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Agriculture and Natural Resources

Using PICO for Scientific Research

The PICO method of search was initially developed for use in health science research. However, the fundamental strategies of the PICO method can be utilized effectively for scientific research in many disciplines. PICO helps a researcher identify the key terms that should be included in a search. PICO is an acronym that stands for:

P - Patient: what is the population that are you interested in? Think of this as the subject of your research.

I - Intervention: what is the exposure or intervention that you are interested in? Think of this as the independent variable in an experiment. 

C - Comparison: what is the comparison to the current intervention? What other factors could be considered as an alternative to the main intervention? For many types of research, this step can be ommitted.

O - Outcome: what are you hoping to measure or improve? Think of this as the dependent variable in an experiment.

While this process may seem formulaic, it helps identify terms that should be included in your search strategy. By doing this BEFORE you attempt to do a search, you can ensure that you will not waste your time looking at search results that are not relevant to your research.

For additional resources on PICO, please see the links below. Need more help applying PICO or creating a search strategy? Contact a librarian!

Creating a Good Search Strategy

In order to get the best results from electronic indexes and full text databases, you need to have a well constructed search strategy. These resources provide strategies for developing focused searches that will yield useful results. If you're still not finding the results you need, contact a librarian for more assistance!