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Evidence Synthesis and Systematic Reviews

This guide will help you get started with your next evidence synthesis review

Question Framework

Defining the research question

The research question is the basis upon which the review is conducted.  If the research question isn’t designed correctly, or cannot be answered, it will need to be revised or altered.  The research question guides the review type.

What are question frameworks?

Framework questions allow you to structure your research question to answer your question.  They are the foundation upon which reviews are built and is one of the earliest steps as well as the most important.

A well designed question will:

  • Frame your entire research process
  • Determine the scope and rationale of the review
  • Focus the search and identify key concepts
  • Guide the selection of your papers (screening)

The most common frameworks are listed below. For a more comprehensive list of framework question examples, please visit the University of Maryland (UMD) Research Guide on Systematic Reviews page below.

UMD Research Guide - Framing a Research Question

Framework Examples

  • Definition 
      • The PICO question framework is used for clinical and healthcare related questions.  This structure is meant for quantitative studies but isn’t exclusive to this type either.
  • Elements 
      • P - Population
      • I - Intervention
      • C - Comparison
      • O - Outcome
  • Example question 
      • In patients with type 2 diabetes (P), does regular exercise (I) compared to dietary changes alone (C) result in better glycemic control (O)?
        • P - patients with type 2 diabetes
        • I - regular exercise
        • C - dietary changes
        • O - better glycemic control

Variant frameworks for PICO:

  • PEO = Population, Exposure, Outcome
  • PECOT = Population, Exposure, Comparison, Outcome, Timeframe
  • PECODR = Population, Exposure, Comparison, Outcome, Duration, Results

  • Definition 
      • The SPIDER question framework is used for qualitative or mixed methods research topics.
  • Elements 
      • S - Sample
      • PI - Phenomenon of Interest
      • D - Design
      • E - Evaluation
      • R - Research Type
  • Example question 
      • What are the experiences of healthcare workers (S) in managing stress (PI) during the COVID-19 pandemic?
        • S - Healthcare workers (nurses, doctors, and other frontline staff) working in hospitals and clinics during the COVID-19 pandemic.
        • PI - Various stress management strategies implemented during the pandemic
        • D - Semi-structured interviews or focus group discussions
        • E - Thematic analysis of interview transcripts to identify recurring themes
        • R: Qualitative Data
  • Definition 
      • The SPICE question framework is useful for qualitative research topics evaluating the outcomes of a service, project, or intervention and mixed method types as well.
  • Elements 
      • S - Setting
      • P - Perspective
      • I - Interest
      • C - Comparison
      • E - Evaluation
  • Example question 
      • What is the prevalence of smartphone addiction(I) among adolescents(P) in urban areas(S) compared to rural areas(C)
        • S - Urban Areas
        • P - Adolescents
        • I - Assessment of smartphone addiction using standardized scales
        • C - Comparison of smartphone addiction prevalence rates between urban and rural adolescent populations.
        • E - Quantitative analysis of survey data collected from a representative sample of urban adolescents
  • Definition 
      • Useful for qualitative and quantitative (mixed methods) topics, and is commonly used in scoping reviews.
  • Elements 
      • P - Population
      • C - Concept
      • C - Context
  • Example question 
      • What are the experiences of first-generation college students (P) in accessing and navigating mental health services on campus (C)?
        • P - First-generation college students (FGCS)
        • C - The challenges and facilitators encountered by FGCS when seeking mental health support services at their university or college.
        • C - A qualitative exploration conducted at a college or university campus