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How to search in the Health Sciences: Build a Great Search Question

Question Frameworks

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 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

Neil John Maclean Health Sciences Library (University of Manitoba) --- ph. 204-789-3342 |