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How to search in the health sciences

To view this video in full screen:

  1. play the video
  2. click on the "cog" icon
  3. select "enter full screen"
  4. to exit full screen hit the escape (ESC) key

Turn an idea into a simple answerable question

  • 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:  There are many news reports of fatalities due to distracted driving.  You are wondering what is the risk of mortality due to cell phone use in distracted teen drivers as compared to adult drivers.  You decide to explore the evidence base.

Translates to this: What is the risk of mortality due to cell phone use in distracted teen drivers?

Tools to yelp 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 CoCoPop, PICO, and SPICE question frameworks (see table below) makes it easy to identify the concepts in those information needs.


CoCoPop is used to search for the prevalence or etiology of a condition, disease, problem or symptom.
  • Co = Condition - What is the disease or health issue you're studying? (Dementia)
  • Co = Context - Where and/or when are you studying this condition? (Canada)
  • Pop = Population - Who are you studying? (older adults seeking emergency care)
    • Question = What is the prevalence of dementia in older adults seeking emergency care in Canada?
PICO is used for clinical questions
  • P = population/problem - Who / What are you studying? (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?
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?


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.