Developing the research question
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.
Will your question have a 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.
P = Population / Patient / Problem
I = Intervention / Indicator
C = Comparison / Control
O = Outcome
There are other frameworks such as SPICE, SPIDER, and ECLIPSE. More information on these frameworks is available from the online library guide: Systematic Reviews in Health.
If you were researching the effectiveness of acupuncture for treating allergic rhinitis, you might begin with a research question that looks like the following:
How effective is acupuncture in treating allergic rhinitis?
This question could be improved by utilising the PICO framework to look like this:
Think about one of your research questions. How might you adjust the question by applying the use of the PICO framework?
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.