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KP Bibliotek

Assignment skills

Systematic literature search within the health professions

To guide you to relevant databases for literature search within the different subject areas we have divided them into topics on the library's website.


During the research process it is useful to use one of the frameworks below for developing a searchable and answerable research question. 


The PICO form is used for quantitative research questions. Each letter in the PICO form represents a specific aspect of a health professional issue.

P Population, Patient, Problem

Who are the users, patients or community affected? What are their symptoms, age, gender etc.

I Intervention

What is being done for patients/population e.g., screening, surgery, rehabilitation, services etc.

C Comparison Is there a comparison? e.g. different treatment options, placebos etc.
O Outcome What do you hope to achieve? What changes or measures for patient/population?

Refence:  Richardson, W.S., Wilson, M.C., Nishikawa, J. & Hayward, R.S. 1995, "The well-built clinical question: a key to evidence-based decisions", ACP Journal Club, vol. 123, no. 3, pp. A12-3.


Research question:
What effect does patient education have on the quality of life of patients with type 2 diabetes?
P Population, Patient, Problem

“Patients with type 2 diabetes” OR “diabetic patient*” OR “diabetes melitus”

I Intervention

“Patient education” OR “diabetes education”

C Comparison ”no education”
O Outcome ”quality of life”


PICo is a variant of the PICO form.  The PICo form is useful for qualitative research questions, where you want to find literature on a particular concept (phenomenon) in a particular context.

P Patient, Population, Problem

What are the characteristics of the patient or population? What is the condition or disease you are interested in?

I Interest

What are the phenomena of interest? A defined event, activity, experience, or process?

Co Context What is the setting or distinct characteristics?

Reference: Joanna Briggs Institute 2011, Joanna Briggs Institute Reviewers' Manual 2011, The University of Adelaide, South Australia.


Research question:
What considerations do nurses make about touching in the daily care of inpatients?
P Patient, Population, Problem

Nurse* OR “nursing staff”

I Interest

Touching OR “physical contact”

Co Context Hospitalization OR hospitalized OR inpatient*

Search protocols

A search protocol structures the search process and gather the results of the literature search.

It is important that you document your search(es) so they in principle are reproducible and explicitly reflect your search in the various databases.

The detail in which you can register your search is dependent on the source you search in.  As a minimum, the documentation must include:

  • Which databases you have searched
  • The date you performed the searches
  • The search terms - and how you combined and applied them (Boolean logic, truncation, delimitation of search fields, etc.)
  • Delimitation by language, year of publication, etc.,)
  • The search result (number of references)