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EXNS 508 Research Methods in Exercise Science

Step #1 Research Question

Clearly articulate your research topic as a question

  • State your research question as clearly and specifically as possible.
  • Try to articulate all aspects of your questions

Example Question
Does heat therapy reduce muscle damage from exercise? 

Step #2 Identify Databases

Identify the subject databases that best fit your research.  Journal coverage is important.  

What is your research question about?   

  • Know the subject coverage of a database.  Which journals are covered in the database? 
  • Search different databases so you can be sure to find articles from a full range of journals.
  • Use the Discovery Box search and Limit Databases to the best coverage for your topic. 
  • Many Exercise & Sport Science questions are interdisciplinary and will need to be searched in multiple databases.
  • Google Scholar does not have everything you need. 
  • Ask a librarian for help if you are not certain which databases are the best fit. 

    Example Question
  • Does heat therapy reduce muscle damage from exercise? 
    The question is about exercise and treatment: 

Step #3 Identify the concepts in your question

Identify the different concepts in your research question.  You should have two or three concepts that you are researching.  These concepts are not necessarily related.  Often the third concept is a population such as athletes, adolescents, elderly, special needs etc.  Ask yourself Who, What, and Why? 

Example Question
Does heat therapy reduce muscle damage from exercise?
Concepts to research:

  1.  Heat therapy
  2.  Exercise 
  3.  Muscles 
  4. Population? Athletes? 

Step #4. Search Terms for concepts

#4. Locate thesaurus terms and synonyms for your concepts 

  • Some databases have tools like a Thesaurus or Subject Headings that can help you find similar words to use in your search.
  • Once you start searching you may find more words in titles and abstracts and subject headings to try in your search.

Sample SPORTSDiscus Thesaurus terms 

SPORTSDiscus Thesaurus terms 
Heat Therapy Muscles (tired) (stressed) Exercise 
Diathermy Muscle Injuries  Exercise physiology 
Thermotherapy  Hamstring Muscle Injuries  Exercise 
Hot-air baths  Muscle Fatigue  Shoulder exercises
Sample MeSH heading for PubMed search
MeSH Heading Heat Therapy Muscles (tired) (stressed)  Exercise 
Hot Temperature  Muscle Fatigue  Exercise physiology 
Heat  Muscle Strength  Exercise therapy 
Muscle Tonus  Physical Exertion 


Step #5 Start searching

Step #5 Start entering words 

  • Start simple.  Cast a wide net.  Don't make your first search complicated. 
  • Use the database Advanced Searching to separate your concepts with AND 
  • Use the database Advanced Searching to combine similar terms with OR

Sample SPORTDiscus search strategy 

Sample PubMed search strategy