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Searching the Literature: A Guide for Nurses : Step 2: Formulate a Question

At UTC, DNP students formulate research questions based upon the PICOT format. This method is used to aid you in identifying concept areas on which to focus during your search.

What is PICOT?

PICOT is a tool for distilling the essential components of a research topic into concepts. Finding relevant medical information is often easier if you break down your research topic by developing a PICOT question. PICOT is an acronym for:

Patient / Population / Problem

How would you describe this group of patients similar to yours? What are the most important characteristics of the patient(s)? What sorts of participants, from where, with what features?

Issue / Intervention

Which is the main prognostic factor, intervention, treatment, or exposure you are considering? What do you want to do for the patient? What other factors can influence the prognosis?


What is the main alternative to compare with the intervention? At times your question may not have a comparison!


What are you aiming to accomplish, measure, improve, make an impact on? Are you trying to eliminate or relieve symptoms? Reduce the number or severity of adverse effects? Improve functions?


What is the duration or timeframe that you are looking to examine?

EXAMPLE PICOT: Does hand washing (I), compared to not washing hands (C), among healthcare workers (P) reduce hospital acquired infections (O) over the course of a summer (T)?
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