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Nursing: Forming Questions

Explore library resources for the Nursing program at McMaster.

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 hepatitis 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 may be divided into two  broad categories:

  • Qualitative Questions aim to discover meaning or gain an understanding of a phenomena or experience.  They ask about an individual's or population's experience of certain situations or circumstances
  • Quantitative Questions aim to discover cause and effect relationships, often through comparison. Comparison may occur between two or more individuals or groups based on outcomes associated with differences in exposures or interventions. Comparison may also be made to 'no intervention', standard care or standard practice, 'no exposure'.

These questions are best answered using the resources found in the 6S/Foreground Info 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]_____?

What is the experience of ____[P]___[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:     

 Qualitative Question formatting: The P.I.C.O.(T) model illustrated in a table.

PICO(T) Templates


In ___[P]___,  do/does ___[I]___ result in ___[O]____ when compared with ___[C]___ over ___[T]____?

E.g.) In nursing home residents with osteoporosis, do hip protectors result in fewer injuries from slips, trips, and falls when compared with standard osteoporosis drug therapy over the course of their stay?


Are ___[P]___  with  ___[I]___  over ____[T]____ more likely to ___[O]____ when compared with ___[C]___ ?

E.g.) Are female non-smokers with daily exposure to second-hand smoke over a period of ten years or greater more likely to develop breast cancer when compared with female non-smokers without daily exposure to second-hand smoke?


Is/are ___[I]___ performed on ___[P]___   more effective than ___[C]___  over ___[T]____in ___[O]____?

E.g.) Are self-reporting interviews and parent reports performed on children aged 5-10 more effective than parent reports alone over a four-week consultation process in diagnosing depression?


In ___[P]___,  do/does ___[I]___ result in ___[O]____ when compared with ___[C]___ 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?


Do/does ___[I]___ performed on ___[P]___   lead to  ___[O]___  over ___[T]____compared with ___[C]____?

E.g.) Do regular text message reminders performed on patients recently diagnosed with diabetes lead to a lower occurrence of forgotten insulin doses over the first six months of treatment compared with no reminders?