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Developing Research Skills for Staff (HWLS): Searching using a strategy - PEO, PICO, SPIDER

What will I learn in this section?

In this section you will learn about frameworks (or structures) you can use to help you identify your research articles. The one you use depends on the type of research you are looking for. The below sections outline how to use the most popular research methodologies for Health and Social Care research - PEO, PICO and SPIDER. 

It's worth noting - you may not always need to use all the elements of the framework. This will depend on the themes or concepts you have - for example, you may not have an outcome for your PEO or PICO strategy, and that is fine.

You don't have to use a framework but it could help to save you time and also demonstrates a structured approach to searching the literature.

Creating a Search Strategy - first steps

When you begin to think about searching for your literature, there are some first steps you need to take. It's always a good idea to have a plan for what you are going to do. Map out your key words/phrases, think about your alternative terms and any other criteria you may need to include, such as a date filter for example. This video explains starting the process of searching by identifying your key words and phrases.

Creating a Search Strategy - First Steps

You can also use a visual approach to creating your search strategy! This graphic may help you to think about your key terms and alternatives:

Using a Framework to construct your strategy

To help you to unpick your research topic and formulate a working search strategy, you can use a framework - or structure, if you like - to help you do this. In the research fields of Health and Social Care there are a number of frameworks that can help you depending on the type of research question you have and the type of research you are looking for. The most well-known and useful of these are the PEO and PICO frameworks, but there are lots more.

In the boxes opposite on this page are explanations of the three most appropriate frameworks you can use. Please choose one of these to use, to help you to frame your search strategy. Chapter 2 of this book gives more detail on how to use frameworks for your search strategy:


PEO is the simplest of the frameworks to use. It stands for Population, Exposure and Outcome and can be used to find a range of primary literature. Watch this short video on using the PEO framework to develop your search strategy:

Identifying Keywords and using PEO



Depending on your topic, you may need to use different strategies to PEO. PICO is for finding articles when you have an intervention - after all, that is what the 'I' in the PICO acronym stands for!

How to use a PICO search - Cochrane PICO search strategy. Explanation of how to construct your PICO search strategy.

Searching for proof: Creating and using an actionable PICO question - Article on how to use the PICO strategy to identify key research. (This link takes you to the entry in Library Search. Click the link under 'Find Online' to go to the article itself.)


SPIDER stands for: Sample, Phenomenon of Interest, Design, Evaluation, Research type. SPIDER is used when you want to find qualitative or mixed-method research articles. Here's more information on using SPIDER as a framework:

SPIDER Search Strategy 

Where Can I Get Help?

You can get help with quick questions using Library chat, or you can get in touch with the Library through the student portal or Hallam Help points. Here are some useful help links: