Clarifying the review question leads to specifying what type of studies can best address that question and setting out criteria for including such studies in the review. This is often called inclusion criteria or eligibility criteria. The criteria could relate to the review topic, the research methods of the studies, specific populations, settings, date limits, geographical areas, types of interventions, or something else.
Systematic reviews address clear and answerable research questions, rather than a general topic or problem of interest. They also have clear criteria about the studies that are being used to address the research questions. This is often called inclusion criteria or eligibility criteria.
Six examples of types of question are listed below, and the examples show different questions that a review might address based on the topic of influenza vaccination. Structuring questions in this way aids thinking about the different types of research that could address each type of question. Mneumonics can help in thinking about criteria that research must fulfil to address the question. The criteria could relate to the context, research methods of the studies, specific populations, settings, date limits, geographical areas, types of interventions, or something else.
Research question: What are the views and experiences of UK healthcare workers regarding vaccination for seasonal influenza?
It is important to consider the reasons that the research question is being asked. Any research question has ideological and theoretical assumptions around the meanings and processes it is focused on. A systematic review should either specify definitions and boundaries around these elements at the outset, or be clear about which elements are undefined.
For example if we are interested in the topic of homework, there are likely to be pre-conceived ideas about what is meant by 'homework'. If we want to know the impact of homework on educational attainment, we need to set boundaries on the age range of children, or how educational attainment is measured. There may also be a particular setting or contexts: type of school, country, gender, the timeframe of the literature, or the study designs of the research.
Research question: What is the impact of homework on children's educational attainment?
Some mnemonics that sometimes help to formulate research questions, set the boundaries of question and inform a search strategy.
PICO Population – Intervention– Outcome– Comparison
Variations: add T on for time, or ‘C’ for context, or S’ for study type,
Policy and management issues
ECLIPSE: Expectation – Client group – Location – Impact ‐ Professionals involved – Service
Expectation encourages reflection on what the information is needed for i.e. improvement, innovation or information. Impact looks at what you would like to achieve e.g. improve team communication.
Analysis tool for management and organisational strategy
PESTLE: Political – Economic – Social – Technological – Environmental ‐ Legal
An analysis tool that can be used by organizations for identifying external factors which may influence their strategic development, marketing strategies, new technologies or organisational change.
Service evaluations with qualitative study designs
SPICE: Setting (context) – Perspective– Intervention – Comparison – Evaluation
Perspective relates to users or potential users. Evaluation is how you plan to measure the success of the intervention.
Read more about some of the frameworks for constructing review questions: