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EXSC 331 : Scientific Writing : Concept Mapping & Topic Selection

Selecting a topic

Topic selection is key to successful research! You want a topic that:

  • is interesting to YOU
  • is relevant to the field of exercise science
  • can be turned into an answerable question

Having trouble coming up with a topic? Think about your personal experience or of people you know: any injuries or experience with training for sport?  Or review the table of contents of a recent journal in the field to see what topics are being written about. Here's a few to get you started:

  • British Journal of Sports Medicine (use the 'all issues' list on the right to browse. Notice that there is "bibliographic records" but not necessarily full text) 
  • European Journal of Sport Science (use the 'all issues' list on the right to browse for a recent issue. Notice that there is a full text delay of 18 months, so issues from 2016 and 2017 are not yet available full text)
  • Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise (click 'view it', then the 'Journals@Ovid' link, then browse the Journal Issue List along the lefthand side. Note that UPS full text access goes back to 1996.)
  • Exercise and sport sciences reviews (click 'view it', then the 'Journals@Ovid' link, then browse the Journal Issue List along the lefthand side. Note that UPS full text access goes back to 2001.) 
    • NOTE: there is a limit on how many simultaneous users can access these last two may get a message saying that access is full and you'll need to try again later.)

Concept Mapping

Start with your big, broad topic in the middle of your page. You may choose any area of exercise science that involves human subjects (e.g. physiology, biomechanics, motor control etc). It can be a population, a bodily system, an injury, a type of rehabilitation, an element of biomechanics, etc.  Take 5 minutes and brainstorm aspects of that topic that interest, confuse, or intrigue you. Ask yourself:

How does this work? Who does it affect? How can it be measured or studied? What is already known? What is unknown?   

Create a map of these subtopics that will help you flesh out your topic. Keep in mind that this map may include as many questions as it does ideas...after all, you haven't researched your topic yet! Also remember that you are not expected to address all of the subtopics in your work, nor would it be wise for you to try. You will likely focus on just one or two areas of your map for your final research. 

Shaping your topic with PICO

One of the keys to successful research is having a specific question to answer to provide focus for your search. Evidence-Based Medicine has come up with a framework to help researchers frame their clinical inquiries in a way that sets up a successful and effective search. This PICO approach helps researchers think through the different elements of their question in advance to provide the framework for a thorough investigation of a question. 


Patient, Population, or Problem

What’s the issue- is it pain, injury, disease? Who is the population- age, gender, demographics?



What can you DO about the issue? Is there medication, treatment, diagnostic procedure?


Comparison or Intervention (if appropriate)

What are the alternatives to the interventions discussed above?


Outcome you would like to measure or achieve

What about this issue could be measured, improved, or affected?

For example, here is a barebones PICO question:

 In college athletes with injuries…would acupuncture-supported physical therapy…compared to PT alone…reduce rehabilitation time? 

  • What are some of the ways that you could further refine this question?