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Medical Education Research Resources: Question Formulation

Provides information and resources related to medical educational research.


A research question should be: Characteristics of a good research question:
  • clear
  • focused
  • well-formulated
  • answerable
  • defined at the beginning of your systematic review.


A well-formulated question is one of the keys to a successful review and will assist with:

  • determining inclusion and exclusion criteria &
  • creating a search strategy.

Hulley, S. B., Cummings, S. R., & Browner, W. S. (2013). Designing clinical research.

PICO - used in evidence-based clinical practice; quantitative reviews

Additional letters (for PICOT, PICOS, PICOTS, PICOTTS)

  • Timeframe
  • Type of study
  • Setting

Haynes, R. B., Richardson, W. S., Rosenberg, W., & Sackett, D. L. (1997). Evidence based medicine: How to practice and teach EBM. New York: Churchill Livingstone.

SPIDER - useful for qualitative & mixed-methods research

Cooke, A., Smith, D., & Booth, A. (2012). Beyond PICO: the SPIDER tool for qualitative evidence synthesisQualitative health research22(10), 1435–1443.

PEO - useful for qualitative research questions

Moola, S., Munn, Z., Sears, K., Sfetcu, R., Currie, M., Lisy, K., Tufanaru, C., Qureshi, R., Mattis, P., Mu, P. & (2015). Conducting systematic reviews of association (etiology). International Journal of Evidence-Based Healthcare, 13 (3), 163-169.

SPICE- useful for qualitative research

Booth, A. (2006). Clear and present questions formulating questions for evidence based practiceLibrary Hi Tech24(3), 355–368.

PerSPECTiF - useful for qualitative research

Booth, A., Noyes, J., Flemming, K., Moore, G., Tunçalp, Ö., & Shakibazadeh, E. (2019). Formulating questions to explore complex interventions within qualitative evidence synthesisBMJ global health4(Suppl 1), e001107.

Further Reading

Methley, A. M., Campbell, S., Chew-Graham, C., McNally, R., & Cheraghi-Sohi, S. (2014). PICO, PICOS and SPIDER: A comparison study of specificity and sensitivity in three search tools for qualitative systematic reviews. BMC Health Services Research, 14(1), 579.