Can you describe your information need using a simple sentence or question?
Without a clear idea of the project, you may not be able to determine which are the best sources to search, what terminology should be used in those sources, and if the results are appropriate and sufficient. You could be wasting time by duplicating searches, or missing appropriate information.
Below you'll see a technique for focusing your information need down to the essentials.
The PICO formula was developed in the medical field and is now used in most healthcare areas as part of "Evidenced Based Practice" (also called EBP). EBP requires that treatment and solutions be based on information obtained from scientifically sound, clinical trials. Healthcare professionals must be effective at performing extensive literature reviews in order to ensure that all important information pertinent to the case at hand has been found.
By defining each part of the research question, the PICO forumula helps the evidenced based practioner break the information problem down to its essential parts. From these essential parts will come the initial keywords and search statements that will guide the practioner in their literature review.
Although designed for healthcare professionals, PICO is just as applicable for other professionals and subject areas, including engineering. The four components of PICO for engineers are described as follows:
Next, compose a simple sentence using the 4 PICO components to describe your research question. The components do not have to be in order (P, I, C,O) but doing so may help.
In the next two chapters (Where to Look and How to Look for It) we'll see how having a PICO statement or question helps.