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How to Conduct a Literature Review (Health Sciences): Home

A guide on how to get started developing research questions

The Research Question

A well-formulated research question:

  • Starts your entire search process,
  • Provides focus for your searches,
  • Guides the selection of literature sources.

Question format is a helpful tool researchers can use to structure a question that will facilitate a focused search. For example, such a format includes: PICO, PICOTT, etc.


The PICO format is commonly used in evidence-based clinical practice.  The format creates a "well-built" question that identifies four concepts:

  • The Patient problem or Population
  • The Intervention
  • The Comparison (optional)
  • The Outcome


In adults with recurrent furunculosis (skin boils), do prophylactic antibiotics, compared to no treatment, reduce the recurrence rate?

  • P - Adults with recurrent furunculosis
  •  I - prophylactic antibiotics
  • C - no treatment
  • O - reduction in recurrence rate

Selection Criteria

You may want to think about criteria that will be used to select articles for your literature review based on your research question. These are commonly known as inclusion criteria and exclusion criteria.  

Inclusion Criteria

Inclusion criteria are elements of an article that must be present in order for it to be eligible for inclusion in a literature review.  


  • Included studies must have compared certain treatments
  • Included studies must be experimental
  • Included studies must have been published in the last 5 years

Exclusion Criteria

Exclusion criteria are the elements of an article that disqualify the study from inclusion in a literature review.  


  • Study used an observational design
  • Study used a qualitative methodology
  • Study was published more than 5 years ago
  • Study was published in a language other than English


Finding Additional Databases

It is recommend that you consult a librarian for a discipline research guide with additional suggestions. You can browse a full list of TTUHSC EP Library databases.

Go to the libraries homepage and select Databases A-Z. The A-Z Database list can be searched by subjects, all database types, frequently used databases, or by name. You can always contact a TTUHSC EP librarian for help.