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Sports and Exercise Science: Planning Your Search Strategy

Literature search strategy

In order to develop an effective search strategy, you will need to have formulated a clearly defined question. This will allow you to identify appropriate keywords which you can use to search with.

You will also need to consider the resources that you are going to use in order to find information i.e. appropriate journal databases and/or other resources.

It is also important to consider what you want and what you don't want (Inclusion/Exclusion criteria) e.g. language, length of trial/study, publication date etc.

Before you start your literature search use the worksheet below to plan your search strategy. A 'completed' version is included to show how the worksheet is used.

Planning your literature search in this way should help you work in a more systematic way and will provide you with a record of what you have done for when you write up your research methods.

A simplified version (Keywords: Improving your search) can also be used to help you come up with search terms.

There are a number of search tips that you can use to improve your search. Find out more.

See also information on using PICO etc to develop your research question(right).

Example search strategy

The document below provides an example of a planned search strategy for the following topic.

'Exercise or exercise and diet for preventing type 2 diabetes mellitus’ 


Before you start searching for information, it is important to have a well-constructed research question. Using PICO might help you think about your topic and build your question:

Patient/Population/Problem - Intervention - Comparison - Outcome.


  • Population: Netball players
  • Intervention: Taping their ankles
  • Comparison: Doing something different (training or treating) or not doing anything
  • Outcome: Whatever is being measured e.g. fewer injuries or quicker recovery etc.


PEO: Population, Exposure, Outcome.

PIO: Population/Problem/Patient, Intervention/Issue, Outcome.

PICOT: Patient/Population, Intervention/Indicator, Compare/Control, Outcome, Time/Type of study or question.