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Exercise & Nutrition Sciences: Literature Review


Begin by constructing a focused research question to help you then convert it into an effective search strategy.

  • Identify keywords or synonyms
  • Type of study/resources
  • Which database(s) to search

Web Resources

What is a literature review?

A literature review is a comprehensive and up-to-date overview of published information on a subject area. Conducting a literature review demands a careful examination of a body of literature that has been published that helps answer your research question (See PICO). Literature reviewed includes scholarly journals, scholarly books, authoritative databases, primary sources and grey literature.

A literature review attempts to answer the following:

  • What is known about the subject?
  • What is the chronology of knowledge about my subject?
  • Are there any gaps in the literature?
  • Is there a consensus/debate on issues?


  1. Create a clear research question/statement
  2. Define the scope of the review include limitations
    (i.e. gender, age, location, nationality...)
  3. Search existing literature including classic works on your topic and grey literature
  4. Evaluate results and the evidence
    (Avoid discounting information that contradicts your research)
  5. Track and organize references

What is PICO?

According to the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine (CEBM), well-formed clinical questions are essential in practicing EBM. "To benefit patients and clinicians, such questions need to be both directly relevant to patients' problems and phrased in ways that direct your search to relevant and precise answers." - CEBM, University of Toronto, Asking Focused Questions

The PICO model is a tool that can help you formulate a good clinical question. Sometimes it's referred to as PICO-T, containing an optional 5th factor. 

 P - Patient,  Population, or  Problem  What are the most important characteristics of the patient? How  would you describe a group of patients similar to yours?
 I - Intervention,  Exposure,  Prognostic Factor  What main intervention, prognostic factor, or exposure are you  considering? What do you want to do for the patient (prescribe a  drug,  order a test, etc.)?
 C - Comparison  What is the main alternative to compare with the intervention? 
 O - Outcome  What do you hope to accomplish, measure, improve, or affect?
 T - Time Factor,  Type of Study  (optional)  How would you categorize this question? What would be the best study design to answer this question? 

Seminal Works: Search Key Indexing/Citation Databases

TIP – How to Locate Seminal Works

  • DO NOT: Limit by date range or you might overlook the seminal works
  • DO: Look at highly cited references (Seminal articles are frequently referred to “cited” in the research)
  • DO: Search citation databases like Scopus, Web of Science and Google Scholar

Suggested Search Terms:


  • Athletic injuries
  • Injured athletes
  • Sports injuries
  • Psychology of injury
  • Recovery from sports
  • Recovery of Function
  • Rehabilitation
  • Reinjury
  • Return-to-play
  • Return to Sport

Performance & Training

  • Athletic Performance
  • Competitive Behavior
  • Competition
  • Physical Training and Conditioning
  • Task Performance
  • Sport Psychology
  • Coach OR Coaching OR Athletic Coaches
  • Self Efficacy

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