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Review Types: How to Write a Literature Review

This guide provides information and resources on the types of research as well as supporting works including literature reviews.

Structure of Literature Reviews

A literature review follows a logical order that consists of the following:

  • Introduction: Gives a quick idea of the topic of the literature review, such as the central theme or organizational pattern.
  • Body: Contains your discussion of sources and is organized either chronologically, thematically, or methodologically. The body can be organized in the following ways:
    • Chronological 
    • By Publication
    • By Trend
    • Thematical
    • Methodological
  • Conclusions/Recommendations: Discuss what you have drawn from reviewing the literature so far.

Consider these optional sections depending on your topic:

  • Current Situation - to understand the topic or focus of the literature review
  • History - if the body of the literature review is not already listed chronologically.
  • Methods/Standards - the criteria you used to select your sources

Preparing for A Literature review

a.Choose something that is of interest b.Explore your topic using your textbooks, reference books, consult with your instructor/professor c.Be open to altering and adjusting the focus of your question as you gather information a.Choose something that is of interest b.Explore your topic using your textbooks, reference books, consult with your instructor/professor c.Be open to altering and adjusting the focus of your question as you gather information A. Choose something that is of interest

B. Explore your topic using textbooks and reference books. Consult with your instructor/professor.

C. Be open to altering and adjusting the focus of your question as you gather information.

Scan what’s out there in a broad scope. Rely on reference books, textbooks, introduction to books/chapters, and abstracts to scan existing information. You may find useful general information from Wikipedia and other websites to get you started, but avoid solely relying on them and citing them.

These are some examples of places to get a broad view of a topic, but usually not cited and not included as part of a literature review:

Abstracts or introdcutions
Lectures and presentations

Conduct a broad search in library databases, starting from Library Search and moving to specific subject databases.

While conducting a background search on a topic, consider the following questions:

  • What is known about the subject? Are there any gaps in knowledge?
  • What is the current status of research in this area?
  • Is there a consensus about the topic?

  • Have areas of further study been identified by other researchers that you may want to consider?
  • Who are the significant research personalities in this area?
  • What aspects have generated significant debate on the topic?

  • What methods or problems were identified by others studying in the field and how might they impact your research?
  • Will it be a review of ALL relevant material or will the scope be limited to more recent material, e.g., the last five years.
  • What is the most productive methodology for your research based on the literature you have reviewed? Are you focusing on methodological approaches; on theoretical issues; on qualitative or quantitative research?

Refine your topic by asking the following questions:

  • Who? Are you interested in a specific population? Is your topic narrowed by gender, sex, age, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or something else? Are there key figures related to your topic?
  • What? What are the issues surrounding your topic? Are there subtopics? Did you notice gaps or unanswered questions as you collect background information?
  • Where? Can your topic be narrowed down to a geographic location? Are you focusing on the Las Vegas Valley? The state of Nevada? Mountain States? The Southwest? The United States? North America? Or are you looking at an international scope?
  • When? Is your topic current or historical? Is it confined to a specific time period? Was there an event that led to your topic to become an area of study?
  • Why? Why are you interested in this topic? Why would others be interested in it?
  • How? What kinds of information do you need? Primary sources? Statistics? What is your methodology?

Concept Map - A visualization of topic, ideas, and their relationships

How to Create a Concept Map

By University of Guelph Library
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Look at other literature reviews in your area or field of study. Is this an education-based question? A clinically based topic? An engineering-based topic? Biomedical? Look at how other reviews are structured and presented to begin to formulate your own structure.

In most databases, you can use filters or advanced search options to search Literature Reviews.

Sample Literature Reviews:

Search for Literature

Make a list of keywords and concepts based on your refined topic. Break down your refined topic or research question into key concepts. The goal is to find the best terms that will limit search results to only relevant items, yet not leave out important research. As you learn more about your topic, you will add and remove synonyms, acronyms, alternative terms, and relevant concepts. Documenting keywords as you progress through the research process is part of developing an effective search strategy that will save you time as you search different databases.  

Some tools to help find key terms for your research:

PICO - Patient/Population/Problem, Intervention/Exposure, Comparator, Outcome(s)

PCC - Population, Concept, Context

MeSH - Medical Subject Heading

Library Search is a great place to start when developing a research topic. After developing your research question and narrowing down your topic, it is more effective to search in subject databases. Not only will you find more relevant research, the search tools in these databases are designed for those subjects, providing ways to refine your search, such as subject thesauri and facets. For example, in medical databases you will find ways to filter based on study type or population group. Contact the library for suggestions on which databases to use.

Use a citation manager to store and organize the literature.

The Library provides access and support for RefWorks.

A summary table allows an easy comparison of various studies on a chosen topic

Literature Review Preparation: Completing a Summary Table

Video by NurseKillam

a. Ask questions while you read and evaluate - who, what, where, when, how. Consider the sources, are they the best evidence to support your topic? What common concepts or themes are coming up during your review of the sources?

i. What is the research question (in this article, chapter, review, etc.)?
ii. What is the methodology used?
iii. What data was gathered and how?
iv. How is the data presented?
v. Are findings consistent across literature?
vi. What are the main conclusions?
vii. Are the conclusions reasonable? (think about how they align with your question)
viii. What theories are used to support the conclusions of the authors?

b. Organize your evaluations by concept or theme, chronologically or historically tracing your topic, or by methodology.

i. You may want to create a chart or document your notes identifying themes and notes on each article or resource that is evaluated.

c. Return to step 1, review your keywords and look for more literature based on your new knowledge.

Identify key concepts and gaps in the literature on your topic. This will help you outline your literature review. This is important for the overall writing and structure of your review.

a. Remember- this is not a summary of one piece of literature after another.
b. Organize your review into sections that present the themes or trends, including relevant theory. You are not simply listing information, but evaluating and synthesizing based on your question. Remember that your own conclusions from analyzing, evaluating, and synthesizing are important.
c. OASIS may also offer some assistance with writing styles,