Skip to Main Content Home Ask a Librarian

Knowledge Synthesis

This guide includes content about systematic reviews, including general information and information about librarian assistance

The PICO format is suggested for systematic reviews, but not required.

What is the PICO format?

PICO is a format for developing a good clinical research question prior to starting one’s research. The PICO process starts with a case scenario from which a question is constructed that is relevant to the case and is phrased in such a way as to facilitate finding an answer. Once a well-structured question is formulated, researchers will be in a better position to search the literature for evidence that will support their original PICO question.

Part of the Acronym Explanation Example
P or Population Who are the relevant patients or the target audience for the problem being addressed? Adults (people over the age of 18)
I or Intervention What intervention is being considered? Interactive social media, such as blogs and microblogs (e.g. Twitter), content communities (e.g. Youtube), virtual social networks (e.g. Facebook), and webpages and wiki
C or Comparator What is the main comparator to the intervention that you want to assess? Non-interactive social media programs
O or Outcome What are the consequences of the interventions for the patient? Or what are the main outcomes of interest to the patient or decision maker? Health behaviors, health, mental health, well-being, and whether people reported unwanted effects

Other frameworks

Question type Framework
Etiology/ Risk/ Benefit PEO: Population, Exposure(s), Outcomes
Prevalence/ Incidence PCS: Population, Condition, Setting or context
Diagnostic Test Accuracy PIRD: Population, Index Test, Reference Test, Diagnosis of
Psychometric PTM: Population, Type of measurement instrument,
Measurement properties

Read more

For further reading about determining the scope of the review and the questions it will address, click on this link Chapter 2 of the Cochrane Handbook.

For further reading that goes into detail about articulating the review and PICO, check out the Cochrane Handbook Chapter 3, Section 2.



The PICO is based off :

Petkovic, J., Duench, S., Trawin, J., Dewidar, O., Pardo Pardo, J., Simeon, R., DesMeules, M., Gagnon, D., Hatcher Roberts, J., Hossain, A., Pottie, K., Rader, T., Tugwell, P., Yoganathan, M., Presseau, J., & Welch, V. (2021). Behavioural interventions delivered through interactive social media for health behaviour change, health outcomes, and health equity in the adult population. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews5(5), CD012932.

The definition of PICO was taken from:

Jensen, K. (2018, January 9). Seven Steps to the Perfect PICO Search. Health Notes