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NURP 410: Research Methods: The PICO Model

This course guide is designed to support the 2SN students in NURS 410 and covers Library resources and tools, effective search strategies and examples of scholarly research formats.

What's on this page?

This page includes definitions for the PICO Model (Patient/Problem, Intervention, Comparison and Outcome) and provides tips on searching for research and reading abstracts effectively.

The PICO Model

PICO is a useful way of formulating clinical research questions and a well-built question or problem should include the four components of the model: Patient/Problem, Intervention, Comparison and Outcome

PICO Linguist is a tool from the NLM that lets you search for research with terms that incorporate the PICO model. Using it, you can limit your search results to certain types of studies (clinical trials, randomized controlled trials, etc.) or to practice guidelines. 


Patient/Problem   Describe the patient.  Important descriptors might include: age and gender.  Then describe the problem the patient is experiencing.  For example, you might say, "A four-year-old boy with asthma"
Intervention Describe the treatment you are considering for the patient.  This may be a drug, such as "theophylline" for the child with asthma
Comparison Ask yourself what main alternative therapy exists for the problem.  Example: "inhaled glucocorticosteroids"
Outcome Ask yourself what result you want to see because of the therapy.  Example: "decreased hospitalizations and school abscences"

Review Articles

Review articles summarize the current state of research on a subject by organizing, synthesizing, and critically evaluating the relevant literature. They tell what is currently known about an area under study and place what is known in context. This allows the researcher to see how their particular study fits into a larger picture.

Review articles are NOT original research articles. Instead, they are a summary of many other original research articles. When your teacher tells you to obtain an "original research article"or to use a primary source, do not use an article that says review.

Review articles may include a bibliography that will lead you back to the primary research reported in the article.

Research Articles

A research article describes an original study that the author(s) conducted themselves.

It will include a brief literature review, but the main focus of the article is to describe the theoretical approach, methods, and results of the authors' own study.

Look at the abstract or full text of the journal article and look for the following:

  • Was data collected?
  • Were there surveys, questionnaires, interviews, interventions (as in a clinical trial)?
  • Is there a population?
  • Is there an outline of the methodology used?
  • Are there findings or results?
  • Are there conclusions and a discussion of the significance?

Research articles use a standard format to clearly communicate information about an experiment. A research article usually has 7 major sections:

  • Title
  • Abstract
  • Introduction/Objective
  • Method
  • Results
  • Discussion/Conclusion

A research article has a hypothesis, a method for testing the hypothesis, a population on which the hypothesis was tested, results or findings, and a discussion or conclusion.

Search Tips: Limiting Your Search

See the Database Search Tips page in this guide to identify the best places to search for the articles that you need.  Search more effectively and efficiently by using the tools and limiters that are part of each database, including these:  

Publication Date:  When doing research for EBM, you usually limit your search to articles from the last 3-5 years.


Publication Type: Limit your search to certain kinds of articles or research.  Other options besides those shown here include comparative studies, systematic reviews, and randomized controlled trials.


Reviews:  These present authors' findings after they have reviewed multiple previously-published research articles and can provide valuable information about trends in a field.  


Age Groups:  Limit by patient characteristics including age and sex. 

Use the Abstract