Nutrition and Food Science: Formulate a question

Formulate a question

If you are required to choose a research question, try to pick a topic that interests you.

Try using one of the following instruction words to help you formulate your final question:

Exclamation mark <image, public domain>Analyse e.g. Analyse if...

Argue e.g. Argue whether...

Compare e.g. Compare the...

Describe e.g. Describe how...

Discuss e.g. Discuss the...

Explain e.g. Explain how...

Find more instruction words on page 2-3 of this guide:


The next step is to try and focus your question as much as possible. This makes it easier to identify what to search for later, to actually do the search, and to determine whether the resources found are relevant.


Have you been told to use "PICO"?

The PICO framework can be useful for developing an answerable clinical question. For example:

Is a paleo diet more effective than a Mediterranean diet for weight reduction in obese adults?

P Population (patient)
What are the characteristics of the patient or population? OR
What is the condition or disease you are interested in?
obese adults
I/E Intervention or Exposure
What do you want to do with the patient (e.g. treat, diagnose, observe etc.)?
paleo diet
C Comparison
What is the alternative to the treatment (e.g.placebo, different drug, surgery)?
mediterranean diet
O Outcome
What is the relevant outcome (e.g. morbidity, complications)?
weight reduction

Use the PICO worksheet to get started with your question. If you are using another framework adapt it.

Here are some different frameworks you may want to use:

PICO(T) Population (patient), Intervention, Comparison (control) and Outcome. Add a Timeframe if required. Used particularly for treatment type questions.
PECO(T) A variation of PICO where E= Exposure and T=Timeframe if required.
PIPOH Developed in the context of practice guideline adaptation. Includes P= Professionals/Patients, O= Outcome and H= Healthcare Setting.
SPICE S= Setting (where), P= Perspective (for whom), I= Intervention (what), C= Comparison (compared with what), E= Evaluation (Booth 2006).
SPIDER S= Sample, P= Phenomenon of interest, D= Design, E= Evaluation, R= Research type. Useful for qualitative or mixed method studies (Cooke, Smith and Booth 2012).
ECLIPSE E= Expectations, C= Client group, L= Location, I= Impact, P= Profession, SE= Service (Wildridge & Bell 2002).
PESTLE P= Political, E= Economic, SSocial, TTechnological, E= Environmental, L= Legal (CIPD 2010).

There are a number of PICO variations which can be used for different types of questions, such as qualitative, and background and foreground questions. Visit the EBP Guide to learn more.

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See how to focus a question

Next steps

Address a topic <Image, public domain>

Now you have finalised your topic, or research question, you are ready to prepare your search strategy. Click the image to learn how.