Framing your research question

Question frameworks are used to help you turn your research question into the searches you will need for databases and search engines


COPES stands for Client-Oriented Practical Evidence Search. Unlike most frameworks, the letters of this framework aren't drawn from the categories you use to frame your question. The acronym comes from a the description of the process. COPES questions originate in daily practice. The client in this question can be an individual, or a group.

There are 5 general types of COPES questions

  • Assessment question – Does a specific client system demonstrate an identified problem or strength? / Has a specific intervention been able to achieve the desired outcomes?
  • Description question – What are my clients experiences in a given situation? (Involves techniques such as client surveys and observation by practitioners)
  • Effectiveness question – How effective is an intervention in treating your clients?
  • Prevention question – How effective is an intervention in helping your clients to avoid a problem?
  • Risk question – What is the probability of a specific outcome or consequence in given situation?


Client type and problem
  • What are the characteristics that define your client(s)?
  • Which of their problems are you focusing on?
  • What is the practice context in which you will apply your intended intervention?
Action: What you might do
  • Which method, strategy or intervention are you planning to use for the treatment, prevention, assessment, risk evaluation, or client survey of the problem you've identified?
Alternate course of action
  • Which alternative method, strategy or intervention are you using for comparison? (It's ok to leave this blank if you are not doing a comparison.)
What you want to accomplish
  • How are your going to define success for your chosen method, strategy or intervention? What outcomes would you expect to see?
  • How are you going to measure the degree of success?


Reference: Begun, A.L. (2018) SWK 3402 online coursebook: Research & statistics for understanding social work interventions. The Ohio State University, Open Educational Resources. opens in a new window