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MDSC1102: Literature review

A guide to assist MDSC1002 students to conduct a literature review for the grant application assignment.


Step 1: Find the key concepts in your question

What are concepts?

Concepts are the key areas (or elements, or ideas) identified from your question. They are the topic areas that remain once you remove all of the extraneous words such as: and, of, the, what, effectiveness, impact etc. 'Concepts' shouldn't be confused with 'search terms'. You will use these concepts to go on and identify your search terms.

Take the following research question as an example: 

Are electronic cigarettes as effective as nicotine patches in assisting smokers to quit smoking? 

The important elements in this question are simply: 

  • Electronic cigarettes
  • Nicotine patches
  • Smoking cessation or quitting smoking.


What is PICO?

PICO can be a useful method for identifying the key concepts in a clinical question or scenario.  It allows you to take a more systematic approach to your literature searching.

PICO stands for:

Patient or Population - who are we concerned with? 
Intervention - What are we proposing doing to them? Or what risk factor have they been exposed to? 
Comparison - Is there an alternative intervention we wish to compare our intervention against? (If appropriate)
Outcome(s) - What outcomes need to have been measured, improved, reduced, etc. for us to say there has been an effect?

The  short video below shows you how to extract these elements from an example question to find your key PICO concepts.

From PICO to a Logic Grid

Once you have identified the key concepts from your question using PICO, transfer these concepts to a 'logic grid' as shown below in the example.

There may be more than one of each element.  For example, your population may be 'elderly stroke survivors'  or 'Teenagers with type 1 diabetes'.  If so, just add an extra P column to the grid.

The logic grid will help you:

  • identify the concepts in your question which need to be included in the search
  • clarify which concepts can be left out of the search, or added later if you get too many results that prove to be irrelevant to your question
  • prepare for finding appropriate and useful synonyms, acronyms, variant spellings etc. for each concept.

Here is an example of a logic grid:

Are e-cigarettes as effective as nicotine patches in assisting smokers to quit smoking?



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