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Library Services for International Learners at UHN: Developing a Searchable Question

This guide will provide information on resources of relevance to international learners and provide an overview of evidence-based search techniques

First you need a searchable question

When you are looking for evidence about a treatment or a diagnostic test, PICO generally works well for helping you come up with an answerable, searchable question. 

P - Person/Patient/Population/Problem

I   - Intervention (test or treatment)

C - Comparison (usually want to compare to the "gold standard")

O - Outcome

You don't need to have something to put under all four letters; this is just to get you organized. 

If your question doesn't fit well into the PICO structure you can write your question out as a single sentence, and then find the "key concepts".  For instance:

Why do patients choose to go to the Emergency Room for non-urgent concerns?

Why do patients choose to go to the Emergency Room for non-urgent concerns?

The words and phrases in your PICO, or the "key concepts" from your research question, and synonyms for each, are what you will type into the search box in the database(s). 

Below you will find links with more information about using PICO and PICO worksheets.

Searching when it's not like Google

If you are using an electronic textbook (Best Practice, UpToDate etc.), you can generally treat the search option like Google. Typing in less information and sticking only to the disease or drug is usually best. But if you are using one of the databases (PsycINFO, MEDLINE, etc.), searching as if you are Googling is unlikely to provide you with the best results.

If you are unsure about how to best use these resources please do not hesitate to contact your Librarian/Information Specialist- we are more than happy to work with you as you improve your search skills.

Here are some places where you can find tips for searching databases: