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The research process

Research Process Video Series

This video series walks students through the research process to develop a PICO(T) question. It also includes advanced search strategies using the SportDiscus Databases. To watch these video, see the YouTube links below. To watch in full screen, click on the YouTube logo in the embedded video.

Developing a research question

Step 1: Start with a broad topic of interest

Step 2: Search for literature on your topic

  • Start with a background search using an encyclopedia from the library or by searching on Google. Then, move onto searching for peer-reviewed articles in an academic database.

Step 3: Identify a research gap

  • Before you develop a question, you should (ideally) find a research gap. A research gap is an aspect of your topic that's not sufficiently covered by the existing literature.

Step 4: Develop a draft PICO(T) question

  • Once you have a research gap, draft your PICO(T) research question.

Step 5: Refine PICO(T) question and choose study method

  • You will need to revise your PICO(T) research question several times so it is clear and concise. During this process, you will want to think about how you would answer this research question and choose a method. You can choose a method by borrowing from existing academic papers or by using a reference handbook/database.


Before you start searching, it can be helpful to identify potential synonyms for the most important words in your question

Does regular access to an iPad increase young children's physical dexterity?

iPad tablet, smartphone, video game, computer
young children depends on age of interest - e.g. toddlers, pre-schoolers, etc
dexterity motor skills

What are university athletes' perceptions of hazing in sport?

University athletes College athletes, varsity athletes, etc  
Hazing initiation, right of passage

Conducting your literature review

Search different spellings and plural/singular

An asterisk (*) or truncation symbols means I don't care how it ends  e.g. sprain*

Search phrases

Use quotation marks "" to search for a particular phrase  e.g. "risk taking"

Proximity searching

Proximity searching lets you search for two words near each other e.g. ankle N2 sprain* will look for those words within two words of each other in any order

Using AND/OR

Avoid typing sentences into the search box. Always use AND or OR between different ideas:

  • AND (if you want all the words to appear in your search results) e.g. hazing AND sport*
  • OR (if you don't care which word shows up) e.g. college OR university

Advanced search tutorial videos

Subject headings vs keywords

Keywords Subject terms

Natural language words that describe your topic

Pro: Easy to combine terms

Pro: Can search for them anywhere in the source

Con: Can be difficult to narrow results

Con: Might retrieve irrelevant results

Pre-defined vocabulary that describes your topic

Pro: Can quickly rule out irrelevant sources

Pro: Often retrieves more accurate results

Con: Harder to combine terms (need to know which terms exist)

You can improve your search results by combining the keywords you brainstorm with the subject headings each database uses to categorize articles. These headings or tags are added to articles to make them easier to find and group.

In Medline/PubMed, the headings are called MESH

In CINAHL, the headings are called CINAHL headings

In SportDiscus, the headings can be found in the Thesaurus.

Strategy 1: Carefully review the references of relevant articles you've found

Leslie, E., Sparling, P., & Owen, N. (2001). University campus settings and the promotion of physical activity in young adults: lessons from research in Australia and the USA. Health Education, 101(3), 116–125.

Strategy 2: Use Google Scholar or Scopus to find out who cited the articles you've found

Google Scholar

Finding an appropriate method for your research

Finding tests, measures, and datasets

(Search suggestions take from McGill University Library's research guide "Finding instruments, measures, scales and tests in education, health, psychology, and social work.")

Presentation best practices

Before using images in your poster, please ensure you have the right to reproduce the work. Many creators have given permission up front by assigning Creative Commons licenses to their work allowing for reproduction and reuse. Be sure to read the license carefully to ensure your use is permitted. You will also be required to cite your source according to the style you have selected.

Symbols to avoid with CC licenses

 This symbol means no derivatives of the image are allowed

 This images means you must share what you create under a Creative Commons license as well

Potential sources for images