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Systematic Reviews - Research Guide

Defining Your Review Question

Defining your Review Question

Formulating your review question
The purpose of a systematic review is to answer a clear and focused clinical question. Translating a knowledge gap into an answerable and soundly constructed clinical question is an important skill.
The review question should be defined at the beginning your systematic review. A well formulated review question will help determine your inclusion and exclusion criteria, the creation of your search strategy, the collection of data and the presentation of your findings. A sound clinical question:

  • Allows you to find information quickly.
  • Allows you to find information that is relevant (applicable to the patient) and valid (accurately measures stated objectives).
  • Provides you with a checklist for the main concepts to be included in your search strategy.

The clinical question should always be:

  • Clear
  • Unambiguous
  • Structured

Review questions may be broad or narrow in focus.
It is important to formulate your research question with care so as to avoid missing relevant studies or collecting a potentially biased result set.

PICO or PICo are useful tools for defining clear, focused clinical questions and developing a review protocol. Before defining your question using PICO or PICo, you should check that your question has not already been the subject of a systematic review.

What if you want to change things later?
A protocol for a systematic review should only be modified if it becomes clear that there are alternative ways of defining your population, intervention, outcomes or study designs.