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Nursing & Medical Research Guide

Library and other information resources for nursing, WWAMI, and health sciences students and faculty

What are PICO(T) questions?

Foreground (PICO) Questions

Using a structured question frame can help you clearly define the concepts or variables that make up the specific research question.  PICO(T) is the most common question frame used in health sciences research, where the question is composed of the following:

  • Population/Problem/Patient
    • What is the problem to be addressed? What are the characteristics of the patient population, or disease of interest?  
    • Think of this element as the dependent variable
  • Intervention
    • What is the relevant treatment or exposure? What action or change would affect the patient/problem/population?
    • Think of this element as the independent variable
  • Comparison
    • What is the alternative to the intervention? (A different intervention? The usual standard of care? Not intervening at all?)
    • Think of this element like a "control group"
  • Outcome 
    • What are the relevant effects? 
    • Think of this element as what is measured to show what the intervention has accomplished or improved
  • Timeframe or Type of Study (Optional)
    • Think of this element as additional, optional constraints to narrow the question
      • In what time frame should the intervention achieve the outcome?
      • What type of study would best address the PICO question?

{Borrowed from the NYU LIbraries. For more information on PICOT questions, visit the NYU Library website:}