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MDCH630 - Designing Medical Education Research

This guide is designed to assist you with literature reviews of all types related to medical education research. Approaches, both quantitative and qualitative, are discussed, with links to relevant resources and tools.

Defining Your Scope and Developing Your Question

Question development is an important stage of the literature review planning process. If your question is too broad, you'll have more literature than you can handle. If it's too narrow, you may not find enough studies for inclusion in your review. Setting down your question also helps you to clarify concepts, define inclusion and exclusion criteria, and brainstorm key terms for your literature review.

There are several frameworks available for developing questions for literature reviews:

PICO - best for intervention-focused questions

SPICE - alternative way of framing research questions

BEME guidance on topic selection

Breaking a question down into concepts

You'll need to break down your question into individual concepts for the purpose of searching literature databases. While Google is very good at analyzing long phrases, figuring out what you mean, and searching for synonyms for your terms, most databases do not have this functionality, and you'll have to input all of these terms and their synonyms. It's usually useful to create a table like the one in the example below to organize your concepts.

Example question: What is the effectiveness of mindfulness in health professions education?

Concept 1 (intervention) Concept 2 (population/setting/context)
mindfulness medical student*
meditation medical educat*
  nursing student*
  nursing educat*
  health profession* AND educat*
  etc. - could include specific specialties, related professions

Usually the concepts to be searched come from the P, I and C of PICO or the S, P, I and C of SPICE. Outcomes or study designs are important to map out in PICO or SPICE, but they are not usually used in the search; rather, they inform your inclusion and exclusion criteria.