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Nursing Research Guide for NUR/NURC2241

Research guide for finding sources for Advanced Medical-Surgical Nursing

PICO Question Format

P = Patient, population, or problem

I = Intervention

C = Comparison or control (if any)

O = Outcome

Use the PICO Worksheet to build your question and search strategy.

Example PICO Question


You work in a pediatrician’s office and give patients their routine vaccinations. The younger children are often fearful of needles, and some of the RNs use toys to distract the patients. You want to know if this technique actually has an effect on the children's pain response.

Construct a clinical question in PICO format.

P = young children

I = distraction techniques during immunization

C = no intervention

O = lower pain scores rated by the Faces pain scale

Clinical Question:

In young children, do distraction techniques during immunization administration using toys result in lower pain scores when compared to no intervention?


PICO Question Examples: Pediatrics from University of Kansas Medical Center, Nursing Research Guide, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Example Research Topic

Once you have selected a topic and before you start searching for resources, it is helpful to perform these steps:

Topic: Are alcohol based hand sanitizers more effective or less effective than handwashing in reducing hospital infections?

Step 1: Identify the P, I, C, and O components in your topic question.

Population or Problem: hospital infections

Intervention: alcohol based hand sanitizers

Comparison: handwashing

Outcome: reduced infections

Step 2: Brainstorm keywords for each concept:
Try thinking of synonyms and related terms. A thesaurus may be helpful. 


hand sanitizers


infection control
cross infection
hospital-acquired infections
healthcare related infections
nosocomial infections
antimicrobial hand sanitizers
antiseptic hand rubs
hand rubs
hand sanitizers
anti-infective agents
hand washing
hand disinfection
hand hygiene

Step 3: Combine your terms in a search

Note: You may need to try different combinations of keywords to find the search that produces the best results.



hand sanitizer* OR handwashing



Step 4: Search an appropriate resource

Step 5: Review results for alternative keywords or subject headings and redo search (as needed)