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HSC406H5: Advanced Written Communications for Health Care

Search Frameworks

Before you start your literature search, you need to turn your research question into a searchable question.

Two commonly used frameworks to do this are PICO and Concept Boxes.


The PICO Framework can be used to structure and refine your research question as well as your search strategy. An additional component, M = methods, can be used as a filter if you would like to focus on studies that use a particular study methodology. You can also add a T = time to incorporate at timeline into your search.

This table is modified from Sarah Young's A research guide for the Cornell Dietetic Internship Program: Evidence-based Medicine.

Concept Boxes

Concept boxes are a way to break your research question into individual search concepts. 

 1. Write out the question you would like to answer in your literature search.

 2. Underline the main terms/concepts in the statements you wrote for steps 1 and 2.

 3. Create a concept box by listing each unique topic in a separate row and related terms/synonyms in the adjacent column.