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Systematic Reviews

This guide is intended for students, research assistants and faculty who are planning to undertake a systematic review, or who are interested in applying systematic research methods to a current project.

Step 1: Identify Your Research Question

Identifying and framing your research question is the first step to any research project. It is widely recommended that researchers use a strategy such as the Population/problem, Intervention/exposure, Comparison, and Outcome (PICO) approach when constructing your research question  The Cochrane Collaboration describes the PICO method as widely accepted strategy for developing research questions and their corresponding search strategies. 

For example, if you were interested in determining whether the presence of hand-washing stations in hospitals resulted in fewer in-hospital infections for emergency room visitors, your PICO strategy could look like the following:

Population/Problem: Emergency Room visitors

Intervention/Exposure: Hand-washing station

*Comparison: Emergency rooms with and without hand-washing stations

Outcome: Number of in-hospital infections

*Time (T): period of 12 months

*You may not always have a comparison, or a time period

The resulting research question could be In emergency room visitors, do hand sanitizing stations result in fewer in-hospital infections when compared with no hand sanitizing stations over a year-long period?

In addition to PICO, there are other models which may be more appropriate to use to develop your research strategy, including SPICE, ECLIPSE and SPIDER.  For more information on alternative tools for developing your research question, please read the following article:

Cooke, A., Smith, D., & Booth, A. (2012). Beyond PICO: The SPIDER tool for qualitative evidence synthesis. Qualitative Health Research, 22(10), 1435-1443. doi:10.1177/1049732312452938