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Communication Sciences & Disorders | SLP

A guide to the research process and information resources in CSD & SLP.

What is PICO?

PICO helps you to break a clinical problem into important concepts and formulate a searchable question that can be answered with research.

1. Begin with a clinical problem:

Your patient is a young, active female athlete with a partial ACL tear in her right knee.  She would like to avoid surgery. 

2. Express the problem using PICO:


athlete with partial ACL tear


physical therapy




stable functioning knee


3. Formulate the problem as a research question:

In a young female athlete with a partial ACL tear, is physical therapy as effective as surgery?


What are their most important characteristics?

  • Primary problem
  • Disease state
  • Co-existing condition

Describe your patient specifically:

  • Sex
  • Age
  • Ethnicity
  • Socioeconomic factors

ALWAYS  include this piece in your search.


What do you want to do for the patient?

  • Order a test
  • Prescribe a drug
  • Order a procedure

Other considerations:

  • Main intervention
  • Prognostic factors
  • Exposures

Almost always include this piece in your search.


What is the alternate intervention, if any?

  • A different drug
  • No medication
  • A placebo
  • A different test
  • A different procedure

It is less common to include this piece in a search.


What are you hoping to achieve, measure, or change for the patient?

  • Alleviate symptoms 
  • Improve test results
  • Reduce adverse events
  • Improve function
  • Could also be the result NOT desired

Sometimes include this piece in your search.