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Forming Research Questions

Resources and information on how to form clear, focused, and answerable questions for research

PICOT for Quantitative Questions

PICO(T) can be used for asking health related research questions that are clear, focused and searchable. It is often used form a clinical research question. Frameworks like PICO(T) help identify the main concepts of a question.

  • P - Patient, population or problem
  • I  - Aspect of health care that is of interest in investigating. Can also be Exposure or prognostic factor
  • C - What you are comparing the Intervention to. Elements of comparison or Control (no action).
  • O - What you expect to see by using the intervention (There can be multiple outcomes to one question).
  • T - Time frame focuses on the period of time over which the question occurs 
You may not have an "C" or a "T" factor as part of your PICOT question. But you should always be able to define the P, I and the O.



Clinical Scenario

You are a nurse working in a hospital. You often work with patients undergoing major surgery. You notice that your patients experience a lot of anxiety before surgery. You have tried strategies to help ease your patient's anxiety. You recently read a study about how music can help alleviate anxiety. You wonder if this strategy might also help your pre-surgical patients. 


  • P – preoperative patient
  • I – music
  • C – (no C)
  • O – reduction in anxiety
  • T - (no T)

PICOT Question: For preoperative patients (P), does listening to music (I) have an effect on reported anxiety (O)

Additions to PICO frameworks

  • PECO - where E stands for Exposure or Event
  • PICOT - where T stands from Time
  • PICOS- where S stands for Study design


Stillwell et al., Asking the clinical question: A key step in EBP.  2010; Cullum et al., 2008.

Walker, J. C., & McNaughton, A. (2018). Does listening to music preoperatively reduce anxiety? An evidence-based practice process for novice researchers. British Journal of Nursing27(21), 1250–1254.

PICOT Activity

Instructions - Identify the PICOT Concepts for each question. Check your answers using "PICOT Activity Answers."

  1. In emergency room visitors, do hand sanitizing stations result in fewer in-hospital infections when compared with no hand sanitizing stations?
  2. “In adult females over 60 with osteoporosis, how do Vitamin D supplements compare with natural sunlight in affect on calcium absorption?”  
  3. “In adults ages 65 and older, how does the use of an influenza vaccine compared to not receiving the vaccine influence their risk of developing pneumonia during the flu season?” (Stillwell et al., 2010).
  4. In school-age children what is the effect of a school-based physical activity program on a reduction in the incidence of childhood obesity compared with no intervention?
  5. What are the experiences of obese women with regards to stigma in healthcare?