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Nursing - Graduate Studies Research Guide: Literature Review

Literature Review

A literature review is an essay or part of an essay that summarizes and analyzes research in a particular discipline. It assess the literature by reviewing a large body of studies on a given subject matter. It summarizes by pointing out the main findings, linking together the numerous studies and explaining how they fit into the overall academic discussion on that subject. It critically analyzes the literature by pointing out the areas of weakness, expansion, and contention. 

Literature Review Sections:

  • Introduction: indicates the general state of the literature on a given subject.
  • Methodology: states where (databases), how (what subject terms used on searches), and what (parameters of studies that were included); so others may recreate the searches and explain the reasoning behind the selection of those studies.
  • Findings: summary of the major findings in that subject.
  • Discussion: a general progression from broader studies to more 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 for further research.
  • References: a list of all the studies using proper citation style. 

Literature Review Tips:

  • Beware of stating your own opinions or personal recommendations (unless you have evidence to support such claims).
  • Provide proper references to research studies.
  • Focus on research studies to provide evidence and the primary purpose of the literature review.
  • Connect research studies with the overall conversation on the subject.
  • Have a search strategy planner and log to keep you focused.

Literature reviews are not a book reports or commentaries; make sure to stay focused, organized, and free of personal biases or unsubstantiated recommendations.

Literature Review Examples:


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Literature Review Steps

1. Choose a topic and define your research question.

Your literature review should be guided by a focus research question.  Consider PICO and FINER criteria for developing a research question.

  • Make sure your research question is not too broad or too narrow. Do a couple of pre-searches to see what information is out there and determine if it is a manageable topic.
  • Identify the main concepts of your research question and write down terms that are related to them. Keep a list of  terms that you can use when searching.
  • If possible, discuss your topic with your professor. 

2. Decide on the scope of your review.

Check with your assignment requirements and your professor for parameters of the Literature Review.

  • How many studies are you considering?
  • How comprehensive will your literature review be?
  • How many years should it cover? 

3. Select appropriate databases to search.

Make a list of the databases you will search. 

  • Don't forget to look at books, dissertations or other specialized databases.
  • Contact your librarian to make sure you are not missing any vital databases for that topic.

4. Conduct searches and find relevant literature.

As you are searching in databases is important to keep track and notes as you uncover information.

  • Read the abstracts of research studies carefully instead of just downloading articles that have good titles.
  • Write down the searches you conduct in each database so that you may duplicate or avoid unsuccessful searches again.
  • Look at the bibliographies and references of research studies you find to locate others.
  • Look for subject terms or MeSH terms that are associated with the research studies you find and use those terms in more searches.
  • Use a citation manager such as Zotero or Endnote Basic to keep track of your research citations.

5. Review the literature. 

As you are reading the full articles ask the following questions when assessing studies:

  • What is the research question of the study?
  • Who are the author(s)? What are their credentials and how are they viewed in their field?
  • Has this study been cited?; if so, how has it been analyzed?
  • Was the research funded by a source that could influence the findings?
  • What were the research methodologies? Analyze its literature review, the samples and variables used, the results, and the conclusions.  Does the research seem to be complete?  What further questions does it raise?
  • Are there any conflicting studies; if so why?

Throughout the process keep careful notes of your searches and findings so it is easier to put it together when it comes to the writing part.