This guide is intended for early undergraduate students to introduce the topic of sports—a big topic that could potentially overlap with psychology, economics, marketing, sociology, business, medicine, statistics, and more, depending on the research question. Here you can find some ideas for key words and sub-topics, as well as a few databases to start searching, and a small sampling of materials the UMN libraries having to do with sports.
Example keywords and subtopics
These are some examples to help you get started thinking about what big concepts and key terms might be helpful to use in your search. Try to use a variety of search terms and key words as you search, which will help you figure out what searches lead to the most relevant results.
Rather than searching for results about sports as a whole, think about if you are looking for sources about a specific sport. Searching "sports AND mental health" will yield a lot of results, many of which might not be helpful, but searching just one sport like "college soccer AND mental health" could result in more relevant sources. Pairing up different keywords together will yield different and usually more specific results. Try experimenting with different words to see what results you get.
Want to learn more about keywords and developing a search strategy? This video (3min) will explain in more depth.
- tennis AND salary
- soccer OR football (if international)
- weight-training AND "body image"
- Olympics AND corruption
- NIL OR "name image likeness"
- "physical education"
- division 3 OR division iii OR d3
- NCAA OR "National Collegiate Athletic Association"
One note about key words: let's say you want to learn more about salaries for WNBA players. What if you want to find sources that include the term "salary" as well as "salaries."If you search for just one or the other, you might miss some important sources. Adding a * to the end of a root word tells a database to look for sources that have different variations of a word. So you could enter:
salar* AND WNBA
to get sources that talk about the WNBA as well as salary as well as salaries. Another example: if you search sport* you might get sources that include the words sport, sporting, sportsmanship, and sports.
Researching a big topic can be difficult and time-intensive, so it often helps to narrow the research focus towards a smaller sub-topic. Here are a few examples of potential areas a research project regarding sports might examine. Check out this guide if you want to learn more about choosing a research topic (4min).
Here are just a few possible examples of subtopics within the world of sports:
- fan cultures
- online sports communities
- impact of a sport on mental health
- physical benefits of certain activities
- sports injuries
- unionizing in professional or college sports
- Title IX and impact on women's sports
- individual athletes
- gender equity and wage gap in professional sports
- sports in movies or television
- sports betting
- economics of team ownership
- history of a sports league or development of a sport
- impact of COVID-19 on sporting events
- sport stadiums and urban planning
Forming a research question
The kind of research question you ask, and how you formulate it matters. Some questions are very hard to answer and research (i.e. "who was the best athlete of all time?"), while others are easier (i.e. "how did Title IX impact the creation of women's basketball in colleges?"). In general it is best to avoid yes or no questions, and questions that are overly broad (i.e. "is doing sports good for you?). This could be re-formulated as a more specific question like, "how does regular weight-training affect heart health?"
Databases are a very useful tool for a researcher, because many of them specialize in offering credible, scholarly sources like academic journal articles, or more popular sources such as newspaper or magazine articles. Databases are powerful because they allow you to search through many academic journals at once, and searching the right database can yield far more relevant, helpful results than Google can. Watch this tutorial to learn more about databases (3min).
A few databases to explore:
A great place to start your research on any topic, search multidisciplinary, scholarly research articles. This database provides access to scholarly and peer reviewed journals, popular magazines and other resources. View this tutorial to learn how to go from a general idea to a very precise set of results of journal articles and scholarly materials.
The world's most comprehensive bibliographic resources for all aspects of sport and fitness. Includes websites, conference papers, journal articles, unpublished papers and theses. It also includes Full-text access to over 350 journals. Limited to 8 simultaneous users.
Use Google Scholar to find articles from academic publishers, professional societies, research institutes, and scholarly repositories from colleges and universities. If you are using from off-campus access, change the "Library Settings" to University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Look for the "FindIt@U of M Twin Cities" links in your Google Scholar search results to access full text and PDFs. View this tutorial to learn how to go from a general idea to a very precise set of results of journal articles and scholarly materials.
Find business articles from journals and magazines in marketing, management, information technology, operations, human resources, accounting, finance and economics dating back to 1965.
A comprehensive interdisciplinary collection of journal article citations. Articles are not limited to the sciences alone, and also includes results from arts and humanities, as well as social sciences. This resource can link you to who cited an article, as well as what papers the article is citing—very handy. View this tutorial to learn more.
Sample of online materials
Below are a selection of online books and readings on a few topics relating to sports. We have many more online books, journal articles, and sources in our Libraries Search and article databases.
Publication Date: 2020
Lower extremity injuries are the most common injuries in professional sports and carry a high burden to players and teams in the National Football League (NFL). Injury prevention strategies can be refined by a foundational understanding of the occurrence and effect of these injuries on NFL players. The purpose of this study is to determine the incidence of specific lower extremity injuries sustained by NFL players across 4 NFL seasons.
This is an example of how to search using a database:
The important thing to remember is that searching on databases is different from searching on google. Instead of typing your question "Why do so many professional skaters compete as children?" try using your keywords to link topics together.
In this example, we used (ice skating OR figure skating) AND competitive AND (child OR teenager OR adolescents) to get results. As you can see there are 32 results. If you wanted more results you could eliminate one of the search fields, like competitive, which would then show you results just focused on young people skating. Notice that the results automatically sort by date (NOT relevance), putting the most recent results at the top. This setting can be adjusted if you prefer.
Need more help?
Not finding what you need?
Scott Marsalis is the library liaison for Kinesiology and Sports Management—you can make an appointment with Scott here. Kate Peterson is the librarian for first-year writing—you can make an appointment with Kate here.
This guide was created by Theresa Heitz in the Spring of 2023.