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Research Guides

Translational Research Program

Library resources for students to find health, data/statistical and industry/market information

Turn your Research Question/ Problem Statement into a Searchable Question

A clearly-defined question will: 

  • focus your search so that it is more efficient and effective
  • make searching for evidence simpler as a well-formed question makes it easier to find and combine appropriate terms
  • help you identify relevant results and separate relevant results from irrelevant ones


Example of a vague question
Does psychotherapy work in patients with depression so they can resume normal daily activities?

Problems with this question:

  • Psychotherapy is a very broad term.  There are many (over 50) different types of psychotherapy treatments. Do you mean any and all of them?  Do you mean a specific type of therapy such as dance therapy or gestalt therapy?
  • What does "work" mean?  How will you determine if the therapy has worked?  When the patient no longer needs the therapy anymore?
  • Who are these patients?  Adults? Adolescents? Men? Women? Outpatients?
  • Depression is also a very broad term.  What type of depression - post partum?  All types of depression? 
  • What does normal daily activities really mean?  Return to work?  Engage in social situations? Take up a hobby?
  • What time frame are you looking at?  Therapy which last one year? Two years? Three months?


Example of a focused question
Does cognitive behaviour therapy in comparison to treatment-as-usual improve depressive symptoms in adult patients with major depressive disorder so they can return to work after three months of the treatment start time?


Some common ways to define and focus your question is to use concept mapping.

Another way to identify searchable components in your question: Concept Mapping


Some people find brainstorming techniques such as concept mapping more helpful.Breaking the question down into concepts and thinking of different ways of saying or describing each concept.

For example: I would like to explore the factors affecting compliance with a methadone maintenance program for my patients with heroin addiction issues. Why do so many patients drop out or refuse to be treated in the first place? 







Concept and synonyms


Heroin addiction



Methadone maintenance





Treatment refusal



Questionnaires OR

Focus groups


Search question becomes: What factors affect compliance in a methadone maintenance program for patients with heroin addiction issues?