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Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis: Tips for Getting Started: Formulating the Question

This quick guide is a brief outline of steps to follow when creating a systematic review or a meta-analysis.

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Formulating the Question

Use the PICO format to help formulate the question:

   P   What is the Patient, Population, or Problem?

   I    What Interventions are being considered?

   C   What is the Comparison?

   O   What are the Outcomes of interest?

Determine: What study designs are appropriate to answer this question? (2, 4)

"PICO is basically a statement on the inclusion and exclusion criteria.  Too broad a question may result in an unmanageable number of studies to be included and analysed, and too narrow a question may yield no studies at all." (4)

See the LibGuide, Using PICO or PICOT: How to Formulate a Search Question at

2. Haase, S.  (2011).  Systematic Reviews and Meta-analysis.  Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 127(2), 955-966.  PMID: 21285802

4. Sambunjak, D., & Franic, M.  (2012).  Steps in the undertaking of a systematic review in orthopaedic surgery.  International Orthopaedics, 36(3), 477-84.

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