3. Constructing a Guiding Question

Learning Objectives

By the end of this chapter, you will be able to:

  • Describe the process and importance of guiding-question development for research-based capstone projects.
  • Incorporate the FINER approach into guiding question development.
  • Explain the role of the Fundamental Four in guiding question development.
  • Describe and Apply the PICOT approach to developing a specific question for your capstone projects.



This chapter introduces you to strategies and frameworks that can be used to construct a sound question to guide your capstone experience.  The FINER approach to general question development is presented followed by the Fundamental Four approach.  Finally, the Problem, Intervention, Comparison, Outcome, and Time (PICOT) approach to specific capstone question development is illustrated.  The tactics for question development introduced in this chapter will provide you with an initial basis for mutual understanding, communication, and direction for a meaningful and purposeful capstone project.


Good literature reviews begin with a clear, answerable question that addresses an important problem, identified need, or phenomenon of interest (Considine, Shaban, Fry & Curtis, 2017).  The challenge in developing an appropriate question is in determining which professional practice uncertainties could or should be studied and rationalizing the need for their investigation.

Planning and Preparing for the Development of a Guiding Question(s) for Capstone Projects

Once a capstone topic has been selected, it is critical for you to develop a question that will support an efficient literature review (Stage 2).  A preliminary scope of literature (Stage 1, Chapter Two) regarding a selected topic will help you construct a question that will inform the rest of the literature review for your capstone project. For a question to be effective and complement the design of a capstone project, its needs to be succinct.  Additionally, guiding questions will vary in relation to the purpose it serves.  For example, the purpose of one capstone project may be to describe the experiences of participants, another may explore their experiences, while yet another may aim to compare participants’ experiences.  While all of them pertain to the participants’ experience, what is being studied in regard to the experiences differs (Burke & Dempsey, 2022).  Clarity about a capstone project’s purpose can also help you develop a good guiding question (Refer to Figure 3-1:  Words That Can Be Used for Creating a Capstone Purpose).

Figure 3.1:   Words that Can Be Used for Creating a Capstone Purposes







Developing a General Question:  The FINER Criteria

Once you have an approved topic for your capstone project, it is important to take the time to develop a high-quality guiding question. The FINER criteria highlight useful points that should be considered in general question development (Farrugia, Petrisor, Farrokhyar & Bhandari, 2010). (Refer to Table 3.1:  The FINER Criteria).

Table 3.1:  The FINER Criteria

F Feasible
  • Adequate number of participants
  • Adequate technical expertise to conduct project
  • Affordable in time and money
  • Can be completed in a reasonable time period
I Interesting
  • Results of capstone experience will be of interest to investigator, peers, stakeholders, and the research community
N Novel
  • Confirms, refutes, or extends previous findings
E Ethical
  • Risks to participants is low/acceptable.  Considered ethical by stakeholders and Institutional Review Board (IRB), if applicable
R Relevant
  • Improves scientific knowledge, informs clinicians and health policy, and impacts future capstone initiatives and research

Sources: Farrugia, P., Petrisor, B. A., Farrokhyar, F., & Bhandari, M. (2010). Research questions,hypotheses and objectives. Canadian journal of surgery53(4), 278; Patino, C. M., & Ferreira, J. C. (2016). Developing research questions that make a difference. Jornal Brasileiro de Pneumologia42,403-403.

Developing a Question:  The Fundamental Four

During the early stages of the capstone process, your guiding question may be broad in scope and subsequently difficult to answer.  Therefore, considerable care and time should be spent refining problem, need, or phenomenon of interest so the question facilitates a rigorous and robust search of the literature, using key terms and phrases.  Planning and preparing for the development of a guiding question for quality outcomes should address four fundamental questions (Considine, et al., 2017).  (Refer to Table 3.2:  The Fundamental Four for Informing Quality Research).

Table 3.2:  The Fundamental Four for Informing Quality Research

1 What do we know?
  • What has already been written about the topic of interest?
  • Has the topic of interest already been investigated?  If so, by whom, when, and in what context?
  • Is this a new or emerging issue or need that has not been previously addressed?
2 What don’t we know?
  • Is there a gap in the literature that makes this a new problem, need, or issue?
  • Has the problem, need, or issue been investigated at a different time or in a different context?
3 What should we know?
  • What is the specific gap that this capstone project and literature review going to address?
4 Why should we know it?
  • Why is addressing this gap important for stakeholders?  (Stakeholders:  patients, families, clinicians, and the broader health system)

In the quest of designing a capstone project, it is crucial to invest time, energy, and resources into the construction of a guiding question before proceeding to the study design (Lopes, Hurtado-Puerto, Moreno, Fregni, Falcão & Amorim, 2016)

Transforming a General Question into a Specific Question:  The PICOT Approach

Evidence-based practice proposes that clinical problems that emerge from care practice, teaching, or research can be broken down and organized using the PICOT strategy.  PICOT represents an acronym for Population, Intervention, Comparison, Outcome, and Time.  These components are essential elements of guiding question development in evidence-based practice and in the construction of a solid question (Santos, Pimenta & Nombre, 2007).  (Refer to Table 3.3:  Description of the PICOT Strategy).   T

The PICOT approach will help you generate a specific question that aids in constructing the framework of your capstone project.  The PICOT approach also aids in program protocol development by addressing the inclusion and exclusion criteria for the population involved in your study.  Furthermore, identifying a specific population of interest, an intervention, and outcomes of interest can also help you identify and/or develop an appropriate outcome measurement tool (Farrugia, et al., 2010).  It should be noted that not all PICOT questions will require a comparison.  The decision to compare two interventions will be based on the needs of your facility and the nature of your capstone project.  Additionally, not all questions will require a time period; however, it is important to keep this aspect of your capstone project in mind while performing an extensive literature review and developing your program or intervention.

Table 3.3:  Description of the PICOT Strategy

P Population or Problem
  • Represents the sample of subjects or the problem that


I Intervention (Program)
  • Represents the intervention of interest
  • The intervention of interest may apply to therapy, prevention, etiology, health, and wellness promotion
C Comparison
  • Represents what the main intervention will be compared to (may or may not be applicable)
O Outcome(s)
  • Represents the expected outcome
T Time
  • Represents the time period for data collection
  • What is the time period of the intervention within which outcomes will be measured?

By following the PICOT format an idea can be developed into a useful clinical question, which is the foundation for developing a comprehensive capstone project.


You do not have to be an epidemiologist or clinical research methodologist to develop a good guiding question.  Most research questions for clinical practitioners start with an idea or observation that arises from daily practice, observation, or reading of published literature.  The concept of evidence-based practice incorporates the routine of developing good clinical questions as part of day-to-day clinical or service management.  Recognizing an area that requires additional study is the first step while developing the skills to clearly articulate a question that should be asked is the next step.  Although it can be challenging and time-intensive to develop a guiding question, the strategies and approaches for constructing a guiding question included in this chapter will help you to develop and refine this skill.  Once the skill of constructing clinical questions is acquired, evidence-based practice will become commonplace and the foundation on which to design a methodologically sound capstone project is established (Heddle, 2007).

Case Study:  Constructing a Guiding Questions

  • Glynn completed Stage 1 of her literature review. During this literature review, Glynn became aware of a Health Literacy Universal Precautions Toolkit, which is an open-access resource provided to all health care professionals by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Glynn’s initial literature review also enlightened them to the fact that there is a gap in the literature regarding health literacy universal precautions and occupational therapy clinical practice. Glynn has again met with their mentor and capstone instructors, who initially approved the topic of health literacy, to discuss health literacy universal precautions and occupational therapy clinical practice as a topic for their capstone project.  Glynn’s mentor and instructors have approved this.  Glynn will initiate their research-based capstone  project by developing a guiding question.
  • After reviewing the FINER and Fundamental Form Approaches to general guiding question development, Glynn was ready to apply the PICOT framework to create a specific guiding question.
  • The following PIO question was approved by her mentor and capstone instructors:
    •  Does a (I) health literacy universal precautions workshop for (P) occupational therapy practitioners (O) improve their working knowledge about health literacy, and increase their self-perceived ability to identify, assess and implement client-centered interventions that optimize outcomes for low-health literate patients?
  • The PIO question above will be the focus of Glynn’s research-based capstone project. Glynn is ready to begin their comprehensive and thorough literature review to locate the most current research and information supporting their project.






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