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How to Write a Literature Review

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How to Write a Literature Review

HOW TO WRITE A LITERATURE REVIEW

BACKGROUND

This article is written in the form of a literature review for the journal Sport science. A few of the requirements for form and content are unique to Sport science, but most are common to all good scientific journals. You can therefore use this article to help you write a review for any journal. You can also use this article to structure a literature review for a thesis, but check with your supervisor for any special requirements.

This article exists in slightly modified form as a template for a Sport science review article. If you intend to submit a review to Sport science, you should download the template from the Information for Authors page at the Sport science site. Whether you are writing a review for Sport science, another journal, or a thesis, you should read my guidelines on scientific writing (Hopkins, 1999a). Here are the main points from that article:

• Avoid technical terms.

• Avoid abbreviations.

• Use simple sentences.

• Avoid common errors of punctuation and grammar.

• Use the first person (I, we) rather than the passive voice.

• Link your ideas into a sensible sequence without repetitions or discontinuities.

• Get feedback on your article from colleagues.

In this Background section, make the topic interesting by explaining it in plain language and by relating it to actual or potential practical applications. Explain any scientific principles underlying the topic. Define and justify the scope of the review: why you are limiting it to certain sports, why you are including studies of non-athletes and non-human species, and so on.

LITERATURE

In this short section you should list how many of each kind of publication you summarized (for example, 31 original investigations, one monograph, five reviews, four popular articles, one manuscript), and how you found them (for example, a search of the sport-science database SportDiscus).

Be specific about any database search you performed. Include the key words you used, and the ways you refined your search if necessary. For example: "A search for overtrain* produced 774 references, which reduced to 559 when we limited the search to intermediate or advanced levels (not le=basic). Further restricting the search to psych* or mood produced 75 references. We read 47 of these as full papers. Of the 41 papers cited in this review, we were able to obtain the following only in abstract form: Jones et al. (1979) and Smith and Brown (1987)." Describe and justify briefly any papers or areas that you decided not to include.

FINDINGS

This section is the most important part of your review. Do not give a summary paper-by-paper; instead, deal with themes and draw together results from several papers for each theme. I have identified four themes for this section: assessing the quality of published work; interpreting effects; points of grammar and style; and a few remarks about tables and figures. These themes are dealt with under subheadings. I encourage you to use such subheadings, which will make it easier for you to write the review and easier for others to read it.

Quality of Published Work

Look critically at any published work. The fact that something has been published does not mean the findings are automatically trustworthy. Some research designs are better than others (see Hopkins, 1998a). The most trustworthy conclusions are those reached in double-blind randomized controlled trials with a representative sample of sufficient size to detect the smallest worthwhile effects.

The weakest findings are those from case studies. In between are cross-sectional studies, which are usually plagued by the problem of interpreting cause and effect in the relationship between variables. How subjects were sampled is an important issue. You can be confident about generalizing results to a population only if the sample was selected randomly from the population and there was a low proportion of refusals and dropouts (<30%).Be wary of generalizing results from novice athletes to elites. Something that enhances performance in young or untrained individuals may not work so well in highly trained athletes, who may have less headroom for improvement.

There are big differences in the way data can be collected. At one extreme are qualitative methods, in which the researcher interviews subjects without using formal psychometric

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