Nursing PICOT Study

Unveiling the Nursing PICOT Study: A Journey Towards Evidence-Based Practice

PICOT is a format used to formulate research questions in Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) in nursing. It stands for:

  • P: Population/Patient Problem: Who is your patient?
  • I: Intervention: What is the intervention or exposure being considered?
  • C: Comparison: What is the alternative to the intervention or exposure?
  • O: Outcome: What is the desired outcome?
  • T: Time: What is the time frame for the outcome?

The quest for knowledge in the field of nursing is comparable to setting off on an exciting trip. Nurses use evidence-based practice (EBP) like an expert mapper to explore unexplored territory and find vital healthcare-related information. The nursing PICOT study is an essential resource in this endeavour. Similar to how a compass directs an explorer, the PICOT framework directs scientists in the direction of a distinct and narrow path, revealing the way to game-changing discoveries.

Clinicians frequently find themselves enthralled by the astonishing results they see in their practice, like inquisitive travellers poised at the edge of undiscovered territory. These amazing treatment success stories inspire people to learn more and start a research path that will give voice to their personal experiences. It is impossible to resist the pull of the possibility of opening up new vistas of knowledge, both for their own profession and the larger healthcare system. But as these practitioners make their first hesitant steps toward the research community, they could run into a confusing obstacle: the query, “What is your research question?” voiced by seasoned researchers and ringing through the halls of academia. This encounter might end up being a brief one without a compass to help traverse this strange area.

The PICOT question format is a consistent “formula” for developing answerable, researchable questions. The PICOT process starts with a particular case, and the question is couched to develop an intervention or therapy. A clinical question that is composed using the PICO or PICOT format will help you to focus your search and help you to develop your research skills which are essential in finding the best available evidence. Incorporating best evidence into nursing requires a systematic approach.

The PICOT format is a helpful approach for summarizing research questions that explore the effect of therapy:

  • (P) – Population refers to the sample of subjects you wish to recruit for your study. There may be a fine balance between defining a sample that is most likely to respond to your intervention (e.g. no co-morbidity) and one that can be generalized to patients that are likely to be seen in actual practice.
  • (I) – Intervention refers to the treatment that will be provided to subjects enrolled in your study.
  • (C) – Comparison identifies what you plan on using as a reference group to compare with your treatment intervention. Many study designs refer to this as the control group. If an existing treatment is considered the ‘gold standard’, then this should be the comparison group.
  • (O) – Outcome represents what result you plan on measuring to examine the effectiveness of your intervention. Familiar and validated outcome measurement tools relevant to common chiropractic patient populations may include the Neck Disability Index or Roland-Morris Questionnaire. There are, typically, a multitude of outcome tools available for different clinical populations, each having strengths and weaknesses.
  • (T) – Time describes the duration for your data collection.

Here is a brief historical evolution of the PICOT framework

The PICOT framework was first introduced in 2005 by Dr. Gordon Guyatt and his colleagues at McMaster University in Canada

The framework was developed as a way to help clinicians formulate well-built clinical questions for evidence-based inquiry

The PICOT framework has since become a standard format for developing research questions in nursing and other healthcare fields

The framework has evolved over time to include the addition of the “T” component, which stands for Time, to help specify the timeframe for the outcome being studied

The PICOT framework has been shown to be effective in helping nurses to develop focused, well-built, and searchable clinical questions, leading to better patient outcomes and higher quality care.

Developing a strong clinical question for evidence-based inquiry is necessary for developing nurse PICOT research. Using the PICO (T) structure, the initial stage in EBP is rephrasing a clinical patient care concern into a targeted, searchable, and responsive query. In evidence-based medicine, the PICO (T) approach is frequently used to create a targeted, well-structured, and searchable clinical question.

How To Formulate a PICO T Study.

  1. Identify the Population (P): The first step is to clearly define the specific population or group of interest for your study. This could include factors such as age, gender, medical condition, or any other defining characteristics that help narrow down the focus of your research.
  2. Determine the Intervention (I): Next, you need to identify the intervention or treatment that you want to investigate. This could be a specific therapy, medication, procedure, or any other intervention that you believe has the potential to impact the health outcomes of the identified population.
  3. Establish the Comparison (C): To evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention, you need to establish a comparison group or alternative intervention. This could be a placebo, standard care, or another treatment option that is commonly used in practice. The comparison allows for a meaningful evaluation of the intervention’s effects.
  4. Define the Outcome (O): What is the desired outcome you wish to measure or observe in relation to the intervention? Clearly define the specific outcome you want to assess, whether it is a clinical parameter, patient satisfaction, quality of life, or any other measurable outcome that reflects the impact of the intervention.
  1. Determine the Timeframe (T): Specify the timeframe within which you will conduct your study. This could be a specific duration of treatment, follow-up period, or a defined timeline for data collection. Timeframe considerations are crucial for capturing the temporal aspects of the intervention and outcome


Template for Making PICOT Questions

For an intervention/therapy:

In _______(P), what is the effect of _______(I) on ______(O) compared with _______(C) within ________ (T)?

For etiology:

Are ____ (P) who have _______ (I) at ___ (Increased/decreased) risk for/of_______ (O) compared with ______ (P) with/without ______ (C) over _____ (T)?

Diagnosis or diagnostic test:

Are (is) _________ (I) more accurate in diagnosing ________ (P) compared with ______ (C) for _______ (O)?


For ________ (P) does the use of ______ (I) reduce the future risk of ________ (O) compared with _________ (C)?


Does __________ (I) influence ________ (O) in patients who have _______ (P) over ______ (T)?


How do ________ (P) diagnosed with _______ (I) perceive ______ (O) during _____ (T)?


This is an example of a PICOT question that is wrong in all facets. A dissection of the question will help identify the poorly written components.

In hospitalized geriatric patients more than 65 years of age with dementia (P), how does providing distraction activities (I) compared with providing traditional hospital care (C) decrease agitation (O)?

P: hospitalized geriatric patients more than 65 years of age with dementia

I: providing distraction activities

C: providing traditional hospital care

O: decrease agitation

  1. The terms in this PICO question are too wordy. The words placed into the search database are the exact words the computer is going to scan in the literature, so the more words, the less you will find.
  2. By including the word “providing” in the I and C search, you would miss any study where the title included words such as “implementing” or “utilizing” because the computer would be looking specifically for “providing.”
  3. This PICOT is not written in past tense; as such, it is a research question.
  4. PICOT questions should not include any directional words. They will cause a biased search.

The correctly written PICOT question to yield the most efficient search would be:

In geriatric patients with dementia (P), how did distraction activities (I) compared with traditional care (C) affect agitation (O)?

In summary, the PICOT framework was developed in 2005 as a way to help clinicians formulate well-built clinical questions for evidence-based inquiry. Since then, it has become a standard format for developing research questions in nursing and other healthcare fields. The framework has evolved over time to include the “T” component, and it has been shown to be effective in improving patient outcomes and promoting higher quality care.

Tips for Writing Well-Designed PICOT questions.

PICOT questions should not be wordy.

Instead of a “P” of “hospitalized geriatric patients with dementia,” a “P” that would lead to a better search is “geriatric patients with dementia” OR “geriatric dementia patients” because you want to search for and find all the literature about the “P” (population) of interest. Your intent may be to implement the evidence found on this population when they are in the hospital, but that is your project not your question.

PICOT questions should not include unnecessary words. Instead, PICOT questions should include only the key term(s) you are interested in. Instead of an “I” of “applying a sterile dressing,” an “I” of “sterile dressing” will lead to a better search. Extra words such as “provide,” “implement,” “use,” “deliver,” or “apply” add more words for the search engine to look for that are not important. Only include the key words that matter.

PICOT questions should not be used to find evidence to support the solutions that clinicians have already decided is the right answer.

Instead, PICOT questions should be used to find out what is the best practice. Instead of an “I” of “providing distraction activities,” an “I” that would lead to a better search is “interventions” OR “strategies” because the best practice is often something that you (and your committee or task force or council) did not know about or consider. For instance, what if the best intervention for addressing agitation in dementia patients is music therapy? You would never discover the right answer if you only searched for something that you had already decided on. This critical error leads people to search for evidence to support their idea, and it may not be—and often is not—the best idea. This mistake can be made inadvertently or with true intention. In the first scenario, you do not realize that you are making the mistake. In the second scenario, you intentionally look for evidence to support your idea and intentionally do not look for anything else. Either way, this problem needs to be avoided.

PICOT questions are always written in the past tense. You are searching for things that have already occurred. Research questions, on the other hand, are written in the present tense.

PICOT questions never include a directional term such as “increased” or “improved.” Once a directional term is included, the search is biased; if you only look for studies where a particular intervention “increased” an outcome of interest, you will miss all the articles where the intervention “decreased” that outcome. This is a dangerous mistake.

PICOT questions cannot be changed once you have started searching. More PICOT questions can be written for the same inquiry, but you cannot change a question that you have already used. That question is already part of your EBP adventure and needs to be included in your story.

Your PICOT question does not always match the change project or initiative you originally imagined or planned. That is because a well-written PICOT question leads you to the best practice to answer your inquiry, not the answer you were thinking about or for which you had hoped.

It is critical to invest time in writing a great PICOT question, as it is the gateway to an efficient, effective search and, ultimately, to making robust, evidence-based recommendations with confidence to assure the best decision-making possible and to improve care and outcomes.

The PICOT framework is a valuable tool in nursing research that offers several benefits. Here are some advantages and benefits of using the PICOT framework:

  1. Promotes clarity and precision
  • The PICOT framework promotes clarity and precision in formulating research questions. By specifying the population, intervention, comparison, outcome, and time of the study, researchers can avoid vague, broad, or untestable questions that may lead to inconclusive or irrelevant results
  1. Focuses research questions
  • The PICOT framework helps to focus research questions on specific patient populations, interventions, and outcomes. This focus can lead to more meaningful and impactful studies that can guide evidence-based practice and improve patient outcomes
  1. Provides a structured search strategy
  • The PICOT framework provides a structured search strategy that is derived from a clinical scenario and provides a framework for asking well-worded questions. This structured approach can assist in identifying the best available evidence to improve healthcare outcomes
  1. Translates evidence to practice
  • The PICOT framework can help clinicians translate evidence to practice by assisting with the decision-making process. Findings from research using the PICOT framework could ultimately lead to changes in a patient’s treatment for a particular condition, an alteration of his or her lifestyle choices, or to a better quality of life.
  1. Real-life impact
  • By gathering the best literature through a clinically-driven search strategy, research using the PICOT framework can have real-life impact. The PICOT framework can help researchers identify the terms to be used to search for the best evidence to answer a research question

What are Some Common Challenges in Formulating a Nursing PICOT Study?

  • Defining each component of the PICOT question:

One of the challenges in formulating a nursing PICOT study is defining each component of the question, including the population or patient problem, intervention, comparison, outcome, and timeframe.

  • Cost and feasibility:

Many research questions are costly, time-consuming, and difficult to conduct, especially with a randomized controlled trial (RCT) study design. Therefore, it is important to consider the cost and feasibility of the study before formulating the PICOT question.

  • Lack of knowledge:

Not knowing how to correctly write a PICOT question can be a challenge, especially for novice researchers.

  • Difficulty in identifying appropriate search terms and databases:

Identifying appropriate search terms and databases to use in the search for evidence can be a challenge, especially for those who are new to evidence-based practice.

  • Lack of clarity in the research question:

Lack of clarity in the research question can be a challenge, as it can lead to difficulties in identifying relevant evidence and conducting a thorough analysis.

Overcoming Challenges in Formulating a Nursing PICOT Study:

Formulating a nursing PICOT study can be challenging, but there are ways to overcome these challenges. Here are some tips based on the search results:

  1. Clearly define each component of the PICOT question:
  • To create a well-built and focused clinical question, each component of the PICOT question must be clearly defined. This includes the population or patient problem, intervention, comparison, outcome, and timeframe.
  1. Consider the feasibility of the study:
  • Many research questions are costly, time-consuming, and difficult to conduct, especially with a randomized controlled trial (RCT) study design. Therefore, it is important to consider the feasibility of the study before formulating the PICOT question.
  1. Seek guidance from experts:
  • If you are struggling to formulate a PICOT question, seek guidance from experts in the field. This could include nursing professors, clinical experts, or librarians who specialize in evidence-based practice.
  1. Use available resources:
  • There are many resources available to help nurses formulate PICOT questions, including online guides, videos, and databases. These resources can help you identify appropriate search terms and databases to use in your search for evidence.
  1. Practice:
  • Formulating a well-built PICOT question takes practice. The more you practice, the easier it will become to identify the key components of a clinical question and develop a focused and searchable research question.

By following these tips, nurses can overcome the challenges of formulating a nursing PICOT study and develop well-built clinical questions that can guide evidence-based practice and improve patient outcomes.


As we conclude this discussion, we would like to express our gratitude to our esteemed partner,, for their support in bringing you this informative content. Their dedication to empowering nurses and promoting excellence in nursing research has made this exploration possible.

Remember, as William Shakespeare once said, “We know what we are, but know not what we may be.” With the nursing PICOT study as our guide, we have the potential to transform the future of nursing, unlocking new horizons and embracing the endless possibilities of evidence-based care.

We encourage you to continue exploring our blog posts, where you will discover a treasure trove of valuable insights, practical tips, and engaging discussions on various topics related to nursing and evidence-based practice. Whether you’re a seasoned nurse, a nursing student, or a healthcare professional seeking to expand your knowledge, we have something for everyone.

Stay tuned for upcoming articles that delve deeper into specific aspects of nursing research, offer expert advice, and provide inspiration for your professional journey. Together, let’s embrace the power of knowledge, fuel our passion for nursing, and strive for excellence in evidence-based practice.

Thank you for joining us on this enlightening exploration of the Nursing PICOT study. We look forward to embarking on many more learning adventures with you. Happy reading!

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