quantitative Research

Population/Problem, Intervention/Exposure, Comparison, Outcome, and Time Period/Type of Study.

In ____[P]_____, do/does ____[I]____ result in ____[O]___ over ___[T]______?

E.g. In emergency room visitors, do hand sanitizing stations result in fewer in-hospital infections when compared with no hand sanitizing stations over a year-long pilot period?


PS: Qualitative Research

Population/Problem, Situation

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

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


Additional Frameworks

PIE (Population, Intervention, Effect / Outcome)

PEO (Population/Problem, Exposure, Outcomes/Themes)

FINER (Feasibility, Interesting, Novel, Ethical, Relevant)

SPICE (Setting, Perspective, Intervention, Comparison, Evaluation)

SPIDER (Sample, Phenomena of Interest, Design, Evaluation, Research type)