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Speech and Hearing Sciences: Formulate Your Question

What is a research question ?

A good research question should be clear, concise, specific and arguable, and forms the basis of your research, for example  “What are the fluid requirements specific to young athletes?”

A useful technique employed in the formulation of clinical questions is the PICO Model - using PICO, a clinical question is divided into 3 or 4 elements - Patient, Intervention, Comparison* and Outcome.

* when applicable

The more specific the question, the easier it is to refine your search.
Use the PICO model to define your question

Inclusion/exclusion criteria

Defining your inclusion and exclusion criteria in advance is as important as defining your question and are determined by your research question. 

These criteria determine which ‘subjects’ (studies) will be included in or excluded from the review and provide a safeguard against subjective selection bias by the reviewers.

Inclusion/exclusion criteria usually include:

  • Outcome measure - (If you are looking for studies that report the results of a certain test, any study that doesn't report such results is then excluded from your review)
  • Population - e.g. age/gender/ethnicity/co-morbidities and related conditions, etc.
  • Publication type/date
  • Geographical location
  • Language

See:  Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions, Chapter 5:  Defining the review question and developing criteria for including studies

PICO explained


See the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions (2011,Sections 5.2-5.6) for more details about factors to be considered when developing criteria for your PICO elements.

Where to check for existing systematic reviews:

Finding systematic reviews

Before beginning a systematic review, it is advisable to check whether another research group may be working on a similar review.