In order to most appropriately choose an information resource and craft a search strategy, it is necessary to consider what kind of question you are asking: a specific, narrow "foreground" question, or a broader background question that will help give context to your research?
Using a structured question frame can help you clearly define the concepts or variables that make up the specific research question. PICO(T) is the most common question frame used in health sciences research, where the question is composed of the:
"For adolescents with type II diabetes (P) does the use of telehealth consultations (I) compared to in-person consultations (C) improve blood sugar control (O)?
Different types of clinical questions are suited to different syntaxes and phrasings, but all will clearly define the PICO elements. The definitions and frames below may be helpful for organizing your question:
Questions addressing how a clinical issue, illness, or disability is treated.
"In__________________(P), how does__________________(I) compared to_________________(C) affect______________(O)?"
Questions that address the causes or origin of disease, the factors which produce or predispose toward a certain disease or disorder.
"Are_________________(P), who have_________________(I) compared with those without_________________(C) at_________________risk for/of_________________(O) over_________________(T)?"
Questions addressing the act or process of identifying or determining the nature and cause of a disease or injury through evaluation.
In_________________(P) are/is_________________(I) compared with_________________(C) more accurate in diagnosing_________________(O)?
Questions addressing the prediction of the course of a disease.
In_________________(P), how does_________________(I) compared to_________________ (C) influence_________________(O)?
Questions addressing how one experiences a phenomenon or why we need to approach practice differently.
"How do_________________(P) with_________________(I) perceive_________________(O)?"
Adapted from: Melnyk, B. M., & Fineout-Overholt, E. (2011). Evidence-based practice in nursing & healthcare: A guide to best practice. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
To craft a strong and reasonable PICO question, it is important to have a firm understanding of the concepts of interest. As such, it is often necessary to ask background questions, which ask for more general, foundational knowledge about a disorder, disease, patient population, policy issue, etc.
For example, consider the PICO question outlined above:
"For adolescents with type II diabetes does the use of telehealth consultations compared to in-person consultations improve blood sugar control?
To best make sense of the literature that might address this PICO question, you would also need a deep understanding of background questions like: