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Guide to Evidence Based Practice: Forming Questions

About This Page

Question development is an integral part of an effective search. On this page, you'll find information on the different types of questions you might ask, along with templates and tools for question formation.

A good question...

  • Focuses your information needs
  • Identifies key search concepts
  • Points you in the direction of potential resources

Background Questions

These questions are general in nature and provide foundational information on a single concept. Background questions cover:

  • Terminology
  • General Pathology
  • Patient Education Resources
  • General Drug Information
  • Examination / Assessment Procedures


What is the pathology of asthma?

What drugs are used to treat hypertension?

How do I perform a psychological assessment?

What education resources exist for patients with gestational diabetes?

How is hepatitis B diagnosed?

What does a normal heartbeat sound like?


Foreground Questions

These questions bring together multiple concepts related to a specific clinical situation or research topic. They are typically divided into two categories:

  1. Qualitative Questions aim to discover meaning or gain an understanding of a phenomenon. They ask about an individual's or population's experience of certain situations or circumstances.
  2. Quantitative Questions aim to discover cause and effect relationships by comparing two or more individuals or groups based on differing outcomes associated with exposures or interventions.

These questions are best answered using the resources found in the 6S Pyramid page of this guide.

Forming Foreground Questions

Building an effective foreground question can be challenging. The following models will help:

Qualitative Questions: The PS Model

P - Patient / Population

- Situation

How do / does ____[P]____ experience ____[S]____?

Example: How do caregivers / spouses of Alzheimer patients experience placing their spouse in a nursing home?

Quantitative Questions: The PICO(T) Model

A quantitative approach can answer many different types of questions, but all can be formatted by following the PICO(T) Model outlined below: 







  P- Population / Disease

 Characteristics of a population (age, gender, ethnicity, etc.) with a specific condition or set of circumstances.     
 Ex. African-American males with type 2 diabetes.

  I/E – Intervention OR 

 Specific drug or   procedural intervention

 Exposure to certain   conditions or risk   behavior

 Specific   diagnostic tool   or procedure

 Specific drug or   procedural intervention

 Specific drug or   procedural   intervention

  C – Comparator

 Alternative drug or   procedural intervention

 Absence of certain   conditions or risk   behavior

 Alternative   diagnostic tool   or procedure

 Alternative drug or   procedural intervention

 Alterative drug or   procedural   intervention

  O – Outcome

 Management of   disease / condition

 Development of   disease / condition

 Effective   diagnosis of   condition

 Prevention of   disease / condition

 Occurrence or   absence of new   condition

  T – Time Frame

 The time it takes to demonstrate an outcome OR the period in which patients are observed.        
 Ex. The six months following childbirth.

PICO(T) Templates


In ____[P]____, do / does ____[I]____ result in ____[O]____ when compared with ____[C]____ over ____[T]____?

Example) In nursing home residents with osteoporosis, do hip protectors result in fewer injuries from slips, trips, and falls when compared with standard osteoporosis drug therapy over the course of their stay?


Are ____[P]____ with ____[I]____ over ____[T]____ more likely to ____[O]____ when compared with ____[C]____?

Example: Are female non-smokers with daily exposure to second-hand smoke over a period of ten years or greater more likely to develop breast cancer when compared with female non-smokers without daily exposure to second-hand smoke?


Is / are ____[I]____ performed on ____[P]____ more effective than ____[C]____ over ____[T]____ in ____[O]____?

Example: Are self-reporting interviews and parent reports performed on children aged 5-10 more effective than parent reports alone over a four-week consultation process in diagnosing depression?


In ____[P]____, do / does ____[I]____ result in ____[O]____ when compared with ____[C]____ over ____[T]____?

Example: In emergency room visitors, do hand sanitizing stations result in fewer in-hospital infections when compared with no hand sanitizing stations over a year-long pilot period?


Do / does ____[I]____ performed on ____[P]____ lead to ____[O]____ over ____[T]____ compared with ____[C]____?

Example: Do regular text message reminders performed on patients recently diagnosed with diabetes lead to a lower occurrence of forgotten insulin doses over the first six months of treatment compared with no reminders?

Additional Frameworks

PIE (Population, Intervention, Effect / Outcome)

PEO (Population / Problem, Exposure, Outcomes / Themes)

FINER (Feasibility, Interesting, Novel, Ethical, Relevant)

SPICE (Setting, Perspective, Intervention, Comparison, Evaluation)

SPIDER (Sample, Phenomena of Interest, Design, Evaluation, Research type)

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Michener Institute of Education at UHN, 2018.