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College of Rehabilitation Sciences: Build a Great Search Question

Guide for OT, PT, RT, and MSc Rehab


  • It is important to make general ideas and topics into concise questions before you begin your search
  • This helps keep you focused on your precise topic when searching and not be distracted by non-important elements
  • Your question should have between 2-3 main concepts, any more than that you should consider creating two or more questions. It is possible to have 4 concepts on occasion.
  • Identify the major concepts and put them into a concise answerable question


This:  A 32 year old female, Sylvia Smart, works at the university in the office in human resources. Sylvia is active and likes to play ultimate frisbee. She has been playing for 10 years and is on a competitive team that tours and goes to tournaments. For the past 5 years Sylvia has developed some back issues and experiences chronic pain in lower back. She has been doing some core strengthening exercises to help with pain and takes ibuprofen before games. She has come to see you about using Kinesio tape for her back and how to apply it. You are experienced in using this tape but wonder about it effectiveness for back pain so to you decided to consult the literature to see if there is strong evidence to support its use.

Translates to this: Is Kinesio tape effective in relieving discomfort from low back pain during athletics?

Tools to Help You Create a Question

  • Information needs are often complex and hard to decipher, creating a concise question that reflects that information need makes searching for information easier
  • Identifying the concepts in the information need makes it easier to create a question
  • The PICO, SPIDER, SPICE, ECLIPSE tools (see table below) makes it easy to identify the concepts in those information needs


PICO is used for clinical questions:
  • P - population/problem (low back pain)
  • I = intervention (kinesio tape)
  • C = comparison (ibuprofen)
  • O = outcome (pain relief during athletic events)
    • Question = Is kinesio tape more effective than ibuprofen in relieving back pain during athletic events?
SPIDER is used for qualitative/mixed method questions
  • S = sample (wheelchair users)
  • PI= phenomenon of interest (class on using wheelchairs outdoors in winter) 
  • D = design (survey)
  • E = evaluation (experience)
  • R = research design (qualitative)
    • Are surveys effective in finding out if wheelchair users satisfied with classes on how to use a wheelchair in winter conditions?
SPICE is used for project or intervention evaluation
  • S = setting (outpatient clinics)
  • P = perspective/population (people with elevated cholesterol)
  • I = intervention (cholesterol education class)
  • C = comparison (no class)
  • E = evaluation (lower cholesterol following class)
    • Question = Do people who take classes on how lower cholesterol in an outpatient setting see their cholesterol level go down more than those who do not take the class?
ECLIPSE is used for evaluating policy or services
  • E = expectation (improved feedback on student progress)
  • C = client group (allied health students)
  • L = location (university)
  • I = impact (improved student satisfaction)
  • P = professionals (educators, instructors, school administrators)
  • SE = service (test and essay scores must be returned within 14 days)
    • Question = Are allied health students who receive test and essay scores within 14 days of submission more confident of their progress in their education?


The design of this page was gathered from and inspired by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Database Search Tips LibGuide.

The content of the page was inspired by the Notre Dame University of Australia "Evidence-Based Practice: What type of question" page