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Literature Reviews in the Health Sciences: Defining the Research Question

Defining the Research Question

A critical first step in beginning any review is a well-defined, searchable research question.  Several frameworks have been developed to assist with the process of defining the research question.  PICO is the most familiar in the medical field, but it is by no means the only option.  See below for more information on a few of these frameworks.

Models for Defining a Research Question


Richardson, W. S., Wilson, M. C., Nishikawa, J., & Hayward, R. S. (1995). The well-built clinical question: a key to evidence-based decisions. ACP J Club, 123(3), A12-3.

SPIDER (for qualitative research)

National Collaborating Centre for Methods and Tools (2013). Defining your question for finding qualitative research: SPIDER tool. Hamilton, ON: McMaster University. Retrieved from

Cooke, A., Smith, D. & Booth, A. (2012). Beyond PICO: the SPIDER tool for qualitative evidence sythesis. Qualitative Health Research, 22(1435). doi: 10.1177/1049732312452938.

ECLIPSE (originating in health policy/management)

Wildridge, V., & Bell, L. (2002). How CLIP became ECLIPSE: a mnemonic to assist in searching for health policy/management information. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 19(2), 113-115.

PESICO (originating in augmentive/alternative communication)

Schlosser, R. W., Koul, R., & Costello, J. (2007). Asking well-built questions for evidence-based practice in augmentative and alternative communication. Journal of Communication Disorders, (3), 225-238

SPICE (originating in library and information science)

Booth, A. (2006). Clear and present questions: formulating questions for evidence based practice. Library hi tech, 24(3), 355-368.


Formulating an Answerable Question, Centre for Evidence Based Medicine, Toronto

Asking Answerable Questions Evid Based Nurs 1:36-37