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Systematic and systematic-like review toolkit

Toolkit of resources to support researchers in the development of systematic and systematic-like reviews

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.

1.1 Search frameworks

Systematic ReviewIntegrative ReviewRapid Review

The PICO/ PECO search framework is an adaptable approach to help you focus your research question, and guide you in developing search terms.

PPatient/ Population/ Problem

I/E: Intervention/ Indicator/ Exposure/ Event

C: Comparison/ Control

O: Outcome

For more detail, there are also the PICOT and PICOS additions:

PICOT  - adds Time 

PICOS - adds Study design 


For example;

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?

 PICO element   Definition Scenario
 P (patient/population/problem) Describe your patient, population or problem adolescent smokers

 I (intervention/indicator)

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.

  • Structuring qualitative questions? Try PIC or SPIDER:

Population, Phenomena of Interest, Context

Sample, Phenomenon of Interest, Design, Evaluation, Research type  

  • Question about aetiology or risk?  Try PEO

Population, Exposure, Outcomes

  • Evaluating an intervention, policy or service?  Try SPICE:

Setting , Population or Perspective, Intervention, Comparison, Evaluation

  • Investigating the outcome of a service or policy?  Try ECLIPSE:

Expectation, Client group, Location, Impact, Professionals, SErvice 

  • Working out prevalence or incidence?  Try CoCoPop:

Condition, Context, Population

  • Determining prognosis? Try PFO:

Population, Prognostic Factors, Outcome

  • Conducting an economic evaluation?  Try PICOC:

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.  

1.2 Search for existing reviews

Systematic ReviewIntegrative ReviewRapid Review

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.

Cochrane Library and Joanna Briggs Institute publish systematic reviews and you can also search in any of the subject databases for the term "systematic review".

Watch this video to find out how to search for published systematic reviews

1.3 Guidelines and protocols for 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.