Step 1: Analyse Your Question

You need to identify what information you need  - think about the question you are asking, what do you need to know?


Identify Your QuestionLearn how to breakdown your question to help to identify the information you need

Using PICOYou can use the PICO tool to help you to identify the information you need


Literature Search Plan (361KB) - this guide will help you to develop a literature search strategy by considering the key concepts and scope of your topic.

Literature searching overview and action plan (127KB) - introducing the 9 steps to successful literature searching and helping you to plan your own search

Use these tools to help you to identify your question and complete your literature search more effectively; complete the relevant worksheet to help you to breakdown your question:

MeSH on Demand - tool from Pubmed to help you to generate Medical Subject Headings (or thesaurus terms) from your queries.

Pubmed Search Strategies Blog - suggests keywords, Mesh terms and combinations to use in searches on Pubmed for a wide range of conditions and patient groups.

Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (CRD) Systematic Reviews: CRD’s guidance for undertaking reviews in health care - overview of systematic review methods, includes a section on documenting the search process.

Prisma Statement - Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analysis, consists of a 27 item check list and 4-phase flow diagram indicating how to report a systematic review.


For a summary of how to analyse your question take a look at the sections below:

Subject - what is the main subject, topic or theme of your question?

Aspect - what features, characteristics or points are you being asked to cover?

Restrictions - what is the word count? Are you being asked to be brief or concise?

Instructions - are you given any other specific instructions, for example to explain, argue, summarise, compare, describe?

More helpYou can find more help about using the SARI tool in Students Must Write (Barrass, 2004), Chapter 4: Answering questions in coursework.


Who is the patient or what type of patient population are you interested in?

  • what are the characteristics of the patient(s)? Example: age, gender, social class, disability
  • what is their medical condition or what condition do they suffer from?


What is the intervention that you are interested in?

  • what treatment are you investigating?
  • what change in practice are you looking at?


What is the comparison treatment that you want to compare your intervention against?

  • is there a standard treatment / practice to compare against?
  • are you comparing against no treatment?


What outcomes are you interested in?

  • what changes are you looking to see in your patients? Example: improvement in condition, reduction in pain, improvement in mobility, increased quality of life

More help

Use our Literature Search Plan to help you to think about PICO.

See the section "Formulate an answerable question" in the Evidence-Based Practice Workbook.