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An optimisation framework for wireless link adaptation which maximises the system throughput subject to a packet-level quality of service (QoS) constraint is presented. The authors consider joint adaptive variation of the transmitted power level, transmission data rate and packet-error-rate (PER) at the physical layer to improve the throughput performance of the selective-repeat automatic repeat request (SR-ARQ) protocol over block-fading channels. Specifically, for discrete-rate coded M-QAM schemes, the authors present a power and rate adaptation algorithm that guarantees a target PER constraint. The proposed framework also facilitates optimising the throughput performance for delay constrained wireless applications, which imposes a limit on the number of retransmissions for the ARQ. In particular, a link adaptation scheme is presented, which guarantees a target packet-loss rate (PLR) when a truncated SR ARQ protocol at the data-link layer is employed. Numerical results indicate that the proposed adaptation schemes compared with other adaptive schemes noticeably enhance the system throughput. Also, in the case of truncated ARQ, the results illustrate a fundamental trade-off between the delay and PLR QoS metrics achieved at the maximum throughput performance.