San Jose State University
Department of Human Performance


Choosing a Topic

The first task to tackle, often the most difficult, in writing a review of literature is choosing a topic. Often the task is especially difficult because of a lack of knowledge in the content area. Below are some hints for facilitating your selection of a topic. First, skim through your textbook and identify broad topics in the discipline that interest you. Second, read the chapters associated with the topics you pick to develop familiarity with the vocabulary (key words), primary investigators, and issues or controversies in the area. Other exercise physiology books and the list of Possible Topics for In-Class Discussion may also be used to identify topics. Third, narrow the focus of your interest to a fairly narrow (manageable) topic. For example, if you are interested in the anaerobic threshold you need to narrow your field of investigation to some aspect of this topic (e.g., measurement indices or AnT and performance) The next step, after choosing a topic, is to go to the library and search for journal articles published in the area. Use the education, physical education, sports, and medical on-line indices to facilitate the search. Use key words to find article titles for specific topics; sometimes abstracts are provided for the reader's reference. Abstracts can be useful, time saving devices because they aid in weeding good, associated literature from unrelated, peripheral articles.

Selecting Appropriate Articles

The type of articles that are selected for a good review of literature are theoretical presentations, review articles, and empirical research articles. Choosing the work of a single researcher may be one method for starting a literature review. Your presentation will be more powerful if conflicting theoretical positions and findings are presented along with the position or prediction that you support in your paper. You should choose several researchers' works that have added to the knowledge base in a specific area. Strive to eliminate (or explain away) articles that have faulty methods or that use faulty reasoning to support their findings.

Reviewing the Articles

It is best if you read the article and then summarize the method, results, and discussion. In this way you do not risk quoting an author out of context or plagiarizing. Additionally you are forced to understand the article more thoroughly than if you copy quotations. Expect to have read the research articles more than once in order to completely understand the material. A common method for reviewing research articles is to write notes about the article while reading it. This may be a mistake. A review of this type often leads the investigator to copying quotations from the article and then using the quotes in the review, or plagiarizing the work of others. Often quotes are taken out of context and are misleading. Using a 5" by 7" index card for note taking has many advantages. The top wide margin of the card can be used to write the bibliographic information (always include all needed information) and the remaining front and back of the card is large enough for your written summary information. Be sure to use a new card for each study reviewed. At the end of your literature search these separate cards will enable you to group similar studies under headings. Also when you type your reference list you can alphabetize the cards and type the list directly from them. This method is a great time saver.


You should become familiar with the format of the American Psychological Association (APA). This format is the one most used in exercise physiology writing. A brief APA style guide will be provided, however, it is recommended that you purchase or refer to the APA Publication Manual for detailed information.

Other Considerations

A good review of literature is one in which the topic is narrowly defined. When writing the review the discussion of articles should be integrated and critical. Take changes when you critique the nature of the experimentation and discussions. You will become more proficient at this task as time passes. This is your paper! It is your chance to analyze and interpret literature and expound on ideas. Treat the paper as a forum for expressing important ideas. You are expected to write a paper that is insightful and analytical.

Final Recommendations

Begin to choose your topic today. Think about your interests and look through the textbook. Feel free to discuss your topic or potential topics with me. This may be useful since I can help to focus your attention on specific, narrow topics and articles in the literature.

revised: 7/96
Carol L. Christensen (home page)
Department of Human Performance
San Jose State University
phone: 408-924-3035