Developing the research question

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A systematic review is an in-depth attempt to answer a specific, focused question in a methodical way. 

A clearly defined research question should accurately and succinctly sum up the review’s line of inquiry. 

In developing the research question ensure that it is not just a topic, but a properly formulated question that is answerable. 

Consider whether your question will focus on diagnosis, intervention, prognosis, or etiology? Is there a study design (e.g. Randomised Controlled Trials) that would provide the best answer?

A good question will combine several concepts. Identifying the relevant concepts is crucial to the successful development and execution of your systematic review. Your research question should provide you with a checklist of the main concepts to be included in your search strategy.

If appropriate, use a framework to help you develop your research question. A framework will assist in identifying the important concepts in your question. 

One technique often used to help formulate a clinical research question is the PICO model.

PPopulation / Patient / Problem
I = Intervention / Indicator
CComparison / Control

There are other frameworks such as SPICE, SPIDER, and ECLIPSE. More information on these frameworks is available from the library guide: Systematic Reviews.



If you were undertaking a systematic review and researching the effectiveness of acupuncture for treating allergic rhinitis what would your research question be?


Think about one of your research questions. How might you adjust the question by applying the use of the PICO framework?


Best Practice Tip

Prior to commencing the systematic review, first, determine if a similar review has been recently done.

You could do this by searching relevant databases or the PROSPERO register of systematic reviews.


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Research and Writing Skills for Academic and Graduate Researchers Copyright © 2022 by RMIT University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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