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MSW 550 Course Guide

Pulling keywords from your PICO question

The PICO/CIAO question formats help us develop specific, answerable questions. The components of these formats include:


  • (P)opulation
  • (I)ntervention
  • (C)omparison
  • (O)utcome


  • (C)lient characteristics
  • (I)ntervention
  • (A)lternative intervention
  • (O)utcome


Once we have a PICO/CIAO formatted question, we can brainstorm multiple alternative keywords for each term and then select only those most useful for our search. You can use a basic web search to learn more about your topic and find potential keywords in news articles, websites, etc. See the example below:


PICO question:

Does dog-assisted therapy (I) reduce symptoms of dementia (O) in older adults (P) over traditional interventions (C)?

Brainstorming keywords:

  • Population - older adults, elderly, geriatric, aged
  • Intervention - dog-assisted therapy, canine therapy, animal-assisted therapy (broader), pet therapy (broader)
  • Comparison - treatment as usual, no treatment (alternative)
  • Outcome - symptom reduction or increased Quality of Life in dementia, Alzheimer's (related)


Important note! We won't be using ALL of these terms or even all of the PICO components in our search strategy for the databases. For example, it would not be useful to include keywords about the comparison in the example above, since we are mainly focusing on finding evidence for the intervention within our specific population. Most of the evidence for this treatment will likely include comparisons with no treatment or treatment as usual within the articles.