Home Analysis of Professional Literature
Class 2: Research Questions, Searching, & Reading Lists
James Neill
Last updated:
16 Mar 2003

Start by reading the preamble

Refining research questions
Defining key terms
Writing a thesis statement

How to start searching

Creating a reading list

Task 2: Final research question, research thesis, definition of key terms & annotated reading list

Due as a written report via email attachment by midnight next Wednesday.  Use this text in the subject line of your email "KIN901: Reading List" and name your attachment "KIN901 Reading List Firstname Lastname.doc".

Tips for succeeding at task 2
Example task 2

Recommended reading



Having brainstormed and concept mapped various possible research questions, selected a few likely candidates and refined them, talked to potential supervisors and others, and done some initial reading, it is time to select a topic and work on the final version of the research question.


A solid research question is like a lifeline which keeps one anchored during one's searching, reading, note-taking and thinking.  Much thinking is wasted in undisciplined wandering from topic to topic, never getting down to substance.  To succeed in a thesis or project you need to develop a clear, achievable, worthwhile, specific research question.


Having developed a research question, one should then define the key terms, so that others can tell exactly what a researcher is talking about.


The researcher should then also articulate his/her research thesis -- that is, what is the researcher's expected answer to the research question.


Having developed a question, defined the key terms, and stated one's research thesis, one can then search systematically for the best possible sources of information about this question. This includes books, experts, and websites, but most particularly, journal articles in leading refereed journals.  The search should be systematic, so that the best possible information is identified, and should include dissertation abstracts, journal bibliographies, experts, the world wide web, and recent literature reviews.  The best of these resources should then be selected for indepth reading and note-taking in order to prepare for writing the literature review.

Refining Research Questions


Once you've drafted a research question to the best of your ability and knowledge, then a good way to refine your draft research question is to put it out to peer review.  A second helpful way is to work one-on-one with a potential supervisor.

Defining Key Terms


Terms should be precisely and concisely defined, quite possibly using relevant references.  This allows a reader to know exactly what a research is referring to and intending to investigate.  See common problems in Task 2.


Writing a thesis statement


It is important to be clear about what you expected to find as an answer to your research question.  A succint statement about what you expect to find is called a "thesis statement".  Draft the what you think will be MAIN STATEMENT (or main conclusion) of your literature review.  It should be longer than a sentence, but no longer than a paragraph. 

At this stage, all you can provide is a draft,  but it is worth roughing out a notion of where you think your literature review is probably heading, e.g.,

“Whilst several studies have shown positive effects of caffeine on elite endurance performance, there have been few studies which have specifically examined the effects of soda-based caffeine (e.g., Coke, Pepsi) on the endurance performance in non-elite athletes.  From the available, evidence it is predicted that soda-based caffeine products will produce moderate enhancements of non-elite endurance performance, but not to the same level as found in pure caffeine experiments in elite athletes because…...”)

For further reading on writing a research thesis statement, see Rozakis (1999).

How to Start Searching


If this is your first major literature search (e.g., never written a thesis before), then it is strongly recommended that you follow previously written guidelines on how to conduct an effective search.  Examples of useful searching guide resources are:

Creating a Reading List


You will need to create for yourself a systematic way of keeping track of references to literature that could be useful for writing a literature review on your topic.  Some academics and students use electronic bibliographic software, such as EndNote (you can trial for 30 days).  You could also try out the Knoesis Index Card Lite for 60 days. Others prefer more manual, handwritten systems.  While most of us get probably by creating our own simple word processing document containing an organized list of possible references with appropriate annotations.  Whatever system is chosen, it must be used consistently in a well organized way, otherwise the quality of literature usually suffers significantly.


As electronic and hard copies of literature are obtained, the researcher should organize appropriate shelving and filing, and store and label articles systematically, so that they can be easily accessed.  A balance needs to be struck between being disorganized and overly organized.


As the reading list is created, the types and importance of the article should be categorized in some way, so that a reading list can be generated.  Developing a focused reading list of 20 sources is generally better than an unfocused list of 100 sources.  However, it is likely that a researcher has identified and recorded something like 100 possible sources in order to come up with the final reading list of 20.  These other references may be included as an appendix and ordered, but the vast majority of the major content of a good literature review will likely emerge from less than 20 major sources.

Task 2: Final Research Question, Research Thesis, Definition of Key Terms & Annotated Reading List



This is due as a written report via email attachment by midnight next Wednesday.  Use this text in the subject line of your email "KIN901: Reading List" and name your attachment "KIN901 Reading List.doc".


Please submit an open-format report on the following:


1. Your final research question, which is to be:

(a) relevant to your discipline;

(b) clear and precise;

(c) not too broad or too narrow;

(d) able to be researched (i.e., reasonable amount of literature exists)
(e) related to a possible thesis or project;

(f) agreed upon by a potential supervisor.


2. Your research thesis.  Your thesis is your basic theory, in order words what do you expect the answer to your question to be and why.  The thesis should probably include reference to the one or two major pieces of research or theory which relate to your research question.  The research thesis is a summary statement, i.e., shouldn't be longer than a paragraph, but it should be longer than one sentence.


3. Definition of key terms

In both your research question and your research thesis, you should have mentioned all the major key terms.  Key terms include the major outcome variables and independent variables (e.g., aerobic endurance, self-concept, ticket sales, etc.).  Provide a separate section containing a definition for each of your key terms.  This should probably include citations to major references which have helped to define the constructs in which you are interested.


4. Search report.

Provide a report of your search activities and major results.  See an an example of a comprehensive search report.  Your report does not need to be this long, but I need to be able to tell exactly where and how you've searched, so that I can evaluate and provide feedback on how comprehensively you have searched.  So, I'm expecting search reports of approximately 200 to 400 words.


5. Annotated reading list.   Provide a list of your 20 top references to obtain and read.  You will need to be selective and strategic.  Imagine that you were going to a desert island to write this literature review - what are the 20 references you would take with you.  These should be the best 20 references in the world that currently exist to help answer your research question.  Possible reading resources include books, experts in the field, theses and websites as well as the long list of relevant journal articles from leading journals in your field.  Generally speaking, you should focus on selecting journal articles which provide reviews of literature as well as major specific studies relevant to the research question.


Please report the full citations for each of your 20 sources in the standard that your discipline uses.  For each citation, add an annotation (approx. 1 to 2 sentences) justifying or explaining why you believe this source should be included in the reading list.  Your comments will demonstrate your familiarity with the literature as well provide me and your supervisor(s) with helpful insight into the appropriateness and quality of the source.

Tips for Succeeding at Task 2


Here is the general feedback I gave one group of students after completing Task 2 (Final research question, defining key terms, research thesis, and annotated reading list).


Generally Well Done

-         Logical, well defined research questions were by and large provided

-         Short, clear annotations about the relevance of the source was usually provided

-         Search attempts across a wide range of sources were generally included


Common Problems

-         Research Question still not sufficiently refined

o       It is vital to check the exact wording of your question out with either James or a person likely to be your supervisor.  For most people minor to moderate modifications were recommended.

o       In most cases the scope was too broad rather than too narrow.  Some further refinement/narrowing can take place during the reading.

-         Match between the key terms in the research question and the search terms used.

-         Thoroughness of the search.  Did you really consider all possible options, e.g.,

o       Identify experts on your question?

o       Ask the experts to recommend sources?

o       Search all relevant electronic databases?

o       Search all the issues of the most relevant journal(s)?

o       Search for more material by the authors of the most relevant article(s)?


Example Task 2

This is an example of an A-quality Task 2 report, providing a research question, definition of key terms, research thesis, searching report, and annotated reference and resource list.  There are two limitations to note, however, with this example: (i) the search terms used do not  match perfectly with the research question, and (ii) less than 20 resources are identified.


Exercise Science Example: Does pre-exercise hydration status effect carbohydrate utilization of unacclimatized endurance runners in the heat?

Outdoor Education Example: What is the effect of reflective journal writing during outdoor education programs on participants’ personal development?


Pre-exercise hydration state=    the total amount of water found in the body located in the plasma, extracellular fluid, and intracellular fluid prior to exercise.

Carbohydrate utilization= the amount of carbohydrate used as an energy source during exercise (which is located in the blood glucose, liver glycogen, and muscle glycogen).

Unacclimatized endurance runners in the heat= Aerobically trained athletes (whose modality is distance running) that are unaccustomed to exercise in the heat.  For example, on the first hot day in the spring in New England, running will become more difficult since exposure to those conditions have not yet occurred this year.

Outdoor Education Example: Definitions of "reflective journal writing", "outdoor education programs" and "personal development" would be required.  


Exercise Science Example: It is well documented that the limiting factor in endurance exercise lasting greater than 60 minutes is the amount of carbohydrate (CHO) stores (or glycogen) in the body prior to exercise.  Several studies have also shown that there are increased metabolic demands during exercise in the heat, however CHO has not shown to be the limiting factor.  Many studies have demonstrated that thermoregulatory effects (an increase in core body temperature) will be the limiting factor in exercise performance in the heat.  However very few studies have looked at the correlation between pre-exercise hydration state and glycogen utilization combined as the limiting factor in performance.  Therefore, it is predicted that a well-hydrated endurance athlete will be limited in exercise in the heat by their pre-exercise glycogen content.


Exercise Science Example

  • [ELECTRONIC DATABASE]  All of 5 records in Pubmed were found by searching using terms “metabolism and exercise and heat and substrate utilization”.  From this list, I clicked on RELATED ARTICLES next to the first finding, which gave a broader search finding 108 records, where 8 were selected and described below.

  • [EXPERT]  Dr. Robert Kenefick went through the references I identified and recommended I read as many I could get a hold of and that I should definitely start with some Review articles that will also lead to more sources.  But he also said to start reading and that will help my question to become more clear.

  • Overall, at this point it was noted that there is a lot of information out there and instead of spending more time searching it would be better to get reading and go from there to search for more articles.  (Instead of wasting time finding information that could be irrelevant.)


Exercise Science Example


  • Search terms: metabolism and exercise and heat and substrate utilization (5 records found)

1:  Burke LM. Nutritional needs for exercise in the heat. Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2001 Apr;128(4):735-48. Review. PMID: 11282317 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

  • This appears to be a very good article to start with since it is a review article and it is located in the UNH library at Kendall Hall.

2:  Yu FC, Lu KC, Lin SH, Chen GS, Chu P, Gao GW, Lin YF. Energy metabolism in exertional heat stroke with acute renal failure. Nephrol Dial Transplant. 1997 Oct;12(10):2087-92. PMID: 9351070 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

  • This is a decent article, but worthwhile of reading since it looks at the extreme end of metabolism in the heat.  This will also be helpful as a precautionary to take in exercising subjects in the heat.  This article is not found at UNH, but a search for ILL is in the process.

3:  Nielsen B, Strange S, Christensen NJ, Warberg J, Saltin B. Acute and adaptive responses in humans to exercise in a warm, humid environment. Pflugers Arch. 1997 May;434(1):49-56. PMID: 9094255 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

  • This article did not appear to have any findings on metabolism in 40 Celsius.  This will be important to read to figure out at what temperature metabolism is affected.  This journal is carried at UNH only until 1981, however ILL is in the process.

4:  Young AJ. Energy substrate utilization during exercise in extreme environments.  Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 1990;18:65-117. Review. No abstract available. PMID: 2192901 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

  • This is another review article, which appears to be another very good start for my reading list.  It is a large review that hopefully will give me a better idea as to what is available already and where future research may lie.  This article is also available currently at the Dimond Library at UNH.

5:  Kirwan JP, Costill DL, Kuipers H, Burrell MJ, Fink WJ, Kovaleski JE, Fielding RA.  Substrate utilization in leg muscle of men after heat acclimation. J Appl Physiol. 1987 Jul;63(1):31-5. PMID: 3624132 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

  • This is another article that will be very helpful since heat acclimation is very important to performance and it would be interesting to apply this information about substrate utilization to endurance performance.  This is a very helpful article, which is also on campus in the Kendall Library.

    • Question:  Does heat acclimatization reduce glycogen depletion in endurance exercise?

6:   Pitsiladis YP, Maughan RJ. The effects of exercise and diet manipulation on the capacity to perform prolonged exercise in the heat and in the cold in trained humans.  J Physiol. 1999 Jun 15;517 ( Pt 3):919-30.  PMID: 10358130 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

  • This is another article found at the UNH Kendall Library, which will be helpful since it looks at prolonged exercise, which is the direction I’m looking into.

7: Lyons TP, Riedesel ML, Meuli LE, Chick TW. Effects of glycerol-induced hyperhydration prior to exercise in the heat on sweating and core temperature. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1990 Aug;22(4):477-83. PMID: 2402207 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

  • This article will be useful since it looks at hydration status and carbohydrates.  It is located at UNH in the Dimond Library.

7:  Echegaray M, Armstrong LE, Maresh CM, Riebe D, Kenefick RW, Castellani JW, Karvouras S, Casa D. Blood glucose responses to carbohydrate feeding prior to exercise in the heat: effects of hypohydration and rehydration. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2001 Mar;11(1):72-83. PMID: 11255138 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

  • This article is not locate at UNH but will be a useful read, so ILL is in the process.

8:  Febbraio MA. Alterations in energy metabolism during exercise and heat stress. Sports Med. 2001;31(1):47-59. Review. PMID: 11219501 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

  • This is another Review article which should be very helpful to get a start on reading.  This is also located at Dimond Library.

9:  Angus DJ, Febbraio MA, Lasini D, Hargreaves M. Effect of carbohydrate ingestion on glucose kinetics during exercise in the heat. J Appl Physiol. 2001 Feb;90(2):601-5. PMID: 11160059 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

  • This article is located at Kendall Library.

10:  Tatterson AJ, Hahn AG, Martin DT, Febbraio MA. Effects of heat stress on physiological responses and exercise performance in elite cyclists. J Sci Med Sport. 2000 Jun;3(2):186-93. PMID: 11104310 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

  • This article is not located at UNH and will be requested through ILL.

11:  Febbraio MA. Does muscle function and metabolism affect exercise performance in the heat? Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2000 Oct;28(4):171-6. Review. PMID: 11064851 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

  • This is another review which may or may not be found to be useful depending upon if they focus on muscle function in aerobic or anaerobic exercise.  Either way, it will be useful to take a look.  This is located in the Dimond Library.

12:  Galloway SD, Maughan RJ. The effects of substrate and fluid provision on thermoregulatory and metabolic responses to prolonged exercise in a hot environment. J Sports Sci. 2000 May;18(5):339-51. PMID: 10855680 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

  • I am very excited about this article because it appears to deal with exactly what I’d like to look at: does hydration state effect metabolism?  It is not however located at UNH, so ILL is in the works.

13:  Kay D, Marino FE. Fluid ingestion and exercise hyperthermia: implications for performance, thermoregulation, metabolism and the development of fatigue. J Sports Sci. 2000 Feb;18(2):71-82. Review. PMID: 10718562 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

  • This is one more review article that I think will be very helpful because it deals with thermoregulation and metabolism which most of the other review articles don’t seem to have focused on thermoregulation.  This also isn’t located at UNH, so ILL will hopefully turn up soon.


Recommended Reading


Gall, M. D., Borg, W. R., Gall, J. P. (2003).  Educational research: An introduction. (7th Edition). White Plains, New York: Longman. Recommended: Skim read Chapter 4 "Reviewing the Literature" (pp. 89 - 121).

Rozakis, L. (1999). Schaum's quick guide to writing great research papers.  New York: McGraw-Hill. (available for free as an e-book via http://www.library.unh.edu/whatsnew/ebooks.htm).  Rozakis' Chapter 4 "How do I Write a Thesis Statement" (pp. 29 - 34) is highly recommended, as is Chapter 5 "How Can I Find the Information I Need?" (pp. 37 - 42).