Skip to main content

Evidence Based Nursing

What Is A Literature Review?

A Literature Review Is Not:

  • just a summary of sources
  • a grouping of broad, unrelated sources
  • a compilation of everything that has been written on a particular topic
  • literature criticism (think English) or a book review

So, what is it then?

A literature review is an integrated analysis-- not just a summary-- of scholarly writings that are related directly to your research question.  That is, it represents the literature that provides background information on your topic and shows a correspondence between those writings and your research question.

A literature review may be a stand alone work or the introduction to a larger research paper, depending on the assignment.  Rely heavily on the guidelines your instructor has given you.

Why is it important?

A literature review is important because it:

  • Explains the background of research on a topic.
  • Demonstrates why a topic is significant to a subject area.
  • Discovers relationships between research studies/ideas.
  • Identifies major themes, concepts, and researchers on a topic.
  • Identifies critical gaps and points of disagreement.
  • Discusses further research questions that logically come out of the previous studies.

Steps for Conducting a Lit Review

1. Choose your topic, define your question

  • Your literature review should be guided by a central research question.  Remember, it is not a collection of loosely related studies in a field but instead represents background and research developments related to a specific research question, interpreted and analyzed by you.

2. Decide on the scope of your review

  • How many studies do you need to look at? How comprehensive should it be? How many years should it cover? 

3. Select the databases you will use to conduct your searches

4. Conduct your searches and find the literature. Keep track of your searches!

  • Review the abstracts and conclusions carefully. This will save you time.
  • Write down the keywords you used and where you found them
  • Use RefWorks to keep track of your citations.

5. Review the literature! This is the most time consuming part.

  • What was the research question of the study you are reviewing? What were the authors trying to discover?
  • Was the research funded by a source that could influence the findings?
  • What were the research methodologies? Analyze its literature review, the samples and variables used, the results, and the conclusions. Does the research seem to be complete? Could it have been conducted more soundly? What further questions does it raise?
  • If there are conflicting studies, why do you think that is?
  • How are the authors viewed in the field? Has this study been cited?; if so, how has it been analyzed?

 

Video Tutorial

Literature Review Example

Remember, a literature review provides an overview of a topic. There may or may not be a method for how studies are collected or interpreted. Lit reviews aren't always obviously labeled "literature review"; they may be embedded within sections such as the introduction or background. You can figure this out by reading the article. 

Ways to Organize the Literature Review

One of the more time intensive aspects of a literature review is deciding how you want to organize the review. There are many directions you can go. Below are suggestions for how you can organize the literature in your literature review. For more detailed information, visit UWF Libraries' Research Guide on the Literature Review: Organizing/Writing.

Ways to organize the literature reviewb
Chronologically (by event/trend): Writing about materials based on when they were published. This is only appropriate if there is already a clear path of research and your research adds to this path . EX: Writing a literature review that focuses on continuing research about trends of physician-assisted suicide after Vermont passed the first aide in dying law.

 
Thematically (categorically): Literature is organized around a topic or issue rather than the progression of time. This type of review can be organized chronologically but you literature can also fall "out of order" based on the point you are making. For example: The impacts of pet therapy on human health-->the literature review could be organized into sections about emotional, mental, and physiological impacts with literature from any date appearing in all 3 sections.
By Publication Date: Order your sources by publication date if the order demonstrates a more important trend. You could order the review of the literature on women's reproductive rights if there is a noticeable shift in policy surrounding your topic.  Methodology: This type of review focuses on the methods used by the researcher. The methods used will influence how the topic is discussed. For example, one methodological approach would be to look at the cultural differences on the portrayal of women's rights in American, European, and Middle Eastern studies (women's reproductive rights may be discussed differently depending on the researcher's cultural bias.)

Sometimes, though, you might need to add additional sections that are necessary for your study, but do not fit in the organizational strategy of the body. What other sections you include in the body is up to you. Put in only what is necessary. Here are a few other sections you might want to consider:

Current Situation: Information necessary to understand the topic or focus of the literature review.

History: The chronological progression of the field, the literature, or an idea that is necessary to understand the literature review, if the body of the literature review is not already a chronology.

Methods and/or Standards: The criteria you used to select the sources in your literature review or the way in which you present your information. For instance, you might explain that your review includes only peer-reviewed articles and journals.

Questions for Further Research: What questions about the field has the review sparked? How will you further your research as a result of the review?