Skip to Main Content

Information Literacy Guide

Learn all about different sources of information

What are research frameworks?

Ready to build on your simple search strategy? Then take a peek at the below subject specific frameworks.

A research framework can help you to write your research question or make sense of a topic you have been asked to research. These tend to be used by health subjects and psychology and are optional

However, they can be very helpful for any student carrying out a larger project, such as a dissertation, final year project, literature review or thesis. They are generally recommended for students at Level 6 and above.

Frameworks provide a structure that help identify key concepts within a topic and allow you to develop a systematic search strategy to find literature relating to it. This can be useful when you are carrying out a literature review and need to demonstrate how you developed your search method. Research frameworks are often recommended in books on research methodology so this can support the theoretical justification for your chosen strategy. 

Read more about frameworks here: Central Queensland University's Framing Your Research Question webpages.

The most common research frameworks

Specific frameworks can be useful for different subject areas. This section introduces some of the most common.
Not sure which one to use, or if you need to do this? Then speak to your Supervisor, Academic Mentor or Academic Librarian.

CHIP is a framework that can be used in psychology / counselling.
It stands for:

C = Context (What is the social, cultural or geographical context of your research?)
H = How (What research methods are you using?)
I = Issues (Which behaviours or experience are you examining?)
P = Population (How are you defining the population you are researching?)

For example:

C = Friendship groups at university
H = Questionnaires and interviews (Qualitative methods)
I = Meaning of friendship; development of friendship groups; the ways that friends socialise.
P = Students at universities in the UK

CIMO is a framework often used in business research.
It stands for:

C = Context (Which individuals, groups, systems or relationships are you exploring?)
I = Intervention (Which event, action or activity are you investigating?)
M = Mechanism (What explains how the intervention leads to the outcome? Which circumstances cause these responses? What prevents the intervention from achieving the outcome?)
O = Outcome (Which effects of the intervention are you focusing on? How are you defining and measuring these?)

An 'S' (study design) or a 'T' (time) can be added to this framework.

PICO is a framework that is often used in health related research.
It stands for:

P = population / patient
I = intervention
C = comparison (which is often implied)
O = outcome

For example: 
In infants in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), does cup feeding throughout the hospital stay lead to greater success with breastfeeding post-discharge when compared to tube feedings? (Question by University of Kansas Medical Center, 2021) 

P: Infants in NICU
I: Cup feeding throughout the hospital stay
C: Tube feedings throughout the hospital stay
O: Greater reported success with breastfeeding post hospital discharge

A T (time) can be added to this framework to make PICOT. The framework can also be adjusted to be specifically quantitative or qualitative:
PICOT quantitative (Higgins et al., 2019)

P = population 
I = intervention
C = comparison
O = outcome
T = time

PICOT qualitative (Fineout-Overholt and Johnston, 2005)

P = population
I = issue
C = context
O = outcome
T = time


Additional framework examples:

SPICE (Cooke et al., 2012) is a general framework that could be used in research projects examining policies, services and experiences. There is no specific subject area that SPICE could be applied to.

S = setting (Where is it taking place?)
P = population / patient (Whose perspective is being looked at? How is the population defined?)
I = intervention (How is the issue being dealt with?)
C = control / comparison (What alternative methods are available?)
E = evaluation (How was success measured? What needs to be measured?)

SPIDER (Cooke et al., 2012) helps researchers evaluate experiences of specific phenomena. Again, this could be applied in any subject area.

S = sample (Who are the participants?)
P = phenomena of Interest (What is the issue you want to find out the participants' attitudes to?)
D = design (What type of study is being carried out?)
E = evaluation (Which results are being focused on and how are they being measured?)
R = research type (Qualitative, quantitative or mixed-methods research?)

The image below shows the SPIDER framework in visual form. It is a spider web with 5 points, each point indicating a letter of the framework: Sample; Phenomenon of Interest; Design; Evaluation and Research type.

diagram of the SPIDER research framework

Image from: 
Cooke A, Smith D, and Booth A. (2012) 'Beyond PICO: The SPIDER Tool for Qualitative Evidence Synthesis', Qualitative Health Research, 22(10) pp.1435-1443. Available at: doi:10.1177/1049732312452938 


These resources offer further reading on the use of research frameworks:

CILIP Research

Research is a messy process!

This poster produced by CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) and the CILIP Information Literacy Group highlights that often research is done to help you formulate the right question for your own independent learning or to gather information to help you understand the factors involved in answering a specific question that you have been set.

Researching a new topic or idea can be tricky. It requires patience and resilience!

This means deciding what questions you need to have answers for and when and how you will do your research. Reading reports, articles and opinions often provides answers – but often as you learn more about your topic, it leads you to more questions that need to be answered. For example:

  • You may want to know how a product is constructed. You then need to do research into the properties of the materials used and find out about alternatives.
  • You may need to find several opinions about your topic that explain different viewpoints or perspectives.
  • You might make a prototype but then find it doesn’t work as expected – more research may be needed.
  • You may contact a business that wants to know costings for your innovation.
  • You might find that your innovation needs greater data capacity – more research into component parts and how they are used may be needed.
  • You may need to test the effectiveness of your innovation by researching the need within the market.

So, to be successful you need to realise that MORE research, information and data may be needed in order for YOU to fully realise your project.

The more research you do = the more questions you will have. Around 40% of your project time will probably be spent on research.

Messy doc

A second poster continues:

Research is a dynamic process!

A flash has RESEARCH in the centre with arrows pointing to: ask questions, record, create, understand, use, ask more questions, fit for purpose, modify, solve problems and test.

Research is a surprising process!

A box with the word ‘RESEARCH’ on the side has springs emerging from the top, each has a label: new development ideas, new direction, new keywords and search terms, sudden understanding, new line of enquiry, new arguments introduced, unexpected confirmation, new ideas for presentation.

Effective research takes time and the answer require you to stop and think. Your brain needs time to reflect on what you have found.


  • manage your time
  • keep active
  • stay focussed
  • be curious

Messy 2 doc