National Evaluation of DNP Students' Use of the PICOT Method for Formulating Clinical Questions

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date




This analysis aimed to describe how DNP students used the PICOT method to ask clinical questions in their DNP projects.


Project questions were retrieved from a subset (n = 129, 60.56%) of an existing national random sample of publicly available DNP projects spanning the years 2010 to 2021 from Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education-accredited schools (n = 213). Project questions using the PICOT method were further evaluated with a scoring system of 0 = no and 1 = yes for missing elements, formatting, directional outcome, and project purpose. Possible scores ranged from 0 to 8, with higher scores indicating more errors. Discussion among five researchers, until agreement was achieved, yielded consensus.


Although the PICOT method was project author-identified in 66 (31.0%) projects, only four (6%) followed the PICOT method. All 66 (100%) were intervention questions. There were 2.74 (SD 1.55) mean errors, ranging from 0 to 6. No questions were missing P or O. Specific errors included missing I 3 (4.5%) or missing C 37 (56%), poor formatting 34 (51.5%), directional outcome 44 (66.7%), and project purpose 38 (57.6%). Thirty-three (50%) of the questions were missing T; however, T is not used for searching, so researchers recalculated the mean error without T (M = 2.24, SD = 1.28, range 0–5).

Linking Evidence to Action

Gaps in the accurate use of the PICOT method to construct clinical questions can lead to biased searches, inaccurate clinical problem identification, and, when used as the project purpose, jumping to non-evidence-based solutions. Academic faculty and clinical educators can mitigate these skewed outcomes and enhance their impact on quality outcomes by helping DNP-prepared nurses shore up this foundational skill.


Online ahead of print, March 1, 2024






Worldviews on Evidence-Based Nursing