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Finding it hard to narrow down searches for journal studies you’d like to reference in your stories? Our friends from Cochrane South Africa and the South African Medical Research Council taught us how to use the PICO method.


Resource details:

Publication title: Evidence-informed health reporting: Finding evidence

Author(s): Cochrane South Africa and the South African Medical Research Council

Publication date: 05 June 2020

What the resource is about:

Training on evidence-informed health reporting presented by Cochrane South Africa and the South African Medical Research Council for the Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism. This is the first of a series of webinars that outline strategies to find reliable evidence for health stories. It also provides tips on navigating the Cochrane library. 

Key take-aways from the resource:

The  PICO approach helps you to find studies that answer a specific research question. By asking such a question, and using it as a search tool, you’re able to access very specific studies without having to also work through a range of other less relevant research. PICO stands for Population, Intervention, Comparison and Outcome. 

  • To narrow down a search for a study that you’re looking for, you can use the PICO tool on the Cochrane website.
  • Here’s an example: Say, you’d like to find studies that answer the research question “does using blood plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients reduce the risk of death and shorten the hospital stay of current patients?” You’ll find the PICO tool in the advanced section of the Cochrane website. There you’ll plug in “COVID-19” as your population of interest (P). “Convalescent plasma” would be the intervention term you use (I) in this example. The comparison (C) would be those who don’t receive the plasma, and the outcome (O) would be how patients respond to receiving the plasma. Running this search would pull up a relevant review specific to your research question. The PICO tool enables you to quickly access very specific studies instead of spending hours sifting through results from general searches.
  • Sometimes researchers refer to diseases in different ways. For instance, some researchers would talk about “COVID-19” and others about “new coronavirus infections”. To make sure your search includes these alternative terms you can use Boolean operators — words that connect your search terms words like “and”, “or”, “not”.  
  • All Cochrane reviews include a plain language summary which explains in simple language the background, methods and findings of a study — together with the level of certainty of the evidence — i.e. the confidence level. This is a great place to start when trying to unpack dense studies.
  • The Cochrane Library also has a number of special collections which compile evidence reviews on a particular topic. These include the COVID-19 special collection on infection control and prevention measures.
  • The website also includes a register of all COVID-19 studies that researchers around the world are busy working on — it even tells you how far they’ve progressed.

You can find and download the presentation here. You can watch the recording here.


[Please note: Information on the new coronavirus is rapidly changing. Visit  Cochrane South Africa and the South African Medical Research Council’s websites for the latest research information. Visit www.sacoronavirus.co.za for updates on South Africa’s coronavirus response]