The first stage in a review is the development of the research question. The research question accurately and succinctly sums up the review's line of inquiry. This page outlines suggested approaches to developing a research question that can be used as the basis for a review.
The PICO/ PECO search framework is an adaptable approach to help you focus your research question, and guide you in developing search terms.
P:atient/ Population/ Problem
I/E:ntervention/ Indicator/ Exposure/ Event
For more detail, there are also the PICOT and PICOS additions:
PICOT - adds Time
PICOS - adds Study design
Current guidelines indicate that nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) should not be used as an intervention in young smokers. Counselling is generally the recommended best practice for young smokers, however youths who are at high risk for smoking often live in regional or remote communities with limited access to counselling services. You have been funded to review the evidence for the effectiveness of NRTs for smoking cessation in Australian youths in order to update the guidelines.
In (P) adolescent smokers, how does (I) nicotine replacement therapy compared with (C) counselling affect (O) smoking cessation rates?
|P (patient/population/problem)||Describe your patient, population or problem||adolescent smokers|
|Describe your intervention or indicator||Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT)|
|C (comparison/control)||What is your comparison or control?||counselling|
|O (outcome)||What outcome are you looking for?||smoking cessation / risk of continued nicotine dependency|
Other frameworks may be helpful, depending on your question.
Population, Phenomena of Interest, Context
Sample, Phenomenon of Interest, Design, Evaluation, Research type
Population, Exposure, Outcomes
Setting , Population or Perspective, Intervention, Comparison, Evaluation
Expectation, Client group, Location, Impact, Professionals, SErvice
Condition, Context, Population
Population, Prognostic Factors, Outcome
Population, Intervention, Comparator/s, Outomes, Context
The University of Notre Dame Australia provides information on some different frameworks available to help structure the research question.
Before you start searching, find out whether any systematic reviews have been conducted recently on your topic. If there is already a systematic review on your topic you will need to change your question. Similar systematic reviews can help with identifying your search terms, and information on your topic.
Watch this video to find out how to search for published systematic reviews
Get specific information on how to perform a review in your field of study by referring to guidelines.
Protocols are widely recommended as a basis for any systematic review as they provide a clear outline of what will and will not be included in the final review. It is recommended that authors consult relevant guidelines and create a protocol for their review.
Rapid reviews differ from systematic reviews in the shorter timeframe taken and reduced comprehensiveness of the search.
Cochrane has a methods group to inform the conduct of rapid reviews with a bibliography of relevant publications.
A modified approach to systematic review guidelines can be used for rapid reviews, but guidelines are beginning to appear:
Rapid Review Guidebook: Steps for conducting a rapid review National Collaborating Centre for Methods and Tools (McMaster University and Public Health Agency Canada) 2017
Tricco AC, Langlois EV, Straus SE, editors (2017) Rapid reviews to strengthen health policy and systems: a practical guide (World Health Organization) This guide is particularly aimed towards developing rapid reviews to inform health policy.
Crawford C, Boyd C, Jain S, Khorsan R and Jonas W (2015), Rapid Evidence Assessment of the Literature (REAL©): streamlining the systematic review process and creating utility for evidence-based health care. BMC Res Notes 8:631 DOI 10.1186/s13104-015-1604-z
Scoping reviews tend to have a broader focus than many other types of reviews, and can be used to map an area, or to determine the need for a subsequent systematic review.
Arksey H & O'Malley L (2005) Scoping studies: towards a methodological framework, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 8:1, 19-32, DOI: 10.1080/1364557032000119616
Colquhoun, H (2016) Current best practices for the conduct of scoping reviews (presentation)
Umbrella Reviews (reviews of reviews)
Qualitative systematic reviews
Dixon-Woods, M., Bonas, S., Booth, A., Jones, D. R., Miller, T., Sutton, A. J., . . . Young, B. (2006). How can systematic reviews incorporate qualitative research? A critical perspective. Qualitative Research,6(1), 27–44.
Thomas, J., & Harden, A. (2008). Methods for the thematic synthesis of qualitative research in systematic reviews. BMC Medical Research Methodology,8, 45–45.
Mixed Methods review
Pearson, A, White, H, Bath-Hextall, F, Salmond, S, Apostolo, J, & Kirkpatrick, P 2015, 'A mixed-methods approach to systematic reviews', International Journal of Evidence-Based Healthcare, vol. 13, no. 3, p. 121-131. Available from: 10.1097/XEB.0000000000000052
Dixon-Woods, M., Agarwal, S., Jones, D., Young, B., & Sutton, A. (2005). Synthesising qualitative and quantitative evidence: A review of possible methods. Journal of Health Services Research &Policy,10(1), 45–53.