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A research question gives your project a clear focus. It is a sentence that defines what you will examine, the population, and the outcome that you will study. If correctly formed, it can help you make a plan for your research and keep you on track which will save you time. Research questions are typically formatted in the following way:
‘P’ stands for patient or population of interest. What are the most important characteristics of the group or patient(s) you are investigating? Defining features may include age, gender, ethnicity, disease processes, or medical conditions.
‘I’ represents the intervention or area of interest. Ask yourself, “What is the main intervention, treatment, exposure or prognostic factor I am considering?” In other words, “What treatment or intervention might be best for the patient? What are the factors you are considering that influence the patient’s prognosis?”
‘C’ stands for the comparison intervention or group. Ask yourself, “What is the main alternative to compare with the intervention?” This could be a placebo or no disease or absence of a risk factor. Sometimes your question may not have a comparison! In research terms, C refers to the independent or predictor variable—something that influences the outcome variable or dependent variable.
‘O’ is the outcome. Ask yourself, “What am I aiming to accomplish, measure, improve, or impact? Am I trying to eliminate or relieve symptoms? Reduce the number or severity of adverse effects? Improve functioning?”
‘T’ represents time. For this last stage you ask yourself, “What is the time it takes for the intervention to achieve an outcome?” Or, “How long are participants observed?”
All of these aspects may not be necessary.