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Evidence Based Practice Guide for Nursing Students: PICO

Introductory Guide for BSN, RN to BSN, BRAND, Nursing MS and DNP students at University of Wyoming.

Importance of the PICO Question

The PICO question is a different way to think about the clinical questions that arise during patient care. Unlike informational questions, these questions are quite complex and sometimes a challenge to formulate. They are comprised of specific types of components, or concepts, and have a purpose throughout the EBP process.

The PICO Formula

It is not coincidence that this process is called formulating. When you formulate a PICO question, you are creating a formula that does several things:

  • Focus the question by identifying the components or concepts in the question
  • Defines the concepts that will be used when performing a complex literature search
  • Used to ascertain which articles in a search retrieval best address the question
  • Helps determine if studies found address the components of the original question
  • Ultimately the process will provide the information needed to make a decision whether the intervention in the PICO question should be implemented

PICO Basics

PICO is an acronym that can help you develop and direct your clinical question and research.

PICO stands for:

Population/patient/problem: who is at the heart of your question?

Intervention: what is being done?

Control/comparison: what is not being done or what treatment is this control group not receiving? (May not always be present in your question)

Outcome: what is the goal of your research question?

Sometimes PICO also involves Time becoming PICOT

Time: is there a specific time period of treatment you are studying?

PICO Tutorial

Click this button to go to PICO Questions: A Tutorial

PICO Examples

Clinical question:

In a 55 year old man, would the administration of bupropion therapy versus nicotine replacement therapy lead to long-term abstinence from smoking?


Patient/problem/population: mid-50s male with a 30 pack-year history of smoking
Intervention: bupropion
Comparison intervention: nicotine replacement therapy
Outcome: long-term abstinence from smoking

Potential Keywords:
  • bupropion
  • nicotine
  • "smoking cessation" OR "tobacco use cessation" OR "tobacco use disorder"
  • men OR man OR male

Example adapted from

Evidence-Based Practice by Various Authors - See Each Chapter Attribution is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.