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Searching systematically: ASK

How to search systematically, from developing a good research question to managing your search results

A focused, answerable question

Is your question quantitative or qualitative? Different frameworks can help you define your question

Is it about epidemiologiy? diagnosis? therapy? prognosis/ screening/ treatment benefits? treatment harms? cost effectiveness? Knowing what type of question you want to answer will help you determine what type of research studies you will include in your literature review.

Your chosen framework can also be used to develop your inclusion/exclusion criteria and organise your search terms (see search planning form in "Documenting your search" tab above)


Ø Patient/Population/Problem: What are the patient's demographics? For example the patient's age, gender or ethnicity?  Or what type of problem is it? For example a disease, a medical condition?

Ø Intervention/Exposure: What type of intervention is being considered? For example : type of medication, exercise program or rest? Or is it an exposure, for example : domestic violence, disease or disorder?

Ø Comparison (this part can be left out if no comparisons are being made): are you comparing the intervention/exposure to an other treatmen/exposure? Can it be treatment as normal or placebo or another specific intervention?

Ø Outcomes: What is the desired effect? you would like to see? What effects are not wanted? Are there any side effects involved 

Ø Study types: What study types will you include in your review? All types? Observational ? Trials ? Systematic reviews?

Not all parts of the PICO have to be used, Alternative frameworks include PEOS (population/exposure/outcomes/study types), PICOCS (Population/Intervention/Comparison/Context/Study types) or PEOCS (Population/Exposure/Outcomes/Context/Study types)




The SPIDER framework, is designed using the PICO tool as a starting point and has been created to develop effective search strategies for qualitative and mixed-methods research.

Ø Sample (S): What are the patient's demographics eg age, gender and ethnicity?  Or what type of problem is it?

Ø Phenomenon of Interest (PI):  The how and why of certain behaviours, decisions, and individual experiences

Ø Design (D) What is the study design?

Ø Evaluation (E): What would be the desired effect you would like to see? What effects are not wanted? Attitudes and views?

Ø Research types: What study types will you include in your review? qualitative, quantitative, mixed methods?





CLIP OR ECLIPSE are usually used for topics relating to health management, policies and economics. 


Client – who is the service aimed at?
Location – where is the service located?
Improvement – what do you want to find out?
Professional – who is involved in providing/improving the service?



Expectation - what is the information needed for?
Client Group -who is the information needed for e.g. health managers, GPs, patients
Location - where is the client group or service located?
Impact - what change in the service, if any, is being looked for? What would constitute success? How is this being measured?
Professionals - what health professionals are involved in the service?
Service - for which service are you looking for information? For example, outpatient services, nurse-led clinics, intermediate care.

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