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Nursing Research Guide

Library resources for the School of Nursing

What is PICOT?

PICOT is an acronym used to remember the key components of a clinical question:

  • P = Patient/Problem
  • I = Intervention
  • C = Comparison
  • O = Outcome
  • T = Timeframe

The PICOT framework was originally developed in evidence-based medicine as a way to address knowledge gaps during patient encounters. Questions could arise around a patient's diagnosis, prognosis, and therapy, as wall as around prevention strategies and patient education.

PICOT is useful in academic and clinical settings and can help you:

  • form a research question that focuses on the most important issue for a patient or population;
  • identify key terms to use in a search for evidence and/or resources; and
  • select search results that directly relate to the situation.

How do I get started researching for my PICOT question?

Knowing where and how to search for Nursing level 1 or level 2 research (systematic review and/or randomized controlled trials) and/or qualitative research articles is an important step in addressing your PICOT question:

Other Considerations

Librarians are happy to help coach you in your searches, by suggesting databases, search terms, limiters, etc. 

Sometimes we demonstrate searches to model search techniques that you can use in the future. Our goal is to help you become self-sufficient so that you can find evidence-based content throughout your professional life.

Once we have helped you start some searches, it’s very likely that the resulting articles will differ in quality; as with any search, some will meet your requirements and some will be less useful. This is the point where you will need to do some digging and exercise your critical thinking skills.

The level of research you are currently performing can be both time-consuming and sometimes frustrating--but it is always worthwhile!

What are Nursing Levels of Evidence?

NOTE: At the graduate level, EKU's Nursing department uses the hierarchy in Evidence Based Practice in Nursing and Healthcare by Melnyk and Fineout-Overholt. Undergraduate nursing students may be asked to refer to a different hierarchy.


Levels of evidence (sometimes called hierarchy of evidence) are assigned to students based on the methodological quality of their design, validity, and applicability to patient care. These decisions give the "grade (or strength) of recommendation."

Hierarchy of Evidence for Intervention Studies

Type of evidence Level of evidence Description
Systematic review or meta-analysis I A synthesis of evidence from all relevant randomized, controlled trials.
Randomized, controlled trial II An experiment in which subjects are randomized to a treatment group or control group.
Controlled trial without randomization III An experiment in which subjects are nonrandomly assigned to a treatment group or control group.
Case-control or cohort study IV

Case-control study: a comparison of subjects with a condition (case) with those who don’t have the condition (control) to determine characteristics that might predict the condition.

Cohort study: an observation of a group(s) (cohort[s]) to determine the development of an outcome(s) such as a disease.

Systematic review of qualitative or descriptive studies V A synthesis of evidence from qualitative or descriptive studies to answer a clinical question.
Qualitative or descriptive study VI

Qualitative study: gathers data on human behavior to understand why and how decisions are made.

Descriptive study: provides background information on the what, where, and when of a topic of interest.

Opinion or consensus VII Authoritative opinion of expert committee.