Skip to Main Content

Public Health 112 (Burke)

Research Methods Public Health

Research Frameworks



How to use PICO to refine your research question from the Medical College of Wisconsin Libraries (1:43).

ACTION: Keeping PICO in mind, add your main concepts to this Google Spreadsheet

As you consider the scope of your research, think about how you will define these concepts:

  • Population / Problem: who are you screening? Why?
  • Intervention: what are you evaluating? e.g., a treatment, an intervention, etc.
  • Comparison: are you comparing this group to another group, e.g. a placebo group?
  • Outcome: what are the outcomes? Is there a specific one you are looking at?

PICO Variations

  • PEO: Exposure
  • PICOT: Timeframe 
  • PICOTS: Timeframe, Setting
  • PICOS: Study Design, e.g. cohorts or randomized controlled trials.

(From Lackey, M. (2013). Systematic reviews: Searching the literature [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from

In adults, is screening for depression and feedback of results to providers more effective than no screening and feedback in improving outcomes of major depression in primary care settings?

  • Population / Problem: adults / depression (major)
  • Intervention: screening, feedback
  • Comparison: none
  • Outcome: no particular outcomes specified

(From Lackey, M. (2013). Systematic reviews: Searching the literature [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from

Brainstorming Search Terms

How does the impact of participation in extracurricular activities impact undergraduate student success?

Independent Variable: extracurricular activity participation

Defined by: participation in sports/ student government/ clubs & orgs; participation in academic-type activities vs. participation in sports-like activities

Dependent Variable: student success

Defined by: GPA, grades, pass/fall rates, graduation rates, class ranking 

Brainstorming search terms? Ask, who, what, when, where, why & how?

Conducting a few test searches in library databases can help you locate the best search terms for your topic. When conducting a test search, look for additional terms in the article's:

  • title
  • abstract
  • article headings
  • author or database supplied keywords
  • subject headings (if available) 

Not sure what terminology is used by researchers to articulate the concepts related to your topic? Doing some background reading can help you become familiar with the terms used to discuss your topic. 

Books and encyclopedias are great resources for locating a more general overview of a a topic.