Skip to Main Content

University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Research & Publication in Medicine & Health


Start with a broad or general topic area.

Do a preliminary literature search in an appropriate database to learn more about the status of research in that area. This will tell you what is currently known or understood, and what questions remain.

Do plenty of reading to immerse yourself in the topic area to develop a good sense of that landscape.

  • What has been done?
  • What do we know?
  • What are the gaps?
  • What are some future directions?

Consider ways to narrow down your topic within the larger context.

  • Make sure your topic is of interest to you personally
  • What is the conversation around the scholarship you are considering?
  • What do you want to contribute?
  • What is the anticipated or potential impact?


Start with a hypothesis:

  • it this true or not?
  • Does it work this way?
  • Does X cause Y?

Begin with a question:

  • Work from broad to specific
  • What is impact of X on Y
  • What is the relationhsip bertween X and Y
  • What is the scope of current research about X

Consider parameters

  • Populations
  • Research methodology
  • Frameworks or models
  • Limitations


PICO(T) Framework

PICO(T) is a commone framework for health sciences research questions.

Population/Problem/Patient - what problem are you wanting to address?

Intervention - what treatment, exposure, diagnostic tool, risk factor, etc.

Comparison - if there is one; for example, another drug or treatment or diagnostic tool or risk factor

Outcome - clinical (decrease in blood pressure, risk of stroke, etc.) or patient centered (level of pain, quality of life)

Timeframe or Type of Study (optional) - resolution of condition within 2 months, avoidance of surgery within 1 year, Randomized Controlled Trial for comparing treatment options


FINER criteria for assessing a research question. (Hulley et al, 2007).

F - Feasible - is it doable; do you have the skills and resources to address the question.

I - Interesting - make sure it is a topic area that interests you personally.

N - NOVEL - what new knowledge or understanding will this research bring to this area of scholarship?

E - Ethical - must meet with IRB approval and other standards of ethical research

R - Relevant - who will care about this research; it should be meaningful to your anticipated audience