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Social Work Research Methods I (19:910:505)

The CIAO Framework

CIAO is a framework for crafting research questions for evidence-based research in social work. CIAO stands for:  



How would you describe a client similar to yours? What are the most important characteristics of your client?


What main intervention, exposure, or factor are you considering? 

  • Alternative Intervention

What is the main alternative to your intervention being considered, if any?


What are you trying to accomplish, measure, improve or affect?


PICO is a similar framework used in the health sciences. Substitute PICO for CIAO, and this video can be very helpful.

Developing Your Search Strategy Using CIAO

Use the following worksheet to learn more about crafting search strategies for complex searches 

Creating keywords for your searches is the first step to a comprehensive search strategy. 

From each of our CIAO aspects, we can brainstorm keywords and synonyms (other terms authors might be using) to use in our search. See the example below. 

Example of CIAO

Example CIAO construction of a research question

Client Women who have been diagnosed with substance abuse disorder (SUD)
Intervention Partial hospitalization addiction recovery programs
Alternative Outpatient addiction recovery programs
Outcome Prevalence of relapse

CIAO-Constructed Final Question

Do women who have been diagnosed with substance abuse disorder (client) that engage in partial hospitalization addiction recovery programs (intervention) have lower instances of relapse (outcome) when compared with women who engage in outpatient addition recovery programs (alternative intervention)?

Example of Search Keywords Using CIAO

CIAO Aspect Keywords
C Women who have SUD

Women - femmes, females, womxn 

SUD - "Substance Use Disorder," addiction, "substance abuse," "drug abuse," etc 

I Partial hospitalization addiction recovery programs 

"Partial hospitalization programs" - PHP, "partial day hospitalization," "inpatient programs" 

"Addiction recovery" - rehabilitation, rehab, "substance abuse recovery," etc 

A Outpatient addiction recovery programs 

"Outpatient recovery programs" - "outpatient programs," "intensive outpatient programs," etc 

"Addiction recovery" - rehabilitation, rehab, "substance abuse recovery," etc 

O Relapse Relapse - recidivism, lapse, return to use, etc 


Sources for CIAO Assignment

These sources come directly from your CIAO class assignment (Module 12 of Research Methods 1): 

"Identify two articles in the literature addressing the research question. Start your search with the curated sources (list below). Describe how the two articles you identified fit your CIAO framework."


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