Nursing: Literature Review

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Good Place to Start: Citation Databases

Interdisciplinary Citation Databases:  

A good place to start your research  is to search a research citation database to view the scope of literature available on your topic.

TIP #1: SEED ARTICLE Begin your research with a "seed article" - an article that strongly supports your research topic.  Then use a citation database to f ollow the studies published by finding articles which have cited that article, either because they support it or because they disagree with it.

TIP #2: SNOWBALLING Snowballing is the process where researchers will begin with a select number of articles they have identified relevant/strongly supports their topic and then search each articles' references reviewing the studies cited to determine if they are relevant to your research.

BONUS POINTS: This process also helps identify key highly cited authors within a topic to help establish the "experts" in the field.

Begin by constructing a focused research question to help you then convert it into an effective search strategy.

  • Identify keywords or synonyms
  • Type of study/resources
  • Which database(s) to search
  • Asking a Good Question (PICO)
  • PICO - Worksheet
  • What Is a PICOT Question?

Seminal Works: Search Key Indexing/Citation Databases

  • Google Scholar
  • Web of Science

TIP – How to Locate Seminal Works

  • DO NOT: Limit by date range or you might overlook the seminal works
  • DO: Look at highly cited references (Seminal articles are frequently referred to “cited” in the research)
  • DO: Search citation databases like Scopus, Web of Science and Google Scholar

Web Resources

What is a literature review?

A literature review is a comprehensive and up-to-date overview of published information on a subject area. Conducting a literature review demands a careful examination of a body of literature that has been published that helps answer your research question (See PICO). Literature reviewed includes scholarly journals, scholarly books, authoritative databases, primary sources and grey literature.

A literature review attempts to answer the following:

  • What is known about the subject?
  • What is the chronology of knowledge about my subject?
  • Are there any gaps in the literature?
  • Is there a consensus/debate on issues?
  • Create a clear research question/statement
  • Define the scope of the review include limitations (i.e. gender, age, location, nationality...)
  • Search existing literature including classic works on your topic and grey literature
  • Evaluate results and the evidence (Avoid discounting information that contradicts your research)
  • Track and organize references
  • How to conduct an effective literature search.
  • Social Work Literature Review Guidelines (OWL Purdue Online Writing Lab)

What is PICO?

The PICO model can help you formulate a good clinical question. Sometimes it's referred to as PICO-T, containing an optional 5th factor. 

Search Example

example of literature review nursing

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Nursing: How to Write a Literature Review

  • Traditional or Narrative Literature Review

Getting started

1. start with your research question, 2. search the literature, 3. read & evaluate, 4. finalize results, 5. write & revise, brainfuse online tutoring and writing review.


The best way to approach your literature review is to break it down into steps.  Remember, research is an iterative process, not a linear one.  You will revisit steps and revise along the way.  Get started with the handout below that provides an excellent overview.  Then move on to the specific steps recommended on this page.

  • Literature Review Handout

Source: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

  • Begin with a topic.
  • Understand the topic. 
  • Familiarize yourself with the terminology.  Note what words are being used and keep track of these for use as database search keywords. 
  • See what research has been done on this topic before you commit to the topic.  Review articles can be helpful to understand what research has been done .
  • Develop your research question.  (see handout below)
  • How comprehensive should it be? 
  • Is it for a course assignment or a dissertation? 
  • How many years should it cover?
  • Developing a good nursing research question Handout. Reviews PICO method and provides search tips.

Your next step is to construct a search strategy and then locate & retrieve articles.

  •  There are often 2-4 key concepts in a research question.
  • Search for primary sources (original research articles.)
  • These are based on the key concepts in your research question.
  • Remember to consider synonyms and related terms.
  • Which databases to search?
  • What limiters should be applied (peer-reviewed, publication date, geographic location, etc.)?

Review articles (secondary sources)

Use to identify literature on your topic, the way you would use a bibliography.  Then locate and retrieve the original studies discussed in the review article. Review articles are considered secondary sources.

  • Once you have some relevant articles, review reference lists to see if there are any useful articles.
  • Which articles were written later and have cited some of your useful articles?  Are these, in turn, articles that will be useful to you? 
  • Keep track of what terms you used and what databases you searched. 
  • Use database tools such as save search history in EBSCO to help.
  • Keep track of the citations for the articles you will be using in your literature review. 
  • Use RefWorks or another method of tracking this information. 
  • Database Search Strategy Worksheet Handout. How to construct a search.
  • TUTORIAL: How to do a search based on your research question This is a self-paced, interactive tutorial that reviews how to construct and perform a database search in CINAHL.

The next step is to read, review, and understand the articles.

  • Start by reviewing abstracts. 
  • Make sure you are selecting primary sources (original research articles).
  • Note any keywords authors report using when searching for prior studies.
  • You will need to evaluate and critique them and write a synthesis related to your research question.
  • Consider using a matrix to organize and compare and contrast the articles . 
  • Which authors are conducting research in this area?  Search by author.  
  • Are there certain authors’ whose work is cited in many of your articles?  Did they write an early, seminal article that is often cited?
  • Searching is a cyclical process where you will run searches, review results, modify searches, run again, review again, etc. 
  • Critique articles.  Keep or exclude based on whether they are relevant to your research question.
  • When you have done a thorough search using several databases plus Google Scholar, using appropriate keywords or subject terms, plus author’s names, and you begin to find the same articles over and over.
  • Remember to consider the scope of your project and the length of your paper.  A dissertation will have a more exhaustive literature review than an 8 page paper, for example.
  • What are common findings among each group or where do they disagree? 
  • Identify common themes. Identify controversial or problematic areas in the research. 
  • Use your matrix to organize this.
  • Once you have read and re-read your articles and organized your findings, you are ready to begin the process of writing the literature review.

2. Synthesize.  (see handout below)

  • Include a synthesis of the articles you have chosen for your literature review.
  • A literature review is NOT a list or a summary of what has been written on a particular topic. 
  • It analyzes the articles in terms of how they relate to your research question. 
  • While reading, look for similarities and differences (compare and contrast) among the articles.  You will create your synthesis from this.
  • Synthesis Examples Handout. Sample excerpts that illustrate synthesis.

Regis Online students have access to Brainfuse. Brainfuse is an online tutoring service available through a link in Moodle. Meet with a tutor in a live session or submit your paper for review.

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Literature Review Overview

What is a Literature Review? Why Are They Important?

A literature review is important because it presents the "state of the science" or accumulated knowledge on a specific topic. It summarizes, analyzes, and compares the available research, reporting study strengths and weaknesses, results, gaps in the research, conclusions, and authors’ interpretations.

Tips and techniques for conducting a literature review are described more fully in the subsequent boxes:

  • Literature review steps
  • Strategies for organizing the information for your review
  • Literature reviews sections
  • In-depth resources to assist in writing a literature review
  • Templates to start your review
  • Literature review examples

Literature Review Steps

example of literature review nursing

Graphic used with permission: Torres, E. Librarian, Hawai'i Pacific University

1. Choose a topic and define your research question

  • Try to choose a topic of interest. You will be working with this subject for several weeks to months.
  • Ideas for topics can be found by scanning medical news sources (e.g MedPage Today), journals / magazines, work experiences, interesting patient cases, or family or personal health issues.
  • Do a bit of background reading on topic ideas to familiarize yourself with terminology and issues. Note the words and terms that are used.
  • Develop a focused research question using PICO(T) or other framework (FINER, SPICE, etc - there are many options) to help guide you.
  • Run a few sample database searches to make sure your research question is not too broad or too narrow.
  • If possible, discuss your topic with your professor. 

2. Determine the scope of your review

The scope of your review will be determined by your professor during your program. Check your assignment requirements for parameters for the Literature Review.

  • How many studies will you need to include?
  • How many years should it cover? (usually 5-7 depending on the professor)
  • For the nurses, are you required to limit to nursing literature?

3. Develop a search plan

  • Determine which databases to search. This will depend on your topic. If you are not sure, check your program specific library website (Physician Asst / Nursing / Health Services Admin) for recommendations.
  • Create an initial search string using the main concepts from your research (PICO, etc) question. Include synonyms and related words connected by Boolean operators
  • Contact your librarian for assistance, if needed.

4. Conduct searches and find relevant literature

  • Keep notes as you search - tracking keywords and search strings used in each database in order to avoid wasting time duplicating a search that has already been tried
  • Read abstracts and write down new terms to search as you find them
  • Check MeSH or other subject headings listed in relevant articles for additional search terms
  • Scan author provided keywords if available
  • Check the references of relevant articles looking for other useful articles (ancestry searching)
  • Check articles that have cited your relevant article for more useful articles (descendancy searching). Both PubMed and CINAHL offer Cited By links
  • Revise the search to broaden or narrow your topic focus as you peruse the available literature
  • Conducting a literature search is a repetitive process. Searches can be revised and re-run multiple times during the process.
  • Track the citations for your relevant articles in a software citation manager such as RefWorks, Zotero, or Mendeley

5. Review the literature

  • Read the full articles. Do not rely solely on the abstracts. Authors frequently cannot include all results within the confines of an abstract. Exclude articles that do not address your research question.
  • While reading, note research findings relevant to your project and summarize. Are the findings conflicting? There are matrices available than can help with organization. See the Organizing Information box below.
  • Critique / evaluate the quality of the articles, and record your findings in your matrix or summary table. Tools are available to prompt you what to look for. (See Resources for Appraising a Research Study box on the HSA, Nursing , and PA guides )
  • You may need to revise your search and re-run it based on your findings.

6. Organize and synthesize

  • Compile the findings and analysis from each resource into a single narrative.
  • Using an outline can be helpful. Start broad, addressing the overall findings and then narrow, discussing each resource and how it relates to your question and to the other resources.
  • Cite as you write to keep sources organized.
  • Write in structured paragraphs using topic sentences and transition words to draw connections, comparisons, and contrasts.
  • Don't present one study after another, but rather relate one study's findings to another. Speak to how the studies are connected and how they relate to your work.

Organizing Information

Options to assist in organizing sources and information :

1. Synthesis Matrix

  • helps provide overview of the literature
  • information from individual sources is entered into a grid to enable writers to discern patterns and themes
  • article summary, analysis, or results
  • thoughts, reflections, or issues
  • each reference gets its own row
  • mind maps, concept maps, flowcharts
  • at top of page record PICO or research question
  • record major concepts / themes from literature
  • list concepts that branch out from major concepts underneath - keep going downward hierarchically, until most specific ideas are recorded
  • enclose concepts in circles and connect the concept with lines - add brief explanation as needed

3. Summary Table

  • information is recorded in a grid to help with recall and sorting information when writing
  • allows comparing and contrasting individual studies easily
  • purpose of study
  • methodology (study population, data collection tool)

Efron, S. E., & Ravid, R. (2019). Writing the literature review : A practical guide . Guilford Press.

Literature Review Sections

  • Lit reviews can be part of a larger paper / research study or they can be the focus of the paper
  • Lit reviews focus on research studies to provide evidence
  • New topics may not have much that has been published

* The sections included may depend on the purpose of the literature review (standalone paper or section within a research paper)

Standalone Literature Review (aka Narrative Review):

  • presents your topic or PICO question
  • includes the why of the literature review and your goals for the review.
  • provides background for your the topic and previews the key points
  • Narrative Reviews: tmay not have an explanation of methods.
  • include where the search was conducted (which databases) what subject terms or keywords were used, and any limits or filters that were applied and why - this will help others re-create the search
  • describe how studies were analyzed for inclusion or exclusion
  • review the purpose and answer the research question
  • thematically - using recurring themes in the literature
  • chronologically - present the development of the topic over time
  • methodological - compare and contrast findings based on various methodologies used to research the topic (e.g. qualitative vs quantitative, etc.)
  • theoretical - organized content based on various theories
  • provide an overview of the main points of each source then synthesize the findings into a coherent summary of the whole
  • present common themes among the studies
  • compare and contrast the various study results
  • interpret the results and address the implications of the findings
  • do the results support the original hypothesis or conflict with it
  • provide your own analysis and interpretation (eg. discuss the significance of findings; evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the studies, noting any problems)
  • discuss common and unusual patterns and offer explanations
  •  stay away from opinions, personal biases and unsupported recommendations
  • summarize the key findings and relate them back to your PICO/research question
  • note gaps in the research and suggest areas for further research
  • this section should not contain "new" information that had not been previously discussed in one of the sections above
  • provide a list of all the studies and other sources used in proper APA 7

Literature Review as Part of a Research Study Manuscript:

  • Compares the study with other research and includes how a study fills a gap in the research.
  • Focus on the body of the review which includes the synthesized Findings and Discussion

Literature Reviews vs Systematic Reviews

Systematic Reviews are NOT the same as a Literature Review:

Literature Reviews:

  • Literature reviews may or may not follow strict systematic methods to find, select, and analyze articles, but rather they selectively and broadly review the literature on a topic
  • Research included in a Literature Review can be "cherry-picked" and therefore, can be very subjective

Systematic Reviews:

  • Systemic reviews are designed to provide a comprehensive summary of the evidence for a focused research question
  • rigorous and strictly structured, using standardized reporting guidelines (e.g. PRISMA, see link below)
  • uses exhaustive, systematic searches of all relevant databases
  • best practice dictates search strategies are peer reviewed
  • uses predetermined study inclusion and exclusion criteria in order to minimize bias
  • aims to capture and synthesize all literature (including unpublished research - grey literature) that meet the predefined criteria on a focused topic resulting in high quality evidence

Literature Review Examples

  • Breastfeeding initiation and support: A literature review of what women value and the impact of early discharge (2017). Women and Birth : Journal of the Australian College of Midwives
  • Community-based participatory research to promote healthy diet and nutrition and prevent and control obesity among African-Americans: A literature review (2017). Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities

Restricted to Detroit Mercy Users

  • Vitamin D deficiency in individuals with a spinal cord injury: A literature review (2017). Spinal Cord

Resources for Writing a Literature Review

These sources have been used in developing this guide.

Cover Art

Resources Used on This Page

Aveyard, H. (2010). Doing a literature review in health and social care : A practical guide . McGraw-Hill Education.

Purdue Online Writing Lab. (n.d.). Writing a literature review . Purdue University.

Torres, E. (2021, October 21). Nursing - graduate studies research guide: Literature review. Hawai'i Pacific University Libraries. Retrieved January 27, 2022, from

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What are Systematic Reviews? (3 minutes, 24 second YouTube Video)

Systematic Literature Reviews: Steps & Resources

example of literature review nursing

These steps for conducting a systematic literature review are listed below . 

Also see subpages for more information about:

  • The different types of literature reviews, including systematic reviews and other evidence synthesis methods
  • Tools & Tutorials

Literature Review & Systematic Review Steps

  • Develop a Focused Question
  • Scope the Literature  (Initial Search)
  • Refine & Expand the Search
  • Limit the Results
  • Download Citations
  • Abstract & Analyze
  • Create Flow Diagram
  • Synthesize & Report Results

1. Develop a Focused   Question 

Consider the PICO Format: Population/Problem, Intervention, Comparison, Outcome

Focus on defining the Population or Problem and Intervention (don't narrow by Comparison or Outcome just yet!)

"What are the effects of the Pilates method for patients with low back pain?"

Tools & Additional Resources:

  • PICO Question Help
  • Stillwell, Susan B., DNP, RN, CNE; Fineout-Overholt, Ellen, PhD, RN, FNAP, FAAN; Melnyk, Bernadette Mazurek, PhD, RN, CPNP/PMHNP, FNAP, FAAN; Williamson, Kathleen M., PhD, RN Evidence-Based Practice, Step by Step: Asking the Clinical Question, AJN The American Journal of Nursing : March 2010 - Volume 110 - Issue 3 - p 58-61 doi: 10.1097/01.NAJ.0000368959.11129.79

2. Scope the Literature

A "scoping search" investigates the breadth and/or depth of the initial question or may identify a gap in the literature. 

Eligible studies may be located by searching in:

  • Background sources (books, point-of-care tools)
  • Article databases
  • Trial registries
  • Grey literature
  • Cited references
  • Reference lists

When searching, if possible, translate terms to controlled vocabulary of the database. Use text word searching when necessary.

Use Boolean operators to connect search terms:

  • Combine separate concepts with AND  (resulting in a narrower search)
  • Connecting synonyms with OR  (resulting in an expanded search)

Search:  pilates AND ("low back pain"  OR  backache )

Video Tutorials - Translating PICO Questions into Search Queries

  • Translate Your PICO Into a Search in PubMed (YouTube, Carrie Price, 5:11) 
  • Translate Your PICO Into a Search in CINAHL (YouTube, Carrie Price, 4:56)

3. Refine & Expand Your Search

Expand your search strategy with synonymous search terms harvested from:

  • database thesauri
  • reference lists
  • relevant studies


(pilates OR exercise movement techniques) AND ("low back pain" OR backache* OR sciatica OR lumbago OR spondylosis)

As you develop a final, reproducible strategy for each database, save your strategies in a:

  • a personal database account (e.g., MyNCBI for PubMed)
  • Log in with your NYU credentials
  • Open and "Make a Copy" to create your own tracker for your literature search strategies

4. Limit Your Results

Use database filters to limit your results based on your defined inclusion/exclusion criteria.  In addition to relying on the databases' categorical filters, you may also need to manually screen results.  

  • Limit to Article type, e.g.,:  "randomized controlled trial" OR multicenter study
  • Limit by publication years, age groups, language, etc.

NOTE: Many databases allow you to filter to "Full Text Only".  This filter is  not recommended . It excludes articles if their full text is not available in that particular database (CINAHL, PubMed, etc), but if the article is relevant, it is important that you are able to read its title and abstract, regardless of 'full text' status. The full text is likely to be accessible through another source (a different database, or Interlibrary Loan).  

  • Filters in PubMed
  • CINAHL Advanced Searching Tutorial

5. Download Citations

Selected citations and/or entire sets of search results can be downloaded from the database into a citation management tool. If you are conducting a systematic review that will require reporting according to PRISMA standards, a citation manager can help you keep track of the number of articles that came from each database, as well as the number of duplicate records.

In Zotero, you can create a Collection for the combined results set, and sub-collections for the results from each database you search.  You can then use Zotero's 'Duplicate Items" function to find and merge duplicate records.

File structure of a Zotero library, showing a combined pooled set, and sub folders representing results from individual databases.

  • Citation Managers - General Guide

6. Abstract and Analyze

  • Migrate citations to data collection/extraction tool
  • Screen Title/Abstracts for inclusion/exclusion
  • Screen and appraise full text for relevance, methods, 
  • Resolve disagreements by consensus

Covidence is a web-based tool that enables you to work with a team to screen titles/abstracts and full text for inclusion in your review, as well as extract data from the included studies.

Screenshot of the Covidence interface, showing Title and abstract screening phase.

  • Covidence Support
  • Critical Appraisal Tools
  • Data Extraction Tools

7. Create Flow Diagram

The PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analyses) flow diagram is a visual representation of the flow of records through different phases of a systematic review.  It depicts the number of records identified, included and excluded.  It is best used in conjunction with the PRISMA checklist .

Example PRISMA diagram showing number of records identified, duplicates removed, and records excluded.

Example from: Stotz, S. A., McNealy, K., Begay, R. L., DeSanto, K., Manson, S. M., & Moore, K. R. (2021). Multi-level diabetes prevention and treatment interventions for Native people in the USA and Canada: A scoping review. Current Diabetes Reports, 2 (11), 46.

  • PRISMA Flow Diagram Generator (, Haddaway et al. )
  • PRISMA Diagram Templates  (Word and PDF)
  • Make a copy of the file to fill out the template
  • Image can be downloaded as PDF, PNG, JPG, or SVG
  • Covidence generates a PRISMA diagram that is automatically updated as records move through the review phases

8. Synthesize & Report Results

There are a number of reporting guideline available to guide the synthesis and reporting of results in systematic literature reviews.

It is common to organize findings in a matrix, also known as a Table of Evidence (ToE).

Example of a review matrix, using Microsoft Excel, showing the results of a systematic literature review.

  • Reporting Guidelines for Systematic Reviews
  • Download a sample template of a health sciences review matrix  (GoogleSheets)

Steps modified from: 

Cook, D. A., & West, C. P. (2012). Conducting systematic reviews in medical education: a stepwise approach.   Medical Education , 46 (10), 943–952.

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What is a Literature Review?

Key questions for a literature review, examples of literature reviews, useful links, evidence matrix for literature reviews.

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The Scholarly Conversation

A literature review provides an overview of previous research on a topic that critically evaluates, classifies, and compares what has already been published on a particular topic. It allows the author to synthesize and place into context the research and scholarly literature relevant to the topic. It helps map the different approaches to a given question and reveals patterns. It forms the foundation for the author’s subsequent research and justifies the significance of the new investigation.

A literature review can be a short introductory section of a research article or a report or policy paper that focuses on recent research. Or, in the case of dissertations, theses, and review articles, it can be an extensive review of all relevant research.

  • The format is usually a bibliographic essay; sources are briefly cited within the body of the essay, with full bibliographic citations at the end.
  • The introduction should define the topic and set the context for the literature review. It will include the author's perspective or point of view on the topic, how they have defined the scope of the topic (including what's not included), and how the review will be organized. It can point out overall trends, conflicts in methodology or conclusions, and gaps in the research.
  • In the body of the review, the author should organize the research into major topics and subtopics. These groupings may be by subject, (e.g., globalization of clothing manufacturing), type of research (e.g., case studies), methodology (e.g., qualitative), genre, chronology, or other common characteristics. Within these groups, the author can then discuss the merits of each article and analyze and compare the importance of each article to similar ones.
  • The conclusion will summarize the main findings, make clear how this review of the literature supports (or not) the research to follow, and may point the direction for further research.
  • The list of references will include full citations for all of the items mentioned in the literature review.

A literature review should try to answer questions such as

  • Who are the key researchers on this topic?
  • What has been the focus of the research efforts so far and what is the current status?
  • How have certain studies built on prior studies? Where are the connections? Are there new interpretations of the research?
  • Have there been any controversies or debate about the research? Is there consensus? Are there any contradictions?
  • Which areas have been identified as needing further research? Have any pathways been suggested?
  • How will your topic uniquely contribute to this body of knowledge?
  • Which methodologies have researchers used and which appear to be the most productive?
  • What sources of information or data were identified that might be useful to you?
  • How does your particular topic fit into the larger context of what has already been done?
  • How has the research that has already been done help frame your current investigation ?

Example of a literature review at the beginning of an article: Forbes, C. C., Blanchard, C. M., Mummery, W. K., & Courneya, K. S. (2015, March). Prevalence and correlates of strength exercise among breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer survivors . Oncology Nursing Forum, 42(2), 118+. Retrieved from Example of a comprehensive review of the literature: Wilson, J. L. (2016). An exploration of bullying behaviours in nursing: a review of the literature.   British Journal Of Nursing ,  25 (6), 303-306. For additional examples, see:

Galvan, J., Galvan, M., & ProQuest. (2017). Writing literature reviews: A guide for students of the social and behavioral sciences (Seventh ed.). [Electronic book]

Pan, M., & Lopez, M. (2008). Preparing literature reviews: Qualitative and quantitative approaches (3rd ed.). Glendale, CA: Pyrczak Pub. [ Q180.55.E9 P36 2008]

  • Write a Literature Review (UCSC)
  • Literature Reviews (Purdue)
  • Literature Reviews: overview (UNC)
  • Review of Literature (UW-Madison)

The  Evidence Matrix  can help you  organize your research  before writing your lit review.  Use it to  identify patterns  and commonalities in the articles you have found--similar methodologies ?  common  theoretical frameworks ? It helps you make sure that all your major concepts covered. It also helps you see how your research fits into the context  of the overall topic.

  • Evidence Matrix Special thanks to Dr. Cindy Stearns, SSU Sociology Dept, for permission to use this Matrix as an example.
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  • Joanna Smith 1 ,
  • Helen Noble 2
  • 1 School of Healthcare, University of Leeds , Leeds , UK
  • 2 School of Nursing and Midwifery, Queens's University Belfast , Belfast , UK
  • Correspondence to Dr Joanna Smith , School of Healthcare, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK; j.e.smith1{at}

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Implementing evidence into practice requires nurses to identify, critically appraise and synthesise research. This may require a comprehensive literature review: this article aims to outline the approaches and stages required and provides a working example of a published review.

Are there different approaches to undertaking a literature review?

What stages are required to undertake a literature review.

The rationale for the review should be established; consider why the review is important and relevant to patient care/safety or service delivery. For example, Noble et al 's 4 review sought to understand and make recommendations for practice and research in relation to dialysis refusal and withdrawal in patients with end-stage renal disease, an area of care previously poorly described. If appropriate, highlight relevant policies and theoretical perspectives that might guide the review. Once the key issues related to the topic, including the challenges encountered in clinical practice, have been identified formulate a clear question, and/or develop an aim and specific objectives. The type of review undertaken is influenced by the purpose of the review and resources available. However, the stages or methods used to undertake a review are similar across approaches and include:

Formulating clear inclusion and exclusion criteria, for example, patient groups, ages, conditions/treatments, sources of evidence/research designs;

Justifying data bases and years searched, and whether strategies including hand searching of journals, conference proceedings and research not indexed in data bases (grey literature) will be undertaken;

Developing search terms, the PICU (P: patient, problem or population; I: intervention; C: comparison; O: outcome) framework is a useful guide when developing search terms;

Developing search skills (eg, understanding Boolean Operators, in particular the use of AND/OR) and knowledge of how data bases index topics (eg, MeSH headings). Working with a librarian experienced in undertaking health searches is invaluable when developing a search.

Once studies are selected, the quality of the research/evidence requires evaluation. Using a quality appraisal tool, such as the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP) tools, 5 results in a structured approach to assessing the rigour of studies being reviewed. 3 Approaches to data synthesis for quantitative studies may include a meta-analysis (statistical analysis of data from multiple studies of similar designs that have addressed the same question), or findings can be reported descriptively. 6 Methods applicable for synthesising qualitative studies include meta-ethnography (themes and concepts from different studies are explored and brought together using approaches similar to qualitative data analysis methods), narrative summary, thematic analysis and content analysis. 7 Table 1 outlines the stages undertaken for a published review that summarised research about parents’ experiences of living with a child with a long-term condition. 8

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An example of rapid evidence assessment review

In summary, the type of literature review depends on the review purpose. For the novice reviewer undertaking a review can be a daunting and complex process; by following the stages outlined and being systematic a robust review is achievable. The importance of literature reviews should not be underestimated—they help summarise and make sense of an increasingly vast body of research promoting best evidence-based practice.

  • ↵ Centre for Reviews and Dissemination . Guidance for undertaking reviews in health care . 3rd edn . York : CRD, York University , 2009 .
  • ↵ Canadian Best Practices Portal. / ( accessed 7.8.2015 ).
  • Bridges J , et al
  • ↵ Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP). / ( accessed 7.8.2015 ).
  • Dixon-Woods M ,
  • Shaw R , et al
  • Agarwal S ,
  • Jones D , et al
  • Cheater F ,

Twitter Follow Joanna Smith at @josmith175

Competing interests None declared.

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Writing a Literature Review

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A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other (also called synthesis ). The lit review is an important genre in many disciplines, not just literature (i.e., the study of works of literature such as novels and plays). When we say “literature review” or refer to “the literature,” we are talking about the research ( scholarship ) in a given field. You will often see the terms “the research,” “the scholarship,” and “the literature” used mostly interchangeably.

Where, when, and why would I write a lit review?

There are a number of different situations where you might write a literature review, each with slightly different expectations; different disciplines, too, have field-specific expectations for what a literature review is and does. For instance, in the humanities, authors might include more overt argumentation and interpretation of source material in their literature reviews, whereas in the sciences, authors are more likely to report study designs and results in their literature reviews; these differences reflect these disciplines’ purposes and conventions in scholarship. You should always look at examples from your own discipline and talk to professors or mentors in your field to be sure you understand your discipline’s conventions, for literature reviews as well as for any other genre.

A literature review can be a part of a research paper or scholarly article, usually falling after the introduction and before the research methods sections. In these cases, the lit review just needs to cover scholarship that is important to the issue you are writing about; sometimes it will also cover key sources that informed your research methodology.

Lit reviews can also be standalone pieces, either as assignments in a class or as publications. In a class, a lit review may be assigned to help students familiarize themselves with a topic and with scholarship in their field, get an idea of the other researchers working on the topic they’re interested in, find gaps in existing research in order to propose new projects, and/or develop a theoretical framework and methodology for later research. As a publication, a lit review usually is meant to help make other scholars’ lives easier by collecting and summarizing, synthesizing, and analyzing existing research on a topic. This can be especially helpful for students or scholars getting into a new research area, or for directing an entire community of scholars toward questions that have not yet been answered.

What are the parts of a lit review?

Most lit reviews use a basic introduction-body-conclusion structure; if your lit review is part of a larger paper, the introduction and conclusion pieces may be just a few sentences while you focus most of your attention on the body. If your lit review is a standalone piece, the introduction and conclusion take up more space and give you a place to discuss your goals, research methods, and conclusions separately from where you discuss the literature itself.


  • An introductory paragraph that explains what your working topic and thesis is
  • A forecast of key topics or texts that will appear in the review
  • Potentially, a description of how you found sources and how you analyzed them for inclusion and discussion in the review (more often found in published, standalone literature reviews than in lit review sections in an article or research paper)
  • Summarize and synthesize: Give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: Don’t just paraphrase other researchers – add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically Evaluate: Mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: Use transition words and topic sentence to draw connections, comparisons, and contrasts.


  • Summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance
  • Connect it back to your primary research question

How should I organize my lit review?

Lit reviews can take many different organizational patterns depending on what you are trying to accomplish with the review. Here are some examples:

  • Chronological : The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time, which helps familiarize the audience with the topic (for instance if you are introducing something that is not commonly known in your field). If you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order. Try to analyze the patterns, turning points, and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred (as mentioned previously, this may not be appropriate in your discipline — check with a teacher or mentor if you’re unsure).
  • Thematic : If you have found some recurring central themes that you will continue working with throughout your piece, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic. For example, if you are reviewing literature about women and religion, key themes can include the role of women in churches and the religious attitude towards women.
  • Qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the research by sociological, historical, or cultural sources
  • Theoretical : In many humanities articles, the literature review is the foundation for the theoretical framework. You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts. You can argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach or combine various theorical concepts to create a framework for your research.

What are some strategies or tips I can use while writing my lit review?

Any lit review is only as good as the research it discusses; make sure your sources are well-chosen and your research is thorough. Don’t be afraid to do more research if you discover a new thread as you’re writing. More info on the research process is available in our "Conducting Research" resources .

As you’re doing your research, create an annotated bibliography ( see our page on the this type of document ). Much of the information used in an annotated bibliography can be used also in a literature review, so you’ll be not only partially drafting your lit review as you research, but also developing your sense of the larger conversation going on among scholars, professionals, and any other stakeholders in your topic.

Usually you will need to synthesize research rather than just summarizing it. This means drawing connections between sources to create a picture of the scholarly conversation on a topic over time. Many student writers struggle to synthesize because they feel they don’t have anything to add to the scholars they are citing; here are some strategies to help you:

  • It often helps to remember that the point of these kinds of syntheses is to show your readers how you understand your research, to help them read the rest of your paper.
  • Writing teachers often say synthesis is like hosting a dinner party: imagine all your sources are together in a room, discussing your topic. What are they saying to each other?
  • Look at the in-text citations in each paragraph. Are you citing just one source for each paragraph? This usually indicates summary only. When you have multiple sources cited in a paragraph, you are more likely to be synthesizing them (not always, but often
  • Read more about synthesis here.

The most interesting literature reviews are often written as arguments (again, as mentioned at the beginning of the page, this is discipline-specific and doesn’t work for all situations). Often, the literature review is where you can establish your research as filling a particular gap or as relevant in a particular way. You have some chance to do this in your introduction in an article, but the literature review section gives a more extended opportunity to establish the conversation in the way you would like your readers to see it. You can choose the intellectual lineage you would like to be part of and whose definitions matter most to your thinking (mostly humanities-specific, but this goes for sciences as well). In addressing these points, you argue for your place in the conversation, which tends to make the lit review more compelling than a simple reporting of other sources.

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What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is an essay that surveys, summarizes, links together, and assesses research in a given field. It surveys the literature by reviewing a large body of work on a subject; it summarizes by noting the main conclusions and findings of the research; it links together works in the literature by showing how the information fits into the overall academic discussion and how the information relates to one another; it assesses the literature by noting areas of weakness, expansion, and contention. This is the essentials of literature review construction by discussing the major sectional elements, their purpose, how they are constructed, and how they all fit together.

All literature reviews have major sections:

  • Introduction: that indicates the general state of the literature on a given topic;
  • Methodology: an overview of how, where, and what subject terms used to conducted your search so it may be reproducable
  • Findings: a summary of the major findings in that field;
  • Discussion: a general progression from wider studies to smaller, more specifically-focused studies;
  • Conclusion: for each major section that again notes the overall state of the research, albeit with a focus on the major synthesized conclusions, problems in the research, and even possible avenues of further research.

In Literature Reviews, it is Not Appropriate to:

  • State your own opinions on the subject (unless you have evidence to support such claims).  
  • State what you think nurses should do (unless you have evidence to support such claims).
  • Provide long descriptive accounts of your subject with no reference to research studies.
  • Provide numerous definitions, signs/symptoms, treatment and complications of a particular illness without focusing on research studies to provide evidence and the primary purpose of the literature review.
  • Discuss research studies in isolation from each other.

Remember, a literature review is not a book report. A literature review is focus, succinct, organized, and is free of personal beliefs or unsubstantiated tidbits.

  • Types of Literature Reviews A detailed explanation of the different types of reviews and required citation retrieval numbers

Outline of a Literture Review

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A literature review is an account of what has been published on a topic by accredited scholars and researchers. Occasionally you will be asked to write one as a separate assignment (sometimes in the form of an annotated bibliography —see the bottom of the next page), but more often it is part of the introduction to an essay, research report, or thesis. In writing the literature review, your purpose is to convey to your reader what knowledge and ideas have been established on a topic, and what their strengths and weaknesses are.

From  Taylor, D. (n/a). The Literature Review: A Few Tips On Conducting It. University of Toronto, Health Sciences Writing Centre. 

  • The Literature Review: A Few Tips On Conducting It Writing Advice from the University of Toronto, Canada.
  • Record Title: Writing & Research. Writing a Literature Review. Neill, C. (2017). Writing & Research. Writing a Literature Review. Radiation Therapist, 26(1), 89–91.

There are several steps in developing a literature review.  These include:

  • Define your paper’s goal
  • Literature review will match paper’s goal
  • Review articles related to your paper’s topic
  • Articles are written by scholars
  • Identify top scholars in the field about your topic
  • Include most pertinent publications by those scholars
  • Summarize articles you identified
  • Provide the importance of the article as it relates to your thesis/project statement
  • Establish its relevance to the discussion
  • What where the earliest ideas on the?
  • How did grow and evolve in the academic conversation?
  • As you write you will include author and date
  • Create comprehensive citation for each article
  • Follow APA format
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What are the types of reviews?

As you begin searching through the literature for evidence, you will come across different types of publications. Below are examples of the most common types and explanations of what they are. Although systematic reviews and meta-analysis are considered the highest quality of evidence, not every topic will have an Systematic Review or Metanalysis.

example of literature review nursing

Literature Review Examples

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. 

  • Dance therapy for individuals with Parkinson's Disease Notice how the introduction and subheadings provide background on the topic and describe way it's important. Some studies are grouped together that convey a similar idea. Limitations of some studies are addressed as a way of showing the significance of the research topic.
  • Ethical Issues Regarding Human Cloning: A Nursing Perspective Notice how this article is broken into several sections: background on human cloning, harms of cloning, and nursing issues in cloning. These are the themes of the different articles that were used in writing this literature review. Look at how the articles work together to form a cohesive piece of literature.

Systematic Review Examples

Systematic reviews address a clinical question.  Reviews are gathered using a specific, defined set of criteria.

  • Selection criteria is defined
  • The words "Systematic Review" may appear int he title or abstract
  • BTW -> Cochrane Reviews aka Systematic Reviews
  • Additional reviews can be found by using a systematic review limit 
  • A Systematic Review of Animal-Assisted Therapy on Psychosocial Outcomes in People with Intellectual Disability
  • The determinants and consequences of adult nursing staff turnover: a systematic review of systematic reviews
  • Cochrane Library (Wiley) This link opens in a new window Over 5000 reviews of research on medical treatments, practices, and diagnostic tests are provided in this database. Cochrane Reviews is the premier resource for Evidence Based Practice.
  • PubMed (NLM) This link opens in a new window PubMed comprises more than 22 million citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life science journals, and online books.

Meta-Analysis Examples

Meta-analysis is a study that combines data from OTHER studies. All the studies are combined to argue whether a clinical intervention is statistically significant by combining the results from the other studies.  For example, you want to examine a specific headache intervention without running a clinical trial.  You can look at other articles that discuss your clinical intervention, combine all the participants from those articles, and run a statistical analysis to test if your results are significant. Guess what? There's a lot of math. 

  • Include the words "meta-analysis" or "meta analysis" in your keywords
  • Meta-analyses will always be accompanied by a systematic review, but a systematic review may not have a meta-analysis
  • See if the abstract or results section mention a meta-analysis
  • Use databases like Cochrane or PubMed
  • Exercise Interventions for Preventing Falls Among Older People in Care Facilities: A Meta-Analysis
  • Acupuncture for the prevention of tension-type headache This is a systematic review that includes a meta-analysis. Check out the Abstract and Results for an example of what a meta-analysis looks like!
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Lau F, Kuziemsky C, editors. Handbook of eHealth Evaluation: An Evidence-based Approach [Internet]. Victoria (BC): University of Victoria; 2017 Feb 27.

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Handbook of eHealth Evaluation: An Evidence-based Approach [Internet].

Chapter 9 methods for literature reviews.

Guy Paré and Spyros Kitsiou .

9.1. Introduction

Literature reviews play a critical role in scholarship because science remains, first and foremost, a cumulative endeavour ( vom Brocke et al., 2009 ). As in any academic discipline, rigorous knowledge syntheses are becoming indispensable in keeping up with an exponentially growing eHealth literature, assisting practitioners, academics, and graduate students in finding, evaluating, and synthesizing the contents of many empirical and conceptual papers. Among other methods, literature reviews are essential for: (a) identifying what has been written on a subject or topic; (b) determining the extent to which a specific research area reveals any interpretable trends or patterns; (c) aggregating empirical findings related to a narrow research question to support evidence-based practice; (d) generating new frameworks and theories; and (e) identifying topics or questions requiring more investigation ( Paré, Trudel, Jaana, & Kitsiou, 2015 ).

Literature reviews can take two major forms. The most prevalent one is the “literature review” or “background” section within a journal paper or a chapter in a graduate thesis. This section synthesizes the extant literature and usually identifies the gaps in knowledge that the empirical study addresses ( Sylvester, Tate, & Johnstone, 2013 ). It may also provide a theoretical foundation for the proposed study, substantiate the presence of the research problem, justify the research as one that contributes something new to the cumulated knowledge, or validate the methods and approaches for the proposed study ( Hart, 1998 ; Levy & Ellis, 2006 ).

The second form of literature review, which is the focus of this chapter, constitutes an original and valuable work of research in and of itself ( Paré et al., 2015 ). Rather than providing a base for a researcher’s own work, it creates a solid starting point for all members of the community interested in a particular area or topic ( Mulrow, 1987 ). The so-called “review article” is a journal-length paper which has an overarching purpose to synthesize the literature in a field, without collecting or analyzing any primary data ( Green, Johnson, & Adams, 2006 ).

When appropriately conducted, review articles represent powerful information sources for practitioners looking for state-of-the art evidence to guide their decision-making and work practices ( Paré et al., 2015 ). Further, high-quality reviews become frequently cited pieces of work which researchers seek out as a first clear outline of the literature when undertaking empirical studies ( Cooper, 1988 ; Rowe, 2014 ). Scholars who track and gauge the impact of articles have found that review papers are cited and downloaded more often than any other type of published article ( Cronin, Ryan, & Coughlan, 2008 ; Montori, Wilczynski, Morgan, Haynes, & Hedges, 2003 ; Patsopoulos, Analatos, & Ioannidis, 2005 ). The reason for their popularity may be the fact that reading the review enables one to have an overview, if not a detailed knowledge of the area in question, as well as references to the most useful primary sources ( Cronin et al., 2008 ). Although they are not easy to conduct, the commitment to complete a review article provides a tremendous service to one’s academic community ( Paré et al., 2015 ; Petticrew & Roberts, 2006 ). Most, if not all, peer-reviewed journals in the fields of medical informatics publish review articles of some type.

The main objectives of this chapter are fourfold: (a) to provide an overview of the major steps and activities involved in conducting a stand-alone literature review; (b) to describe and contrast the different types of review articles that can contribute to the eHealth knowledge base; (c) to illustrate each review type with one or two examples from the eHealth literature; and (d) to provide a series of recommendations for prospective authors of review articles in this domain.

9.2. Overview of the Literature Review Process and Steps

As explained in Templier and Paré (2015) , there are six generic steps involved in conducting a review article:

  • formulating the research question(s) and objective(s),
  • searching the extant literature,
  • screening for inclusion,
  • assessing the quality of primary studies,
  • extracting data, and
  • analyzing data.

Although these steps are presented here in sequential order, one must keep in mind that the review process can be iterative and that many activities can be initiated during the planning stage and later refined during subsequent phases ( Finfgeld-Connett & Johnson, 2013 ; Kitchenham & Charters, 2007 ).

Formulating the research question(s) and objective(s): As a first step, members of the review team must appropriately justify the need for the review itself ( Petticrew & Roberts, 2006 ), identify the review’s main objective(s) ( Okoli & Schabram, 2010 ), and define the concepts or variables at the heart of their synthesis ( Cooper & Hedges, 2009 ; Webster & Watson, 2002 ). Importantly, they also need to articulate the research question(s) they propose to investigate ( Kitchenham & Charters, 2007 ). In this regard, we concur with Jesson, Matheson, and Lacey (2011) that clearly articulated research questions are key ingredients that guide the entire review methodology; they underscore the type of information that is needed, inform the search for and selection of relevant literature, and guide or orient the subsequent analysis. Searching the extant literature: The next step consists of searching the literature and making decisions about the suitability of material to be considered in the review ( Cooper, 1988 ). There exist three main coverage strategies. First, exhaustive coverage means an effort is made to be as comprehensive as possible in order to ensure that all relevant studies, published and unpublished, are included in the review and, thus, conclusions are based on this all-inclusive knowledge base. The second type of coverage consists of presenting materials that are representative of most other works in a given field or area. Often authors who adopt this strategy will search for relevant articles in a small number of top-tier journals in a field ( Paré et al., 2015 ). In the third strategy, the review team concentrates on prior works that have been central or pivotal to a particular topic. This may include empirical studies or conceptual papers that initiated a line of investigation, changed how problems or questions were framed, introduced new methods or concepts, or engendered important debate ( Cooper, 1988 ). Screening for inclusion: The following step consists of evaluating the applicability of the material identified in the preceding step ( Levy & Ellis, 2006 ; vom Brocke et al., 2009 ). Once a group of potential studies has been identified, members of the review team must screen them to determine their relevance ( Petticrew & Roberts, 2006 ). A set of predetermined rules provides a basis for including or excluding certain studies. This exercise requires a significant investment on the part of researchers, who must ensure enhanced objectivity and avoid biases or mistakes. As discussed later in this chapter, for certain types of reviews there must be at least two independent reviewers involved in the screening process and a procedure to resolve disagreements must also be in place ( Liberati et al., 2009 ; Shea et al., 2009 ). Assessing the quality of primary studies: In addition to screening material for inclusion, members of the review team may need to assess the scientific quality of the selected studies, that is, appraise the rigour of the research design and methods. Such formal assessment, which is usually conducted independently by at least two coders, helps members of the review team refine which studies to include in the final sample, determine whether or not the differences in quality may affect their conclusions, or guide how they analyze the data and interpret the findings ( Petticrew & Roberts, 2006 ). Ascribing quality scores to each primary study or considering through domain-based evaluations which study components have or have not been designed and executed appropriately makes it possible to reflect on the extent to which the selected study addresses possible biases and maximizes validity ( Shea et al., 2009 ). Extracting data: The following step involves gathering or extracting applicable information from each primary study included in the sample and deciding what is relevant to the problem of interest ( Cooper & Hedges, 2009 ). Indeed, the type of data that should be recorded mainly depends on the initial research questions ( Okoli & Schabram, 2010 ). However, important information may also be gathered about how, when, where and by whom the primary study was conducted, the research design and methods, or qualitative/quantitative results ( Cooper & Hedges, 2009 ). Analyzing and synthesizing data : As a final step, members of the review team must collate, summarize, aggregate, organize, and compare the evidence extracted from the included studies. The extracted data must be presented in a meaningful way that suggests a new contribution to the extant literature ( Jesson et al., 2011 ). Webster and Watson (2002) warn researchers that literature reviews should be much more than lists of papers and should provide a coherent lens to make sense of extant knowledge on a given topic. There exist several methods and techniques for synthesizing quantitative (e.g., frequency analysis, meta-analysis) and qualitative (e.g., grounded theory, narrative analysis, meta-ethnography) evidence ( Dixon-Woods, Agarwal, Jones, Young, & Sutton, 2005 ; Thomas & Harden, 2008 ).

9.3. Types of Review Articles and Brief Illustrations

EHealth researchers have at their disposal a number of approaches and methods for making sense out of existing literature, all with the purpose of casting current research findings into historical contexts or explaining contradictions that might exist among a set of primary research studies conducted on a particular topic. Our classification scheme is largely inspired from Paré and colleagues’ (2015) typology. Below we present and illustrate those review types that we feel are central to the growth and development of the eHealth domain.

9.3.1. Narrative Reviews

The narrative review is the “traditional” way of reviewing the extant literature and is skewed towards a qualitative interpretation of prior knowledge ( Sylvester et al., 2013 ). Put simply, a narrative review attempts to summarize or synthesize what has been written on a particular topic but does not seek generalization or cumulative knowledge from what is reviewed ( Davies, 2000 ; Green et al., 2006 ). Instead, the review team often undertakes the task of accumulating and synthesizing the literature to demonstrate the value of a particular point of view ( Baumeister & Leary, 1997 ). As such, reviewers may selectively ignore or limit the attention paid to certain studies in order to make a point. In this rather unsystematic approach, the selection of information from primary articles is subjective, lacks explicit criteria for inclusion and can lead to biased interpretations or inferences ( Green et al., 2006 ). There are several narrative reviews in the particular eHealth domain, as in all fields, which follow such an unstructured approach ( Silva et al., 2015 ; Paul et al., 2015 ).

Despite these criticisms, this type of review can be very useful in gathering together a volume of literature in a specific subject area and synthesizing it. As mentioned above, its primary purpose is to provide the reader with a comprehensive background for understanding current knowledge and highlighting the significance of new research ( Cronin et al., 2008 ). Faculty like to use narrative reviews in the classroom because they are often more up to date than textbooks, provide a single source for students to reference, and expose students to peer-reviewed literature ( Green et al., 2006 ). For researchers, narrative reviews can inspire research ideas by identifying gaps or inconsistencies in a body of knowledge, thus helping researchers to determine research questions or formulate hypotheses. Importantly, narrative reviews can also be used as educational articles to bring practitioners up to date with certain topics of issues ( Green et al., 2006 ).

Recently, there have been several efforts to introduce more rigour in narrative reviews that will elucidate common pitfalls and bring changes into their publication standards. Information systems researchers, among others, have contributed to advancing knowledge on how to structure a “traditional” review. For instance, Levy and Ellis (2006) proposed a generic framework for conducting such reviews. Their model follows the systematic data processing approach comprised of three steps, namely: (a) literature search and screening; (b) data extraction and analysis; and (c) writing the literature review. They provide detailed and very helpful instructions on how to conduct each step of the review process. As another methodological contribution, vom Brocke et al. (2009) offered a series of guidelines for conducting literature reviews, with a particular focus on how to search and extract the relevant body of knowledge. Last, Bandara, Miskon, and Fielt (2011) proposed a structured, predefined and tool-supported method to identify primary studies within a feasible scope, extract relevant content from identified articles, synthesize and analyze the findings, and effectively write and present the results of the literature review. We highly recommend that prospective authors of narrative reviews consult these useful sources before embarking on their work.

Darlow and Wen (2015) provide a good example of a highly structured narrative review in the eHealth field. These authors synthesized published articles that describe the development process of mobile health ( m-health ) interventions for patients’ cancer care self-management. As in most narrative reviews, the scope of the research questions being investigated is broad: (a) how development of these systems are carried out; (b) which methods are used to investigate these systems; and (c) what conclusions can be drawn as a result of the development of these systems. To provide clear answers to these questions, a literature search was conducted on six electronic databases and Google Scholar . The search was performed using several terms and free text words, combining them in an appropriate manner. Four inclusion and three exclusion criteria were utilized during the screening process. Both authors independently reviewed each of the identified articles to determine eligibility and extract study information. A flow diagram shows the number of studies identified, screened, and included or excluded at each stage of study selection. In terms of contributions, this review provides a series of practical recommendations for m-health intervention development.

9.3.2. Descriptive or Mapping Reviews

The primary goal of a descriptive review is to determine the extent to which a body of knowledge in a particular research topic reveals any interpretable pattern or trend with respect to pre-existing propositions, theories, methodologies or findings ( King & He, 2005 ; Paré et al., 2015 ). In contrast with narrative reviews, descriptive reviews follow a systematic and transparent procedure, including searching, screening and classifying studies ( Petersen, Vakkalanka, & Kuzniarz, 2015 ). Indeed, structured search methods are used to form a representative sample of a larger group of published works ( Paré et al., 2015 ). Further, authors of descriptive reviews extract from each study certain characteristics of interest, such as publication year, research methods, data collection techniques, and direction or strength of research outcomes (e.g., positive, negative, or non-significant) in the form of frequency analysis to produce quantitative results ( Sylvester et al., 2013 ). In essence, each study included in a descriptive review is treated as the unit of analysis and the published literature as a whole provides a database from which the authors attempt to identify any interpretable trends or draw overall conclusions about the merits of existing conceptualizations, propositions, methods or findings ( Paré et al., 2015 ). In doing so, a descriptive review may claim that its findings represent the state of the art in a particular domain ( King & He, 2005 ).

In the fields of health sciences and medical informatics, reviews that focus on examining the range, nature and evolution of a topic area are described by Anderson, Allen, Peckham, and Goodwin (2008) as mapping reviews . Like descriptive reviews, the research questions are generic and usually relate to publication patterns and trends. There is no preconceived plan to systematically review all of the literature although this can be done. Instead, researchers often present studies that are representative of most works published in a particular area and they consider a specific time frame to be mapped.

An example of this approach in the eHealth domain is offered by DeShazo, Lavallie, and Wolf (2009). The purpose of this descriptive or mapping review was to characterize publication trends in the medical informatics literature over a 20-year period (1987 to 2006). To achieve this ambitious objective, the authors performed a bibliometric analysis of medical informatics citations indexed in medline using publication trends, journal frequencies, impact factors, Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) term frequencies, and characteristics of citations. Findings revealed that there were over 77,000 medical informatics articles published during the covered period in numerous journals and that the average annual growth rate was 12%. The MeSH term analysis also suggested a strong interdisciplinary trend. Finally, average impact scores increased over time with two notable growth periods. Overall, patterns in research outputs that seem to characterize the historic trends and current components of the field of medical informatics suggest it may be a maturing discipline (DeShazo et al., 2009).

9.3.3. Scoping Reviews

Scoping reviews attempt to provide an initial indication of the potential size and nature of the extant literature on an emergent topic (Arksey & O’Malley, 2005; Daudt, van Mossel, & Scott, 2013 ; Levac, Colquhoun, & O’Brien, 2010). A scoping review may be conducted to examine the extent, range and nature of research activities in a particular area, determine the value of undertaking a full systematic review (discussed next), or identify research gaps in the extant literature ( Paré et al., 2015 ). In line with their main objective, scoping reviews usually conclude with the presentation of a detailed research agenda for future works along with potential implications for both practice and research.

Unlike narrative and descriptive reviews, the whole point of scoping the field is to be as comprehensive as possible, including grey literature (Arksey & O’Malley, 2005). Inclusion and exclusion criteria must be established to help researchers eliminate studies that are not aligned with the research questions. It is also recommended that at least two independent coders review abstracts yielded from the search strategy and then the full articles for study selection ( Daudt et al., 2013 ). The synthesized evidence from content or thematic analysis is relatively easy to present in tabular form (Arksey & O’Malley, 2005; Thomas & Harden, 2008 ).

One of the most highly cited scoping reviews in the eHealth domain was published by Archer, Fevrier-Thomas, Lokker, McKibbon, and Straus (2011) . These authors reviewed the existing literature on personal health record ( phr ) systems including design, functionality, implementation, applications, outcomes, and benefits. Seven databases were searched from 1985 to March 2010. Several search terms relating to phr s were used during this process. Two authors independently screened titles and abstracts to determine inclusion status. A second screen of full-text articles, again by two independent members of the research team, ensured that the studies described phr s. All in all, 130 articles met the criteria and their data were extracted manually into a database. The authors concluded that although there is a large amount of survey, observational, cohort/panel, and anecdotal evidence of phr benefits and satisfaction for patients, more research is needed to evaluate the results of phr implementations. Their in-depth analysis of the literature signalled that there is little solid evidence from randomized controlled trials or other studies through the use of phr s. Hence, they suggested that more research is needed that addresses the current lack of understanding of optimal functionality and usability of these systems, and how they can play a beneficial role in supporting patient self-management ( Archer et al., 2011 ).

9.3.4. Forms of Aggregative Reviews

Healthcare providers, practitioners, and policy-makers are nowadays overwhelmed with large volumes of information, including research-based evidence from numerous clinical trials and evaluation studies, assessing the effectiveness of health information technologies and interventions ( Ammenwerth & de Keizer, 2004 ; Deshazo et al., 2009 ). It is unrealistic to expect that all these disparate actors will have the time, skills, and necessary resources to identify the available evidence in the area of their expertise and consider it when making decisions. Systematic reviews that involve the rigorous application of scientific strategies aimed at limiting subjectivity and bias (i.e., systematic and random errors) can respond to this challenge.

Systematic reviews attempt to aggregate, appraise, and synthesize in a single source all empirical evidence that meet a set of previously specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a clearly formulated and often narrow research question on a particular topic of interest to support evidence-based practice ( Liberati et al., 2009 ). They adhere closely to explicit scientific principles ( Liberati et al., 2009 ) and rigorous methodological guidelines (Higgins & Green, 2008) aimed at reducing random and systematic errors that can lead to deviations from the truth in results or inferences. The use of explicit methods allows systematic reviews to aggregate a large body of research evidence, assess whether effects or relationships are in the same direction and of the same general magnitude, explain possible inconsistencies between study results, and determine the strength of the overall evidence for every outcome of interest based on the quality of included studies and the general consistency among them ( Cook, Mulrow, & Haynes, 1997 ). The main procedures of a systematic review involve:

  • Formulating a review question and developing a search strategy based on explicit inclusion criteria for the identification of eligible studies (usually described in the context of a detailed review protocol).
  • Searching for eligible studies using multiple databases and information sources, including grey literature sources, without any language restrictions.
  • Selecting studies, extracting data, and assessing risk of bias in a duplicate manner using two independent reviewers to avoid random or systematic errors in the process.
  • Analyzing data using quantitative or qualitative methods.
  • Presenting results in summary of findings tables.
  • Interpreting results and drawing conclusions.

Many systematic reviews, but not all, use statistical methods to combine the results of independent studies into a single quantitative estimate or summary effect size. Known as meta-analyses , these reviews use specific data extraction and statistical techniques (e.g., network, frequentist, or Bayesian meta-analyses) to calculate from each study by outcome of interest an effect size along with a confidence interval that reflects the degree of uncertainty behind the point estimate of effect ( Borenstein, Hedges, Higgins, & Rothstein, 2009 ; Deeks, Higgins, & Altman, 2008 ). Subsequently, they use fixed or random-effects analysis models to combine the results of the included studies, assess statistical heterogeneity, and calculate a weighted average of the effect estimates from the different studies, taking into account their sample sizes. The summary effect size is a value that reflects the average magnitude of the intervention effect for a particular outcome of interest or, more generally, the strength of a relationship between two variables across all studies included in the systematic review. By statistically combining data from multiple studies, meta-analyses can create more precise and reliable estimates of intervention effects than those derived from individual studies alone, when these are examined independently as discrete sources of information.

The review by Gurol-Urganci, de Jongh, Vodopivec-Jamsek, Atun, and Car (2013) on the effects of mobile phone messaging reminders for attendance at healthcare appointments is an illustrative example of a high-quality systematic review with meta-analysis. Missed appointments are a major cause of inefficiency in healthcare delivery with substantial monetary costs to health systems. These authors sought to assess whether mobile phone-based appointment reminders delivered through Short Message Service ( sms ) or Multimedia Messaging Service ( mms ) are effective in improving rates of patient attendance and reducing overall costs. To this end, they conducted a comprehensive search on multiple databases using highly sensitive search strategies without language or publication-type restrictions to identify all rct s that are eligible for inclusion. In order to minimize the risk of omitting eligible studies not captured by the original search, they supplemented all electronic searches with manual screening of trial registers and references contained in the included studies. Study selection, data extraction, and risk of bias assessments were performed inde­­pen­dently by two coders using standardized methods to ensure consistency and to eliminate potential errors. Findings from eight rct s involving 6,615 participants were pooled into meta-analyses to calculate the magnitude of effects that mobile text message reminders have on the rate of attendance at healthcare appointments compared to no reminders and phone call reminders.

Meta-analyses are regarded as powerful tools for deriving meaningful conclusions. However, there are situations in which it is neither reasonable nor appropriate to pool studies together using meta-analytic methods simply because there is extensive clinical heterogeneity between the included studies or variation in measurement tools, comparisons, or outcomes of interest. In these cases, systematic reviews can use qualitative synthesis methods such as vote counting, content analysis, classification schemes and tabulations, as an alternative approach to narratively synthesize the results of the independent studies included in the review. This form of review is known as qualitative systematic review.

A rigorous example of one such review in the eHealth domain is presented by Mickan, Atherton, Roberts, Heneghan, and Tilson (2014) on the use of handheld computers by healthcare professionals and their impact on access to information and clinical decision-making. In line with the methodological guide­lines for systematic reviews, these authors: (a) developed and registered with prospero ( prospero / ) an a priori review protocol; (b) conducted comprehensive searches for eligible studies using multiple databases and other supplementary strategies (e.g., forward searches); and (c) subsequently carried out study selection, data extraction, and risk of bias assessments in a duplicate manner to eliminate potential errors in the review process. Heterogeneity between the included studies in terms of reported outcomes and measures precluded the use of meta-analytic methods. To this end, the authors resorted to using narrative analysis and synthesis to describe the effectiveness of handheld computers on accessing information for clinical knowledge, adherence to safety and clinical quality guidelines, and diagnostic decision-making.

In recent years, the number of systematic reviews in the field of health informatics has increased considerably. Systematic reviews with discordant findings can cause great confusion and make it difficult for decision-makers to interpret the review-level evidence ( Moher, 2013 ). Therefore, there is a growing need for appraisal and synthesis of prior systematic reviews to ensure that decision-making is constantly informed by the best available accumulated evidence. Umbrella reviews , also known as overviews of systematic reviews, are tertiary types of evidence synthesis that aim to accomplish this; that is, they aim to compare and contrast findings from multiple systematic reviews and meta-analyses ( Becker & Oxman, 2008 ). Umbrella reviews generally adhere to the same principles and rigorous methodological guidelines used in systematic reviews. However, the unit of analysis in umbrella reviews is the systematic review rather than the primary study ( Becker & Oxman, 2008 ). Unlike systematic reviews that have a narrow focus of inquiry, umbrella reviews focus on broader research topics for which there are several potential interventions ( Smith, Devane, Begley, & Clarke, 2011 ). A recent umbrella review on the effects of home telemonitoring interventions for patients with heart failure critically appraised, compared, and synthesized evidence from 15 systematic reviews to investigate which types of home telemonitoring technologies and forms of interventions are more effective in reducing mortality and hospital admissions ( Kitsiou, Paré, & Jaana, 2015 ).

9.3.5. Realist Reviews

Realist reviews are theory-driven interpretative reviews developed to inform, enhance, or supplement conventional systematic reviews by making sense of heterogeneous evidence about complex interventions applied in diverse contexts in a way that informs policy decision-making ( Greenhalgh, Wong, Westhorp, & Pawson, 2011 ). They originated from criticisms of positivist systematic reviews which centre on their “simplistic” underlying assumptions ( Oates, 2011 ). As explained above, systematic reviews seek to identify causation. Such logic is appropriate for fields like medicine and education where findings of randomized controlled trials can be aggregated to see whether a new treatment or intervention does improve outcomes. However, many argue that it is not possible to establish such direct causal links between interventions and outcomes in fields such as social policy, management, and information systems where for any intervention there is unlikely to be a regular or consistent outcome ( Oates, 2011 ; Pawson, 2006 ; Rousseau, Manning, & Denyer, 2008 ).

To circumvent these limitations, Pawson, Greenhalgh, Harvey, and Walshe (2005) have proposed a new approach for synthesizing knowledge that seeks to unpack the mechanism of how “complex interventions” work in particular contexts. The basic research question — what works? — which is usually associated with systematic reviews changes to: what is it about this intervention that works, for whom, in what circumstances, in what respects and why? Realist reviews have no particular preference for either quantitative or qualitative evidence. As a theory-building approach, a realist review usually starts by articulating likely underlying mechanisms and then scrutinizes available evidence to find out whether and where these mechanisms are applicable ( Shepperd et al., 2009 ). Primary studies found in the extant literature are viewed as case studies which can test and modify the initial theories ( Rousseau et al., 2008 ).

The main objective pursued in the realist review conducted by Otte-Trojel, de Bont, Rundall, and van de Klundert (2014) was to examine how patient portals contribute to health service delivery and patient outcomes. The specific goals were to investigate how outcomes are produced and, most importantly, how variations in outcomes can be explained. The research team started with an exploratory review of background documents and research studies to identify ways in which patient portals may contribute to health service delivery and patient outcomes. The authors identified six main ways which represent “educated guesses” to be tested against the data in the evaluation studies. These studies were identified through a formal and systematic search in four databases between 2003 and 2013. Two members of the research team selected the articles using a pre-established list of inclusion and exclusion criteria and following a two-step procedure. The authors then extracted data from the selected articles and created several tables, one for each outcome category. They organized information to bring forward those mechanisms where patient portals contribute to outcomes and the variation in outcomes across different contexts.

9.3.6. Critical Reviews

Lastly, critical reviews aim to provide a critical evaluation and interpretive analysis of existing literature on a particular topic of interest to reveal strengths, weaknesses, contradictions, controversies, inconsistencies, and/or other important issues with respect to theories, hypotheses, research methods or results ( Baumeister & Leary, 1997 ; Kirkevold, 1997 ). Unlike other review types, critical reviews attempt to take a reflective account of the research that has been done in a particular area of interest, and assess its credibility by using appraisal instruments or critical interpretive methods. In this way, critical reviews attempt to constructively inform other scholars about the weaknesses of prior research and strengthen knowledge development by giving focus and direction to studies for further improvement ( Kirkevold, 1997 ).

Kitsiou, Paré, and Jaana (2013) provide an example of a critical review that assessed the methodological quality of prior systematic reviews of home telemonitoring studies for chronic patients. The authors conducted a comprehensive search on multiple databases to identify eligible reviews and subsequently used a validated instrument to conduct an in-depth quality appraisal. Results indicate that the majority of systematic reviews in this particular area suffer from important methodological flaws and biases that impair their internal validity and limit their usefulness for clinical and decision-making purposes. To this end, they provide a number of recommendations to strengthen knowledge development towards improving the design and execution of future reviews on home telemonitoring.

9.4. Summary

Table 9.1 outlines the main types of literature reviews that were described in the previous sub-sections and summarizes the main characteristics that distinguish one review type from another. It also includes key references to methodological guidelines and useful sources that can be used by eHealth scholars and researchers for planning and developing reviews.

Table 9.1. Typology of Literature Reviews (adapted from Paré et al., 2015).

Typology of Literature Reviews (adapted from Paré et al., 2015).

As shown in Table 9.1 , each review type addresses different kinds of research questions or objectives, which subsequently define and dictate the methods and approaches that need to be used to achieve the overarching goal(s) of the review. For example, in the case of narrative reviews, there is greater flexibility in searching and synthesizing articles ( Green et al., 2006 ). Researchers are often relatively free to use a diversity of approaches to search, identify, and select relevant scientific articles, describe their operational characteristics, present how the individual studies fit together, and formulate conclusions. On the other hand, systematic reviews are characterized by their high level of systematicity, rigour, and use of explicit methods, based on an “a priori” review plan that aims to minimize bias in the analysis and synthesis process (Higgins & Green, 2008). Some reviews are exploratory in nature (e.g., scoping/mapping reviews), whereas others may be conducted to discover patterns (e.g., descriptive reviews) or involve a synthesis approach that may include the critical analysis of prior research ( Paré et al., 2015 ). Hence, in order to select the most appropriate type of review, it is critical to know before embarking on a review project, why the research synthesis is conducted and what type of methods are best aligned with the pursued goals.

9.5. Concluding Remarks

In light of the increased use of evidence-based practice and research generating stronger evidence ( Grady et al., 2011 ; Lyden et al., 2013 ), review articles have become essential tools for summarizing, synthesizing, integrating or critically appraising prior knowledge in the eHealth field. As mentioned earlier, when rigorously conducted review articles represent powerful information sources for eHealth scholars and practitioners looking for state-of-the-art evidence. The typology of literature reviews we used herein will allow eHealth researchers, graduate students and practitioners to gain a better understanding of the similarities and differences between review types.

We must stress that this classification scheme does not privilege any specific type of review as being of higher quality than another ( Paré et al., 2015 ). As explained above, each type of review has its own strengths and limitations. Having said that, we realize that the methodological rigour of any review — be it qualitative, quantitative or mixed — is a critical aspect that should be considered seriously by prospective authors. In the present context, the notion of rigour refers to the reliability and validity of the review process described in section 9.2. For one thing, reliability is related to the reproducibility of the review process and steps, which is facilitated by a comprehensive documentation of the literature search process, extraction, coding and analysis performed in the review. Whether the search is comprehensive or not, whether it involves a methodical approach for data extraction and synthesis or not, it is important that the review documents in an explicit and transparent manner the steps and approach that were used in the process of its development. Next, validity characterizes the degree to which the review process was conducted appropriately. It goes beyond documentation and reflects decisions related to the selection of the sources, the search terms used, the period of time covered, the articles selected in the search, and the application of backward and forward searches ( vom Brocke et al., 2009 ). In short, the rigour of any review article is reflected by the explicitness of its methods (i.e., transparency) and the soundness of the approach used. We refer those interested in the concepts of rigour and quality to the work of Templier and Paré (2015) which offers a detailed set of methodological guidelines for conducting and evaluating various types of review articles.

To conclude, our main objective in this chapter was to demystify the various types of literature reviews that are central to the continuous development of the eHealth field. It is our hope that our descriptive account will serve as a valuable source for those conducting, evaluating or using reviews in this important and growing domain.

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  • Cite this Page Paré G, Kitsiou S. Chapter 9 Methods for Literature Reviews. In: Lau F, Kuziemsky C, editors. Handbook of eHealth Evaluation: An Evidence-based Approach [Internet]. Victoria (BC): University of Victoria; 2017 Feb 27.
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Carrying out systematic literature reviews: an introduction

Alan Davies

Lecturer in Health Data Science, School of Health Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester

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Systematic reviews provide a synthesis of evidence for a specific topic of interest, summarising the results of multiple studies to aid in clinical decisions and resource allocation. They remain among the best forms of evidence, and reduce the bias inherent in other methods. A solid understanding of the systematic review process can be of benefit to nurses that carry out such reviews, and for those who make decisions based on them. An overview of the main steps involved in carrying out a systematic review is presented, including some of the common tools and frameworks utilised in this area. This should provide a good starting point for those that are considering embarking on such work, and to aid readers of such reviews in their understanding of the main review components, in order to appraise the quality of a review that may be used to inform subsequent clinical decision making.

Since their inception in the late 1970s, systematic reviews have gained influence in the health professions ( Hanley and Cutts, 2013 ). Systematic reviews and meta-analyses are considered to be the most credible and authoritative sources of evidence available ( Cognetti et al, 2015 ) and are regarded as the pinnacle of evidence in the various ‘hierarchies of evidence’. Reviews published in the Cochrane Library ( are widely considered to be the ‘gold’ standard. Since Guyatt et al (1995) presented a users' guide to medical literature for the Evidence-Based Medicine Working Group, various hierarchies of evidence have been proposed. Figure 1 illustrates an example.

example of literature review nursing

Systematic reviews can be qualitative or quantitative. One of the criticisms levelled at hierarchies such as these is that qualitative research is often positioned towards or even is at the bottom of the pyramid, thus implying that it is of little evidential value. This may be because of traditional issues concerning the quality of some qualitative work, although it is now widely recognised that both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies have a valuable part to play in answering research questions, which is reflected by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) information concerning methods for developing public health guidance. The NICE (2012) guidance highlights how both qualitative and quantitative study designs can be used to answer different research questions. In a revised version of the hierarchy-of-evidence pyramid, the systematic review is considered as the lens through which the evidence is viewed, rather than being at the top of the pyramid ( Murad et al, 2016 ).

Both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies are sometimes combined in a single review. According to the Cochrane review handbook ( Higgins and Green, 2011 ), regardless of type, reviews should contain certain features, including:

  • Clearly stated objectives
  • Predefined eligibility criteria for inclusion or exclusion of studies in the review
  • A reproducible and clearly stated methodology
  • Validity assessment of included studies (eg quality, risk, bias etc).

The main stages of carrying out a systematic review are summarised in Box 1 .

Formulating the research question

Before undertaking a systemic review, a research question should first be formulated ( Bashir and Conlon, 2018 ). There are a number of tools/frameworks ( Table 1 ) to support this process, including the PICO/PICOS, PEO and SPIDER criteria ( Bowers et al, 2011 ). These frameworks are designed to help break down the question into relevant subcomponents and map them to concepts, in order to derive a formalised search criterion ( Methley et al, 2014 ). This stage is essential for finding literature relevant to the question ( Jahan et al, 2016 ).

It is advisable to first check that the review you plan to carry out has not already been undertaken. You can optionally register your review with an international register of prospective reviews called PROSPERO, although this is not essential for publication. This is done to help you and others to locate work and see what reviews have already been carried out in the same area. It also prevents needless duplication and instead encourages building on existing work ( Bashir and Conlon, 2018 ).

A study ( Methley et al, 2014 ) that compared PICO, PICOS and SPIDER in relation to sensitivity and specificity recommended that the PICO tool be used for a comprehensive search and the PICOS tool when time/resources are limited.

The use of the SPIDER tool was not recommended due to the risk of missing relevant papers. It was, however, found to increase specificity.

These tools/frameworks can help those carrying out reviews to structure research questions and define key concepts in order to efficiently identify relevant literature and summarise the main objective of the review ( Jahan et al, 2016 ). A possible research question could be: Is paracetamol of benefit to people who have just had an operation? The following examples highlight how using a framework may help to refine the question:

  • What form of paracetamol? (eg, oral/intravenous/suppository)
  • Is the dosage important?
  • What is the patient population? (eg, children, adults, Europeans)
  • What type of operation? (eg, tonsillectomy, appendectomy)
  • What does benefit mean? (eg, reduce post-operative pyrexia, analgesia).

An example of a more refined research question could be: Is oral paracetamol effective in reducing pain following cardiac surgery for adult patients? A number of concepts for each element will need to be specified. There will also be a number of synonyms for these concepts ( Table 2 ).

Table 2 shows an example of concepts used to define a search strategy using the PICO statement. It is easy to see even with this dummy example that there are many concepts that require mapping and much thought required to capture ‘good’ search criteria. Consideration should be given to the various terms to describe the heart, such as cardiac, cardiothoracic, myocardial, myocardium, etc, and the different names used for drugs, such as the equivalent name used for paracetamol in other countries and regions, as well as the various brand names. Defining good search criteria is an important skill that requires a lot of practice. A high-quality review gives details of the search criteria that enables the reader to understand how the authors came up with the criteria. A specific, well-defined search criterion also aids in the reproducibility of a review.

Search criteria

Before the search for papers and other documents can begin it is important to explicitly define the eligibility criteria to determine whether a source is relevant to the review ( Hanley and Cutts, 2013 ). There are a number of database sources that are searched for medical/health literature including those shown in Table 3 .

The various databases can be searched using common Boolean operators to combine or exclude search terms (ie AND, OR, NOT) ( Figure 2 ).

example of literature review nursing

Although most literature databases use similar operators, it is necessary to view the individual database guides, because there are key differences between some of them. Table 4 details some of the common operators and wildcards used in the databases for searching. When developing a search criteria, it is a good idea to check concepts against synonyms, as well as abbreviations, acronyms and plural and singular variations ( Cognetti et al, 2015 ). Reading some key papers in the area and paying attention to the key words they use and other terms used in the abstract, and looking through the reference lists/bibliographies of papers, can also help to ensure that you incorporate relevant terms. Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) that are used by the National Library of Medicine (NLM) ( to provide hierarchical biomedical index terms for NLM databases (Medline and PubMed) should also be explored and included in relevant search strategies.

Searching the ‘grey literature’ is also an important factor in reducing publication bias. It is often the case that only studies with positive results and statistical significance are published. This creates a certain bias inherent in the published literature. This bias can, to some degree, be mitigated by the inclusion of results from the so-called grey literature, including unpublished work, abstracts, conference proceedings and PhD theses ( Higgins and Green, 2011 ; Bettany-Saltikov, 2012 ; Cognetti et al, 2015 ). Biases in a systematic review can lead to overestimating or underestimating the results ( Jahan et al, 2016 ).

An example search strategy from a published review looking at web use for the appraisal of physical health conditions can be seen in Box 2 . High-quality reviews usually detail which databases were searched and the number of items retrieved from each.

A balance between high recall and high precision is often required in order to produce the best results. An oversensitive search, or one prone to including too much noise, can mean missing important studies or producing too many search results ( Cognetti et al, 2015 ). Following a search, the exported citations can be added to citation management software (such as Mendeley or Endnote) and duplicates removed.

Title and abstract screening

Initial screening begins with the title and abstracts of articles being read and included or excluded from the review based on their relevance. This is usually carried out by at least two researchers to reduce bias ( Bashir and Conlon, 2018 ). After screening any discrepancies in agreement should be resolved by discussion, or by an additional researcher casting the deciding vote ( Bashir and Conlon, 2018 ). Statistics for inter-rater reliability exist and can be reported, such as percentage of agreement or Cohen's kappa ( Box 3 ) for two reviewers and Fleiss' kappa for more than two reviewers. Agreement can depend on the background and knowledge of the researchers and the clarity of the inclusion and exclusion criteria. This highlights the importance of providing clear, well-defined criteria for inclusion that are easy for other researchers to follow.

Full-text review

Following title and abstract screening, the remaining articles/sources are screened in the same way, but this time the full texts are read in their entirety and included or excluded based on their relevance. Reasons for exclusion are usually recorded and reported. Extraction of the specific details of the studies can begin once the final set of papers is determined.

Data extraction

At this stage, the full-text papers are read and compared against the inclusion criteria of the review. Data extraction sheets are forms that are created to extract specific data about a study (12 Jahan et al, 2016 ) and ensure that data are extracted in a uniform and structured manner. Extraction sheets can differ between quantitative and qualitative reviews. For quantitative reviews they normally include details of the study's population, design, sample size, intervention, comparisons and outcomes ( Bettany-Saltikov, 2012 ; Mueller et al, 2017 ).

Quality appraisal

The quality of the studies used in the review should also be appraised. Caldwell et al (2005) discussed the need for a health research evaluation framework that could be used to evaluate both qualitative and quantitative work. The framework produced uses features common to both research methodologies, as well as those that differ ( Caldwell et al, 2005 ; Dixon-Woods et al, 2006 ). Figure 3 details the research critique framework. Other quality appraisal methods do exist, such as those presented in Box 4 . Quality appraisal can also be used to weight the evidence from studies. For example, more emphasis can be placed on the results of large randomised controlled trials (RCT) than one with a small sample size. The quality of a review can also be used as a factor for exclusion and can be specified in inclusion/exclusion criteria. Quality appraisal is an important step that needs to be undertaken before conclusions about the body of evidence can be made ( Sambunjak and Franic, 2012 ). It is also important to note that there is a difference between the quality of the research carried out in the studies and the quality of how those studies were reported ( Sambunjak and Franic, 2012 ).

example of literature review nursing

The quality appraisal is different for qualitative and quantitative studies. With quantitative studies this usually focuses on their internal and external validity, such as how well the study has been designed and analysed, and the generalisability of its findings. Qualitative work, on the other hand, is often evaluated in terms of trustworthiness and authenticity, as well as how transferable the findings may be ( Bettany-Saltikov, 2012 ; Bashir and Conlon, 2018 ; Siddaway et al, 2019 ).

Reporting a review (the PRISMA statement)

The Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) provides a reporting structure for systematic reviews/meta-analysis, and consists of a checklist and diagram ( Figure 4 ). The stages of identifying potential papers/sources, screening by title and abstract, determining eligibility and final inclusion are detailed with the number of articles included/excluded at each stage. PRISMA diagrams are often included in systematic reviews to detail the number of papers included at each of the four main stages (identification, screening, eligibility and inclusion) of the review.

example of literature review nursing

Data synthesis

The combined results of the screened studies can be analysed qualitatively by grouping them together under themes and subthemes, often referred to as meta-synthesis or meta-ethnography ( Siddaway et al, 2019 ). Sometimes this is not done and a summary of the literature found is presented instead. When the findings are synthesised, they are usually grouped into themes that were derived by noting commonality among the studies included. Inductive (bottom-up) thematic analysis is frequently used for such purposes and works by identifying themes (essentially repeating patterns) in the data, and can include a set of higher-level and related subthemes (Braun and Clarke, 2012). Thomas and Harden (2008) provide examples of the use of thematic synthesis in systematic reviews, and there is an excellent introduction to thematic analysis by Braun and Clarke (2012).

The results of the review should contain details on the search strategy used (including search terms), the databases searched (and the number of items retrieved), summaries of the studies included and an overall synthesis of the results ( Bettany-Saltikov, 2012 ). Finally, conclusions should be made about the results and the limitations of the studies included ( Jahan et al, 2016 ). Another method for synthesising data in a systematic review is a meta-analysis.

Limitations of systematic reviews

Apart from the many advantages and benefits to carrying out systematic reviews highlighted throughout this article, there remain a number of disadvantages. These include the fact that not all stages of the review process are followed rigorously or even at all in some cases. This can lead to poor quality reviews that are difficult or impossible to replicate. There also exist some barriers to the use of evidence produced by reviews, including ( Wallace et al, 2012 ):

  • Lack of awareness and familiarity with reviews
  • Lack of access
  • Lack of direct usefulness/applicability.


When the methods used and the analysis are similar or the same, such as in some RCTs, the results can be synthesised using a statistical approach called meta-analysis and presented using summary visualisations such as forest plots (or blobbograms) ( Figure 5 ). This can be done only if the results can be combined in a meaningful way.

example of literature review nursing

Meta-analysis can be carried out using common statistical and data science software, such as the cross-platform ‘R’ (, or by using standalone software, such as Review Manager (RevMan) produced by the Cochrane community (, which is currently developing a cross-platform version RevMan Web.

Carrying out a systematic review is a time-consuming process, that on average takes between 6 and 18 months and requires skill from those involved. Ideally, several reviewers will work on a review to reduce bias. Experts such as librarians should be consulted and included where possible in review teams to leverage their expertise.

Systematic reviews should present the state of the art (most recent/up-to-date developments) concerning a specific topic and aim to be systematic and reproducible. Reproducibility is aided by transparent reporting of the various stages of a review using reporting frameworks such as PRISMA for standardisation. A high-quality review should present a summary of a specific topic to a high standard upon which other professionals can base subsequent care decisions that increase the quality of evidence-based clinical practice.

  • Systematic reviews remain one of the most trusted sources of high-quality information from which to make clinical decisions
  • Understanding the components of a review will help practitioners to better assess their quality
  • Many formal frameworks exist to help structure and report reviews, the use of which is recommended for reproducibility
  • Experts such as librarians can be included in the review team to help with the review process and improve its quality

CPD reflective questions

  • Where should high-quality qualitative research sit regarding the hierarchies of evidence?
  • What background and expertise should those conducting a systematic review have, and who should ideally be included in the team?
  • Consider to what extent inter-rater agreement is important in the screening process

Reviews of Literature in Nursing Research: Methodological Considerations and Defining Characteristics


  • 1 School of Nursing, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada (Ms Silva and Drs Woo, Galica, Wilson, and Luctkar-Flude); School of Nursing, Federal University of Santa Catarina, Santa Catarina, Brazil (Dr Padilha and Ms Petry); and Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (Dr Silva E Silva).
  • PMID: 35213877
  • DOI: 10.1097/ANS.0000000000000418

Despite the availability of guidelines about the different types of review literature, the identification of the best approach is not always clear for nursing researchers. Therefore, in this article, we provide a comprehensive guide to be used by health care and nursing scholars while choosing among 4 popular types of reviews (narrative, integrative, scoping, and systematic review), including a descriptive discussion, critical analysis, and decision map tree. Although some review methodologies are more rigorous, it would be inaccurate to say that one is preferable over the others. Instead, each methodology is adequate for a certain type of investigation, nursing methodology research, and research paradigm.

Copyright © 2022 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Nursing Research*
  • Research Design
  • Research Personnel
  • Review Literature as Topic*

example of literature review nursing

How to write a Strong Literature Review for Nursing | Guide, Outlines & Examples

Avatar of Dr. Huey

When writing a nursing literature review, it is important to be clear and concise. This comprehensive guide will teach you how to write a strong literature review for Nursing, and includes nursing literature review outlines and examples.

What is a literature review?

A literature review is a critical analysis of a publication. It provides an overview of the work, describes its strengths and weaknesses, and makes recommendations for further reading. Nurses should use literature reviews when evaluating the impact of new research on practice.

Quick Summary of how to write a strong literature review for Nursing

To write a strong literature review for nursing, follow these five steps:

  • Search for relevant articles.
  • Analyze the articles and select the information that is relevant to your study.
  • Summarize the key findings of the selected articles.
  • Discuss how the selected research could be used in nursing practice.
  • Offer any recommendations or suggestions for further reading

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Steps of writing a strong literature review for nursing

Step 1: search for relevant articles., how to search for relevant articles for your nursing literature review.

  • Before you begin your literature review, it is important to have a plan. You’ll need to figure out what you want to learn from the literature, and what topics or authors you want to explore. Once you have a general idea, the next step is to search for relevant articles. Here are some tips for finding the right sources:
  • Check databases of scholarly journals (JSTOR, CINAHL, ProQuest) and find papers published on the topic you are interested in.
  • Search Google Scholar using the keywords you used when selecting your topic.
  • Use online citation tools (Web of Science or Scopus) to look for journal articles that cite other journal articles in your field.
  • Check library catalogues and online databases (e.g., PubMed) for books and book chapters that discuss the topic you are interested in.
  • Ask colleagues or friends who are experts in your topic for recommendations.

Working on a DNP Capstone project, you may find this interesting How to write a DNP Capstone Project Literature Review

Step 2: Analyze the articles and select the information that is relevant to your study.

How to evaluate and select sources for your nursing literature review.

Selecting sources for your nursing literature review can be a daunting task, but with a bit of planning and some helpful tips, the process can be streamlined and simplified. When selecting sources for your nursing literature review, it is important to remember that you are seeking information that will help you formulate an accurate opinion about the topic under examination. It is also important to take into account the credibility of the source and the extent to which the information within it can be trusted. When evaluating different sources, consider these key factors: 1. The source’s level of expertise. In order to trust information from a particular source, it is important to verify that the author has significant knowledge about the topic under consideration. For example, if a source is discussing research findings from a recent study, make sure that the author has experience in conducting research and interpreting data from such studies. 2. The source’s level of evidence. Information from authoritative sources (such as journal articles or book chapters) generally tends to be more reliable than information from less-reliable sources (such as personal blog posts). When evaluating sources, be especially wary of sources that do not cite any evidence at all (for example, anecdotal evidence or personal opinion).

3. The source’s bias. It is important to be aware of the author’s ideological perspective before reading information from that source. For example, if the author is writing about a controversial topic , it is likely that they will have an opinion on the matter.

4. The source’s level of accessibility. Be sure to evaluate sources according to how easy they are to access: journal articles and book chapters can be difficult to find, but articles from magazines and online journals are often easier to find and read.

5. The source’s timeliness. Information may be outdated by the time you read it, so be sure to check the date of publication and review any updates that have been made since then.

Once you have selected sources for your nursing literature review, it is important to organize and structure your findings in a way that makes them easily accessible. One approach is to create a list of topics that you would like to explore in greater detail and then search for relevant journal articles, book chapters, or other sources on those topics. Another approach is to use Google Sheets as a tool for organizing your findings into categories (such as types of research, patient perspectives, or healthcare systems) and then analyzing those categories in greater depth.

Regardless of the approach you choose, it is important to be careful not to rely entirely on one source when forming your opinion about a topic. It is always helpful to cross-check your findings with other sources in order to ensure that you are making an informed decision.

Step 3: Summarize the key findings of the selected articles.

When writing a literature review, it is important to summarize the key findings of the selected articles. This can be done in a variety of ways, but following these five steps will help make your summary concise and effective.

  • Identify the main points of each article.
  • Summarize the key findings of each article.
  • Discuss how these findings can be used in nursing practice.
  • Give any recommendations for further reading that may be relevant to this topic and the selected article.
  • Close with a summary statement of the key takeaways from the article

Using Thematic Analysis

Nursing literature reviews can be used to inform practice by providing a comprehensive overview of the literature related to a particular topic. This type of review is especially helpful when there is a lack of specific research regarding a particular area of nursing.

It is important to consider the themes that are prevalent in the literature when performing a thematic analysis. The following are some key points to keep in mind when performing a thematic analysis:

  • It is important to identify and analyze the main themes that are present in the nursing literature.
  • Themes should be consistent across papers and should be related to the subject matter of the review.
  • It is also important to identify any inconsistencies in the themes that are identified. This will help to identify any areas where further research is required.

Outline of a Thematic Nursing literature review

Outline of a Thematic Nursing literature review

Step 4 Discuss how the selected research could be used in nursing practice.

Types of nursing literature review structures to use in the discussion.

There are several approaches to organizing your nursing literature reviews.

Chronological nursing literature reviews

  • Chronological: reviews articles in a specific order, typically from most recent to oldest.
  • Methodological: reviews articles using a specific methodology (e.g. content analysis, participant observation).
  • Thematic: reviews articles based on a certain topic or focus (e.g. research methodology, nursing research).
  • Theoretical: reviews articles that explore new theoretical concepts or explore an existing theory in new ways (e.g. critical discourse analysis, feminist theory).
  • Clinical: reviews articles that focus on clinical applications/impacts (e.g. evidence-based practice, patient care).

When writing the nursing literature review discussion section, be sure to;

  • Summarize and synthesize: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine
  • Analyze and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers—add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transition words and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts.

Types of nursing literature review structures to use in the discussion

Step 5: Offer any recommendations or suggestions for further reading

This section offers:

  • A critique of any scientific findings in the reviewed studies
  • A description of any clinical implications of the reviewed studies
  • Make a recommendation based on the findings of the research.
  • Support your recommendation with evidence from the research.
  • Conclude your review by highlighting any implications that the findings of the research may have for nursing practice.
  • A summary of the conclusions drawn from the reviewed studies

By following these steps, you will be able to write a strong literature review for Nursing.

Literature Review for Nursing

Components of a Literature Review for Nursing

The following are eight components of a literature review for nursing. The list is not exhaustive, but it provides an overview of the important elements of a literature review.

Purpose of the Review

The purpose of a literature review is to provide an assessment of the current body of research related to a particular topic in nursing. This assessment will help the nurse make informed decisions about which interventions or therapies to pursue in therapy settings.

Literature Search Strategy

The literature review must include a clear and concise description of the search strategy used to locate relevant articles. In addition, the selection process for selecting articles for inclusion in the review should be described.

Selection Criteria for Articles

The selection criteria for articles should be clearly stated and explained. This includes factors such as study design, population studied, methodology used, and results obtained.

Description of Included Studies

Each study that was included in the review should be described in detail. The key points that should be highlighted include study objectives, population studied, sample size, and methods used to collect data. It is also helpful to provide a summary of each study’s results.

Assessment of the Studies

The review should provide an overview of the findings of each study and how they relate to nursing practice. This section should include a critique of the study’s methodology and results.

The review should provide a summary of the main findings and conclusions drawn from the included studies. This section should also highlight any implications that the study’s findings may have for nursing practice.

Recommendations for Future Research

Finally, the review should make specific recommendations for future research that would be most relevant to nursing practice.


The literature review should include a comprehensive bibliography of all the articles that were included in the review. This will provide readers with the resources they need to explore the topic further.

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What are the prerequisites of a nursing literature review?

Nursing literature reviews must be well-written and informative to help readers make informed decisions about pursuing a nursing career.

To write a strong nursing literature review, you first need to understand the different types of literature reviews.

A descriptive literature review is a type of review that describes the features, characteristics, and findings of a particular body of literature.

A critical literature review is a type of review that evaluates the validity and usefulness of a body of literature.

Finally, an analytical literature review is a type of review that uses methodological principles to analyze the meaning and significance of a body of literature.

Once you have defined the terms you will be using in your review, you need to identify the features, characteristics, and findings of the literature you will be reviewing. To do this, you will need to read each article carefully and take notes on what you find. After reading all the articles, compile your notes into a concise summary.

What does your nursing literature review need?

A literature review is a critical analysis of a body of literature. It can be used in any field, but is particularly important in nursing because so much information is available and the decisions made about patient care are based on what has been studied.

When writing a literature review, it is important to take note of the following:

  • The purpose of the review: The first step in writing a good literature review is deciding what you want to learn from it. Is the review designed to help you understand how the literature relates to your practice or research question? To support an argument you are making? To determine whether a study was useful or not? The answer will determine what kind of information needs to be included in your review.
  • The scope of the review: A literature review should be as specific as possible. What subjects did the studies examine? What types of patients were included? What methods were used to collect data? How accurate was the data collection? This will help you select relevant studies for your analysis.
  • The methodology used: A good literature review includes details on how the studies were analyzed and how they were chosen for inclusion in the review. Thiswill help you to avoid drawing invalid conclusions from the data.
  • The findings: A literature review should include a summary of the findings of the studies, as well as any important conclusions that can be drawn from them.
  • The context in which the findings were gathered: The literature review should also include information on the context in which the studies were conducted, including the socioeconomic and cultural environment at the time. This will help you to understand how the findings may have been influenced.
  • The writing style: A good literature review should be clear and concise, without excessive jargon.

In addition to the above, a literature review might also include the following:

  • An overview of the research methodologies used in the reviewed studies
  • A description of the study participants
  • A discussion of the study design and methodology
  • An evaluation of the methodological quality of the reviewed studies

How to format a nursing literature review?

Nursing literature reviews can be formatted in several ways, depending on the author’s preference. The most common way to write a nursing literature review is to organize it by study design, population groups, interventions, and outcomes. However, other formats include those that group studies by topic or focus on specific methods or tools.

Regardless of the format chosen, all reviews must include the following information:

1) the purpose of the review;

2) an overview of the study design and population groups studied;

3) an assessment of the methodological quality of the study;

4) a discussion of the findings and their implications for practice;

5) a conclusion.

Levels of Evidence for Nursing Literature Reviews

When writing a literature review for nursing, it is important to remember that there are different levels of evidence. The four levels of evidence are cohort, case study, randomized controlled trial (RCT), and meta-analysis. When determining which level of evidence to use for a literature review, the author should consider the purpose of the review, the audience for the review, and the methodology used to gather the data.

When reviewing academic papers written by nurses, it is important to use cohort studies as the level of evidence. Cohort studies are research studies that track groups of people over time and examine how various factors (such as exposures) affect health outcomes. This type of study is useful when trying to determine whether certain exposures or interventions are associated with health benefits.

When reviewing journal articles written by nurses, it is important to use case studies as the level of evidence. Case studies are research studies that focus on a specific individual or group of individuals and examine how they experience a particular situation or event. This type of study can be helpful when trying to understand complex issues in an easily understandable manner.

When reviewing journal articles written by other healthcare professionals, it is important to use RCTs as the levelof evidence. RCTs are research studies that randomly assign participants to one of two or more groups and compare the outcomes between the groups. This type of study is useful when trying to determine whether a particular intervention is effective in improving health outcomes.

When reviewing journal articles written by nurses, it is important to use meta-analyses as the level of evidence. Meta-analyses are research studies that take multiple journal articles and analyze them using a statistical method known as meta-analysis. This type of study can be useful when trying to determine whether a particular intervention or exposure is associated with health benefits across a variety of different studies.

The purpose of a nursing literature review is to summarize and assess the evidence related to the therapeutic use of a particular nursing intervention or theory . Nursing reviewers must be able to evaluate the quality of the study, determine its relevance to the nursing practice, and draw conclusions about the applicability of the findings to nursing.

When reviewing nursing studies, it is important to consider the level of evidence.

  • Level 1 studies are descriptive and provide information about a phenomenon.
  • Level 2 studies are randomized trials that compare two groups and measure differences between them.
  • Level 3 studies are meta-analyses that analyze data from multiple studies and determine whether a treatment is effective.
  • Level 4 studies are large-scale clinical trials that compare different treatments on a large population.

When reviewing nursing interventions, it is important to consider the purpose of the intervention. Interventions may have multiple purposes, such as improving patient outcomes, preventing adverse events, or ensuring safe practice.

Nursing literature reviews can be divided into two main types: descriptive and analytical. Descriptive reviews focus on providing an overview of all available literature on a particular topic and synthesizing these findings into generalizable conclusions. Analytical reviews are more specific in their focus and include the identification of strengths and weaknesses of each study, as well as the synthesis of evidence into conclusions.

Tips for Writing a Successful Literature Review for Nursing

When writing a literature review for nursing, it is important to be clear, concise, and informative. Here are three tips to help you write a strong review:

  • Know the basics. Before you even start writing your review, it is important to know the basics about the article or book you are reviewing. This includes its title, author, and subject matter.
  • Be selective. Once you have a good understanding of the article or book, it is time to select what you want to focus on. Make sure to detail why you chose each piece of information and what implications it has for nursing practice.
  • Be critical but constructive. As with any writing task, it is important to be critical but constructive in your review. It is important to provide thoughtful feedback that will help improve the quality of future literature reviews for nursing students and practitioners alike. 

When completing a literature review for nursing, it is important to remember the following tips:

-Start with a clear purpose for writing the review. What is your objective for reviewing the material?

-Be specific. State which works you have read, where you found them, and what interested you about them.

-Evaluate the literature using critical thinking skills. What are the author’s main points? Are they well supported by evidence?

-Keep your review focused on the work you have read. Do not include personal opinions or observations.

-Avoid making generalizations or assumptions about all literature on the subject matter. Be sure to cite specific examples to support your points.

-End your review with a summarization of your findings and recommendations. What did you learn from reading the material? What implications does this have for nursing practice?

If you follow these tips, you will be able to write a strong and informative literature review for nursing.

A literature review is an essential component of any nursing research project. It can be used to guide your study, help you better understand the body of research on a topic, and formulate a plan for future research.

In this article, we will discuss the steps involved in writing a strong literature review and provide some tips for making your review as effective as possible. 

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Nursing Literature Review Topics And Examples

Nursing is one of the careers that call for significant and up-to-date research. This profession primarily necessitates qualitative, up-to-date research that discusses in depth the aspects influencing the behavior of a particular disease. Research is the only method by which experts can find a cure for an ailment. Researchers and students, therefore, must find the appropriate nursing literature review topics.

A nursing literature review can focus on the behavioral or physical part of the condition. It is crucial to have a competent mentor in nursing literature reviews to select the correct topic for your research.

Here you’ll find some nursing literature review topics to help you narrow down your search.

Top Tips for doing your literature review

Choose a fascinating topic.

Choosing fascinating topics for a literature review in nursing might sound quite obvious but it helps make a massive difference in keeping you motivated and interested in writing your literature review. In the nursing area you are interested in, select a specific question that you will seek to answer.

Choose a topic other people will be interested to learn about. This way, you will research and refrain from other irrelevant questions and form an appealing and intriguing question you can provide answers to.

Be selective

Do not just pick any piece of literature out there related to your nursing literature review topic. Not every data available, although related to your case, is relevant. Only select more information pertinent to your selected literature review on nursing topics.

9/10 nursing literature review questions can be answered by conducting simple research. If the question is about evaluating a treatment approach, then the viable option should be quantitive research. Qualitative research could be more appropriate in cases where the question is quite explorative.

You always remember that understanding the type of literature you need to use is crucial in writing your literature review. It will be wise to discuss the details with your instructor. Carefully examine the type of literature that will be most useful to your literature review. Once you understand what you should look for exactly, you will be good to go.

Nursing Literature Review Topics

Make the library your friend

Schedule frequent library sessions and learn more about the subject, particularly your chosen topics for literature review in nursing. Most institutions have sections for students’ thesis and dissertations, which should be easier to find.

Identify the publications you will research. You can visit the academic library website and skim through the different sections and discover the most relevant ones to the topics you are interested in.

At this point, you are almost ready to get started. You should now know where to source the relevant databases both online and in the library. The rule of thumb is to use offline and online research publications to write your nursing literature review paper. Sometimes, some key details might be missing in the online databases and vice versa.

Go through the abstracts of relevant articles that have been published before

Only review the relevant articles since this will save you time and energy in the long run. When going through the abstracts, note the articles you deem relevant. Remember to be conscientious about the kind of articles you take note of. Ditch any papers that are not relevant, no matter how well-written they might seem. The same goes for relevant articles. You must review them.

Have a list of the article you deem relevant to your nursing literature review topic. If you are an undergraduate, ten articles should be good to get you started. A higher number of articles will mean that you won’t get into many details of the articles, and fewer articles translate to inadequate research.

If you have no other choice, then you will need to improvise. You can refine the nursing paper topics to match the articles you have collected. When you have a long list of articles, you can always reduce the scope of your nursing literature review question. For example, you can limit your focus to only one country or even one state.

The next step is to assess the quality of the content of the articles you have. Sometimes a paper can be relevant to your nursing literature review topic or question, but it might be of poor quality. That is why you should employ a critical appraisal method that is unique to the research design of your paper. This could mean that you will have to use other essential appraisal methods if your literature review question requires you to access a wide variety of literature.

You can talk to your instructor. Using the critical appraisal method, you can see the limitations and strengths of the data you have collected and the level of influence each article has had on your final literature review paper.

Review all the articles together and list down the answers to your question

A pro tip is to create a chart of the main topics you come across as you read through the articles, the authors, and the strengths and weaknesses. You will then see what issues are recurrent in most of the articles.

By doing this, you will notice the clear picture and pattern in the literature, and you will be able to formulate an answer to your question quickly. That does not mean that the answer will always be perfect. You might need to make further adjustments.

Whatever final answer you come up with, make sure it is supported by the evidence collected. you should not have a solution that none of the facts you collected in the literature is answering

Community Nursing literature review Topics

Writing about community services is quite a tricky task. You might need help from an expert to help you nail your nursing literature review. Here are community nursing literature review topics.

  • Patient Documentation Discussion
  • Digital Healthcare Surveys Rehabilitation of Sexual Abuse Victims
  • Innovative Methods
  • Innovative Care Planning
  • Immigration Aid
  • Rural Population Healthcare Demands
  • Scotland’s Culture
  • Volunteer Nursing Work
  • Stress Treatment

Top Nursing Literature Review Topics

  • Impact of health promotion initiatives on public health Collaborative roles of nurses, policymakers, social workers, and primary care physicians
  • How gardening therapy reduces anxiety in the elderly
  • facets of healthcare development, strategy, and research strategies
  • Teenage binge drinking and alcoholism are a growing problem.
  • National Health Services’ efficiency and effectiveness in providing services to the elderly
  • Family therapy’s effect on adolescents.
  • Guidelines to improve healthcare quality
  • Ethics and leadership demonstrated
  • Evidence-based disease management
  • Effective methods for working with a variety of patients with mental health difficulties
  • Mental health issues related to substandard housing
  • Management difficulties in the care of elderly patients
  • Public health strategies in Great Britain
  • Improving pregnancy and care outcomes
  • Understanding food labels to prevent obesity and poor health
  • Positive results of laughter therapy
  • World Health Organization approaches and policies concerning child development
  • Community nursing’s role in enhancing senior health
  • Community nurse health promotion practice
  • AIDS: Social repercussions
  • Knowledge management employing evidence
  • Spouses of people living with Alzheimer’s may experience psychological difficulties.
  • epidemiological trends concerning cardiovascular hazards
  • Can a patient and nurse bond aid in a patient’s recovery?
  • Principal dangers in clinical management
  • Hearing the hallucinations of schizophrenia patients
  • Evidence-based practice as both a pragmatic and theoretical strategy
  • repercussions of community service and elderly patient care
  • Implications of music therapy on individuals with depression
  • How to properly manage drunk patients
  • Developing a welcoming atmosphere in the waiting room
  • Influence of nursing on parents who refuse to vaccinate their children
  • Improved nurse-patient connections. How essential are they?
  • Patients who refuse care must be treated.
  • The significance of mental health nursing to patient outcomes
  • What can a nurse do to administer initial care?
  • Aiding the elderly patients in their everyday activities and providing nursing care
  • The influence of nursing practice on future nurses
  • Nursing precautions against infectious diseases
  • Nursing schools and the practical application of academic knowledge
  • The nursing aspect of child care. Assisting youngsters to have no fear of physicians.
  • The uniform colors of nurses and their utility in the hospital
  • What nurses must know to improve their knowledge
  • Assisting the person in need: The significance of triage nurses
  • Why are male nurses necessary, and why are there more of them than ever before?
  • How to approach patients with medical procedure phobias
  • Application of practical expertise in nursing interventions
  • The advancements in patient care and nursing approaches
  • How can nurses make patients feel secure?
  • How may a patient’s relationship with a nurse aid in their recovery?
  • Recognize the signs of abuse promptly.
  • Nursing role in the prevention of pressure ulcers in bedridden individuals
  • Treatment of patients with mental disorders
  • Nursing ethics and how to respect the preferences of the patient
  • Recognizing potentially dangerous patients and what to do if you encounter one Doctor–nurse relationship enhancement strategies
  • Reducing nurses’ working hours and the possible benefits of doing so
  • Are nurses treated differently than other hospital employees?
  • Nursing duties in various patient wards

Health Organizations’ nursing literature review topics

Here are a few good nursing literature review topics about health organizations

  • Rural Conflicts in New Healthcare Developments
  • Television Healthcare Advertising
  • Inequality in Healthcare Delivery in the United Kingdom Training Remote-care Help
  • Racism in Emergency Department
  • Electronic Administration
  • School Screening Methodologies
  • Work Opportunity Availability
  • Rehabilitation of Children in School Facilities

Elderly Personsnursing literature review Topics

  • What characteristics enable a nurse to recognize an old patient who has been abused in the past?
  • Are you in agreement that community-based social innovations have facilitated healthy aging?
  • Is it permissible to conduct clinical studies on elderly patients?
  • Home is the most pleasing environment for aging. How much do you concur?
  • What is the required minimum level of education for nurses, and how may it be enhanced?
  • Does mealtime help aid the elderly in monitoring their protein and vitamin intake?
  • Should the families of geriatric patients be held accountable for progressing the patients’ treatment?
  • What significant challenges do elderly patients face?
  • Explain the aging trend and the concept of global health.
  • How should the healthcare system be modified to guarantee that the elderly receive quality care?
  • What are the most effective medical methods for managing stress and information surcharge?

Healthcare Management Nursing Literature Review Topics

  • Challenges that may be encountered during the contracting process in health care.
  • What legal concerns may non-native patients encounter?
  • What are the primary tenets of marijuana management?
  • How do you establish a private medical practice?
  • Regarding medical decisions and apology legislation.
  • Exists discrimination based on gender in the nursing profession?
  • The advantages and disadvantages of Medicare.
  • Principal provisions of the nursing uniform code.
  • What is the cause of the shortage of males in the healthcare industry?
  • Home healthcare services.

Geriatric Nursing Literature review Topics

  • Malnutrition’s impact on the organ system.
  • What effect does aging have on the immune system?
  • How should sepsis be treated in critically unwell elderly patients?
  • How can a lengthy hospital stay contribute to complications among critically ill patients?
  • What are the causes and risks of depression in later life?
  • How effective is a healthy diet at lowering the risk of osteoporosis?
  • What role do registered nurses play in advance care planning?
  • Several methods for preventing delirium in older individuals.
  • The diagnosis and risk factors for urinary tract infections in older adults.
  • Discuss essential care techniques for older individuals with hip fractures of fragility.
  • What molecular mechanisms and preventative strategies exist against Alzheimer’s disease in adults?
  • Can nutrition pose a dementia risk?
  • How can elderly individuals maintain dental hygiene?
  • Age-related effects on the cardiovascular system.
  • Elderly dehydration: causes, symptoms, prevention, and therapy.
  • The changes in the elderly’s nerve system and cognitive senses.
  • Essential care strategies for older adults with alcohol use problems.
  • What medical emergencies are faced by elderly cancer patients?
  • Available treatments for heart failure in the elderly.

Pediatric Nursing literature review topics

  • Leukemia Cells And Children’s Immune Systems
  • How has the pandemic affected the mental health of children?
  • Strategies To Reduce The Risk Of Blindness In Children Receiving Oxygen Therapy Using Pragmatic Language Patterns For Children With Autism
  • Acute Leukemia in Children and Reducing Painful Treatment and Diagnosis
  • Student And Youngsters Depression And Psychological Health Vulnerability
  • Congenital Heart Disease In Children And Their Psychological Problems
  • Enhancing Language Acquisition For Children With Developmental Disabilities
  • Optimizing Childhood Cancer Treatment
  • Childhood Obesity: An Issue of Public Health
  • Ethical issues preventing nurses from providing care to younger patients

Quantitative Nursing literature review Topics

  • Describe and assess nursing critical care.
  • Methods for treating pressure ulcers in hip fracture patients.
  • Present a critical evaluation of assisted suicide and the associated ethics.
  • What roles do nurses have in teaching and encouraging self-care?
  • Compare and contrast nursing facilities and home care.
  • What are the most common causes of heart attacks?
  • What are the hurdles involved in managing chronic diseases?
  • Describe the benefits of a healthy diet.
  • The most effective cardiovascular disease treatments.
  • Discuss assisted suicide and its ethical implications.

Child Nursing Literature Review Topics

  • What are the requirements of Pediatric Critical Care?
  • Examine the leading causes of child mortality in the United Kingdom.
  • Strategies for addressing childhood malnutrition
  • Causes and treatment of Tourette syndrome in children.
  • The optimal treatments for autistic people.
  • How can children’s meningitis be prevented?
  • Examine the development of newborn care.
  • The pathogenesis and management of opportunistic fungal infections.
  • Dietary Health and Childhood Obesity
  • Adolescent Practices in Medicine.
  • Discuss childhood Neuroblastoma and Metabolic Syndrome.
  • Pediatric asthma and monitoring approach.
  • Explain why youngsters are resistant to antibiotics.
  • Antibiotic resistance in preschoolers.
  • The impact of social media on children’s eating habits.

Nursing Careers literature review Topics

  • Clinical guidelines and nursing principles
  • Stress management training for night shift workers.
  • Critical care nursing administration
  • Training to make prudent medical decisions
  • The clinical nurse functions
  • Guidelines for primary gynecological education
  • Diversity within the healthcare industry
  • Between occupation and service to others
  • The best method to force seniors to consume.
  • The digital age and nursing’s future
  • Exercise to guarantee no drug errors
  • Nursing professionals
  • Remote concerns about intensive care unit
  • Superior nursing procedures
  • What are the best leadership skills for nurses?
  • Morality and homelessness treatment
  • The nurse’s role in managing anxiety
  • Works of nursing theorists

The Bottom Line

Nursing is a serious occupation, and you need to be as professional as possible. ​Nursing literature review ideas​ can be pretty challenging to come up with. Writing a nursing literature review is simple but not easy. It all begins by selecting appropriate nursing literature review topics and getting down to relevant and accurate research.

Choose ​nursing literature review topics​ that you are familiar with, as this will ensure that you will spend less time doing the research and more time writing. The tips and comprehensive list of nursing literature review topics should get you started. You can even modify them so that they fit you perfectly. Should you get stuck with writing your nursing literature review, do not fret. You can always get help from professional nursing literature review experts.

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    A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other (also called synthesis ). The lit review is an important genre in many disciplines, not just literature (i.e., the study of works of literature such as novels and plays).

  12. Nursing Resources : Conducting a Literature Review

    A literature review is an essay that surveys, summarizes, links together, and assesses research in a given field. It surveys the literature by reviewing a large body of work on a subject; it summarizes by noting the main conclusions and findings of the research; it links together works in the literature by showing how the information fits into the overall academic discussion and how the ...

  13. Sample Literature Reviews

    Sample Lit Reviews from Communication Arts Literature Review Sample 1 Literature Review Sample 2 Literature Review Sample 3 Have an exemplary literature review? Have you written a stellar literature review you care to share for teaching purposes?

  14. Research Guides: NUR 288: Nursing Concepts IV: Literature Review

    There are several steps in developing a literature review. These include: Step 1 Define Your Goal. Define your paper's goal. Literature review will match paper's goal. Step 2 Do Your Research. Review articles related to your paper's topic. Articles are written by scholars. Identify top scholars in the field about your topic.

  15. PDF Writing a Literature Review

    For example, you could organise your body paragraphs: ü Chronologically ü Thematically ü Theoretically ü According to findings "To develop an integrated argument from multiple sources, you need to link your arguments together. The model below is a guide" (Study and Learning Centre, 2005, para. 4). Integration Of Analysis

  16. LibGuides: Evidence Based Nursing: Types of Reviews

    Literature Review Examples Remember, a literature review provides an overview of a topic. ... Notice how this article is broken into several sections: background on human cloning, harms of cloning, and nursing issues in cloning. These are the themes of the different articles that were used in writing this literature review. Look at how the ...

  17. Chapter 9 Methods for Literature Reviews

    Literature reviews play a critical role in scholarship because science remains, first and foremost, a cumulative endeavour (vom Brocke et al., 2009). As in any academic discipline, rigorous knowledge syntheses are becoming indispensable in keeping up with an exponentially growing eHealth literature, assisting practitioners, academics, and graduate students in finding, evaluating, and ...

  18. British Journal of Nursing

    Abstract. Systematic reviews provide a synthesis of evidence for a specific topic of interest, summarising the results of multiple studies to aid in clinical decisions and resource allocation. They remain among the best forms of evidence, and reduce the bias inherent in other methods. A solid understanding of the systematic review process can ...

  19. Reviews of Literature in Nursing Research: Methodological ...

    Despite the availability of guidelines about the different types of review literature, the identification of the best approach is not always clear for nursing researchers. ... Reviews of Literature in Nursing Research: Methodological Considerations and Defining Characteristics ANS Adv Nurs Sci. 2022 Jul-Sep;45(3):197-208. doi: 10.1097/ANS ...

  20. How to write a Strong Literature Review for Nursing

    3.1 Step 1: Search for relevant articles. 3.1.1 How to Search for relevant articles for your Nursing Literature Review 3.2 Step 2: Analyze the articles and select the information that is relevant to your study. 3.2.1 How to evaluate and select sources for your nursing literature review

  21. Nursing Literature Reviews

    Literature Reviews (Page 1) The Phenomenon of Compassion Fatigue in Oncology Nurses Last modified: 13th Oct 2021 After repeated exposure to patients' traumatic experiences such as suffering, end-of-life care, and death, oncology staff may experience secondary traumatic stress (STS) or compassion fatigue....

  22. PDF Sample Literature Review For Nursing Students

    Sample Literature Review For Nursing Students Short, R. (2008). Assessing pain. Nursing Older People, 20(4), 16-18. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database. Purpose: The article urges nurses to make the national guideline, The Assessment of Pain in Older People, part of their personal practice and carry with them the simple tools to

  23. Nursing Literature Review Topics And Examples: Best topics

    Nursing Literature Review Topics And Examples: Best topics | OnlineNursingPapers Nursing Literature Review Topics And Examples Nursing is one of the careers that call for significant and up-to-date research.