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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.

  • Annotated Bibliographies

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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Bashir Y, Conlon KC. Step by step guide to do a systematic review and meta-analysis for medical professionals. Ir J Med Sci. 2018; 187:(2)447-452

Bettany-Saltikov J. How to do a systematic literature review in nursing: a step-by-step guide.Maidenhead: Open University Press; 2012

Bowers D, House A, Owens D. Getting started in health research.Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell; 2011

Hierarchies of evidence. 2016. (accessed 23 July 2019)

Braun V, Clarke V. Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology. 2008; 3:(2)37-41

Developing a framework for critiquing health research. 2005. (accessed 22 July 2019)

Cognetti G, Grossi L, Lucon A, Solimini R. Information retrieval for the Cochrane systematic reviews: the case of breast cancer surgery. Ann Ist Super Sanita. 2015; 51:(1)34-39

Dixon-Woods M, Cavers D, Agarwal S Conducting a critical interpretive synthesis of the literature on access to healthcare by vulnerable groups. BMC Med Res Methodol. 2006; 6:(1)

Guyatt GH, Sackett DL, Sinclair JC Users' guides to the medical literature IX. A method for grading health care recommendations. JAMA. 1995; 274:(22)1800-1804

Hanley T, Cutts LA. What is a systematic review? Counselling Psychology Review. 2013; 28:(4)3-6

Cochrane handbook for systematic reviews of interventions. Version 5.1.0. 2011. (accessed 23 July 2019)

Jahan N, Naveed S, Zeshan M, Tahir MA. How to conduct a systematic review: a narrative literature review. Cureus. 2016; 8:(11)

Landis JR, Koch GG. The measurement of observer agreement for categorical data. Biometrics. 1997; 33:(1)159-174

Methley AM, Campbell S, Chew-Graham C, McNally R, Cheraghi-Sohi S. PICO, PICOS and SPIDER: a comparison study of specificity and sensitivity in three search tools for qualitative systematic reviews. BMC Health Serv Res. 2014; 14:(1)

Moher D, Liberati A, Tetzlaff J, Altman DG Preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses: the PRISMA statement. PLoS Med. 2009; 6:(7)

Mueller J, Jay C, Harper S, Davies A, Vega J, Todd C. Web use for symptom appraisal of physical health conditions: a systematic review. J Med Internet Res. 2017; 19:(6)

Murad MH, Asi N, Alsawas M, Alahdab F. New evidence pyramid. Evid Based Med. 2016; 21:(4)125-127

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Methods for the development of NICE public health guidance. 2012. (accessed 22 July 2019)

Sambunjak D, Franic M. Steps in the undertaking of a systematic review in orthopaedic surgery. Int Orthop. 2012; 36:(3)477-484

Siddaway AP, Wood AM, Hedges LV. How to do a systematic review: a best practice guide for conducting and reporting narrative reviews, meta-analyses, and meta-syntheses. Annu Rev Psychol. 2019; 70:747-770

Thomas J, Harden A. Methods for the thematic synthesis of qualitative research in systematic reviews. BMC Med Res Methodol. 2008; 8:(1)

Wallace J, Nwosu B, Clarke M. Barriers to the uptake of evidence from systematic reviews and meta-analyses: a systematic review of decision makers' perceptions. BMJ Open. 2012; 2:(5)

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.

literature review topic 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 ).

literature review topic 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 ).

literature review topic 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.

literature review topic 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.

literature review topic 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
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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

literature review topic 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

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  • 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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Doing a Literature Review in Nursing, Health and Social Care

Doing a Literature Review in Nursing, Health and Social Care

  • Michael Coughlan - Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
  • Patricia Cronin - Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
  • Description

A clear and practical guide to completing a literature review in nursing and healthcare studies.

Providing students with straightforward guidance on how to successfully carry out a literature review as part of a research project or dissertation, this book uses examples and activities to demonstrate how to complete each step correctly, from start to finish, and highlights how to avoid common mistakes.

The third edition includes:

  • Expert advice on selecting and researching a topic
  • A chapter outlining the different types of literature review
  • Increased focus on Critical Appraisal Tools and how to use them effectively
  • New real-world examples presenting best practice
  • Instructions on writing up and presenting the final piece of work

Perfect for any nursing or healthcare student new to literature reviews and for anyone who needs a refresher in this important topic.

See what’s new to this edition by selecting the Features tab on this page. Should you need additional information or have questions regarding the HEOA information provided for this title, including what is new to this edition, please email [email protected] . Please include your name, contact information, and the name of the title for which you would like more information. For information on the HEOA, please go to .

For assistance with your order: Please email us at [email protected] or connect with your SAGE representative.

SAGE 2455 Teller Road Thousand Oaks, CA 91320

Praise for the previous edition:

'This book is an excellent resource for practitioners wishing to develop their knowledge and understanding of reviewing literature and the processes involved. It uses uncomplicated language to signpost the reader effortlessly through key aspects of research processes. Practitioners will find this an invaluable companion for navigating through evidence to identify quality literature applicable to health and social care practice.' 

'Students often struggle with writing an effective literature review and this invaluable guide will help to allay their concerns. Key terms are clearly explained, and the inclusion of learning outcomes is a helpful feature for students and lecturers alike.  The examples are also very helpful, particularly for less confident students.  This is an accessible yet authoritative guide which I can thoroughly recommend.' 

'A must have - this book provides useful information and guidance to students and professionals alike. It guides the reader through various research methods in a theoretical and pragmatic manner.' 

' It's a very readable, concise, and accessible introduction to undertaking a literature review in the field of healthcare. The book’s layout has a logical format which really helped me to think methodically about my research question. An excellent reference for undergraduates who are about to undertake their first literature review.' 

'This book is an essential resource for students. Clearly written and excellently structured, with helpful study tools throughout, it takes the reader step by step through the literature review process in an easy, informative and accessible manner. This text gives students the skills they need to successfully complete their own review.' 

'The updating of the chapters will be exceptionally helpful given the rapid changes in online availability of resources and open-access literature.'  

Excellent text for masters and doctoral level students

An excellent primer to help the level 7 students write their systemised review for the assignment.

This book provides a comprehensive overview of the practical process of literature review in healthcare. It contains all details required to conduct a review by students.

This is an excellent clear and concise book on undertaking literature reviews being particularly good at demystifying jargon. It is timely given the move to student dissertations being primarily literature reviews in the current Covid pandemic. However nearly all the examples are drawn from nursing and health making the text less useful for social care and social work. A little disappointing given the title. SW students are likely to gravitate to texts where their subject is more prominent for a primary text.

Accessible, informative, step to step guide

This is a really helpful, accessible text for students and academic staff alike.

A really good addition to the repertoire of skills and techniques for understanding the essential process of literature reviewing.

Preview this book

For instructors, select a purchasing option, related products.

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What is a literature review?

Choosing a topic, developing your search strategy, carrying out your search, saving and documenting your search, formulating a research question, critical appraisal tools.

  • Go to LibrarySearch This link opens in a new window

So you have been asked to complete a literature review, but what is a literature review?

A literature review is a piece of research which aims to address a specific research question. It is a comprehensive summary and analysis of existing literature. The literature itself should be the main topic of discussion in your review. You want the results and themes to speak for themselves to avoid any bias.

The first step is to decide on a topic. Here are some elements to consider when deciding upon a topic:

  • Choose a topic which you are interested in, you will be looking at a lot of research surrounding that area so you want to ensure it is something that interests you. 
  • Draw on your own experiences, think about your placement or your workplace.
  • Think about why the topic is worth investigating.  

Once you have decided on a topic, it is a good practice to carry out an initial scoping search.

This requires you to do a quick search using  LibrarySearch  or  Google Scholar  to ensure that there is research on your topic. This is a preliminary step to your search to check what literature is available before deciding on your question. 

literature review topic nursing

The research question framework elements can also be used as keywords.

Keywords - spellings, acronyms, abbreviations, synonyms, specialist language

  • Think about who the population/ sample group. Are you looking for a particular age group, ethnicity, cultural background, gender, health issue etc.
  • What is the intervention/issue you want to know more about? This could be a particular type of medication, education, therapeutic technique etc. 
  • Do you have a particular context in mind? This could relate to a community setting, hospital, ward etc. 

It is important to remember that databases will only ever search for the exact term you put in, so don't panic if you are not getting the results you hoped for. Think about alternative words that could be used for each keyword to build upon your search. 

Build your search by thinking about about synonyms, specialist language, spellings, acronyms, abbreviations for each keyword that you have.

Inclusion & Exclusion Criteria

Your inclusion and exclusion criteria is also an important step in the literature review process. It allows you to be transparent in how you have  ended up with your final articles. 

Your inclusion/exclusion criteria is completely dependent on your chosen topic. Use your inclusion and exclusion criteria to select your articles, it is important not to cherry pick but to have a reason as to why you have selected that particular article. 

literature review topic nursing

  • Search Planning Template Use this template to plan your search strategy.

Once you have thought about your keywords and alternative keywords, it is time to think about how to combine them to form your search strategy. Boolean operators instruct the database how your terms should interact with one another. 

Boolean Operators

  • OR can be used to combine your keywords and alternative terms. For example "Social Media OR Twitter". When using OR we are informing the database to bring articles continuing either of those terms as they are both relevant so we don't mind which appears in our article. 
  • AND can be used to combine two or more concepts. For example "Social Media AND Anxiety". When using AND we are informing the database that we need both of the terms in our article in order for it to be relevant.
  • Truncation can be used when there are multiple possible word endings. For example Nurs* will find Nurse, Nurses and Nursing. 
  • Double quotation marks can be used to allow for phrase searching. This means that if you have two or more words that belong together as a phrase the database will search for that exact phrase rather than words separately.  For example "Social Media"

Don't forget the more ORs you use the broader your search becomes, the more ANDs you use the narrower your search becomes. 

One of the databases you will be using is EBSCOHost Research Databases. This is a platform which searches through multiple databases so allows for a comprehensive search. The short video below covers how to access and use EBSCO. 

A reference management software will save you a lot of time especially when you are looking at lots of different articles. 

We provide support for EndNote and Mendeley. The video below covers how to install and use Mendeley. 

Consider using a research question framework. A framework will ensure that your question is specific and answerable.

There are different frameworks available depending on what type of research you are interested in.

Population - Who is the question focussed on? This could relate to staff, patients, an age group, an ethnicity etc.

Intervention - What is the question focussed on? This could be a certain type of medication, therapeutic technique etc. 

Comparison/Context - This may be with our without the intervention or it may be concerned with the context for example where is the setting of your question? The hospital, ward, community etc?

Outcome - What do you hope to accomplish or improve etc.

Sample - as this is qualitative research sample is preferred over patient so that it is not generalised. 

Phenomenon of Interest - reasons for behaviour, attitudes, beliefs and decisions.

Design - the form of research used. 

Evaluation - the outcomes.

Research type -qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods.  

All frameworks help you to be specific, but don't worry if your question doesn't fit exactly into a framework. 

There are many critical appraisal tools or books you can use to assess the credibility of a research paper but these are a few we would recommend in the library. Your tutor may be able to advise you of others or some that are more suitable for your topic.

Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP)

CASP is a well-known critical appraisal website that has checklists for a wide variety of study types. You will see it frequently used by practitioners.

Understanding Health Research

This is a brand-new, interactive resource that guides you through appraising a research paper, highlighting key areas you should consider when appraising evidence.

Greenhalgh, T. (2014) How to read a paper: The basics of evidence-based medicine . 5 th edn. Chichester: Wiley

Greenhalgh’s book is a classic in critical appraisal. Whilst you don’t need to read this book cover-to-cover, it can be useful to refer to its specific chapters on how to assess different types of research papers. We have copies available in the library!

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

Systematic Literature Reviews: Steps & Resources

literature review topic 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?

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.

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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 follow 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

literature review topic nursing

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Chapter 1: Introduction

Learning objectives.

At the conclusion of this chapter, you will be able to:

  • Identify the purpose of the literature review in  the research process
  • Distinguish between different types of literature reviews

1.1 What is a Literature Review?

Pick up nearly any book on research methods and you will find a description of a literature review.  At a basic level, the term implies a survey of factual or nonfiction books, articles, and other documents published on a particular subject.  Definitions may be similar across the disciplines, with new types and definitions continuing to emerge.  Generally speaking, a literature review is a:

  • “comprehensive background of the literature within the interested topic area…” ( O’Gorman & MacIntosh, 2015, p. 31 ).
  • “critical component of the research process that provides an in-depth analysis of recently published research findings in specifically identified areas of interest.” ( House, 2018, p. 109 ).
  • “written document that presents a logically argued case founded on a comprehensive understanding of the current state of knowledge about a topic of study” ( Machi & McEvoy,  2012, p. 4 ).

As a foundation for knowledge advancement in every discipline, it is an important element of any research project.  At the graduate or doctoral level, the literature review is an essential feature of thesis and dissertation, as well as grant proposal writing.  That is to say, “A substantive, thorough, sophisticated literature review is a precondition for doing substantive, thorough, sophisticated research…A researcher cannot perform significant research without first understanding the literature in the field.” ( Boote & Beile, 2005, p. 3 ).  It is by this means, that a researcher demonstrates familiarity with a body of knowledge and thereby establishes credibility with a reader.  An advanced-level literature review shows how prior research is linked to a new project, summarizing and synthesizing what is known while identifying gaps in the knowledge base, facilitating theory development, closing areas where enough research already exists, and uncovering areas where more research is needed. ( Webster & Watson, 2002, p. xiii )

A graduate-level literature review is a compilation of the most significant previously published research on your topic. Unlike an annotated bibliography or a research paper you may have written as an undergraduate, your literature review will outline, evaluate and synthesize relevant research and relate those sources to your own thesis or research question. It is much more than a summary of all the related literature.

It is a type of writing that demonstrate the importance of your research by defining the main ideas and the relationship between them. A good literature review lays the foundation for the importance of your stated problem and research question.

Literature reviews:

  • define a concept
  • map the research terrain or scope
  • systemize relationships between concepts
  • identify gaps in the literature ( Rocco & Plathotnik, 2009, p. 128 )

The purpose of a literature review is to demonstrate that your research question  is meaningful. Additionally, you may review the literature of different disciplines to find deeper meaning and understanding of your topic. It is especially important to consider other disciplines when you do not find much on your topic in one discipline. You will need to search the cognate literature before claiming there is “little previous research” on your topic.

Well developed literature reviews involve numerous steps and activities. The literature review is an iterative process because you will do at least two of them: a preliminary search to learn what has been published in your area and whether there is sufficient support in the literature for moving ahead with your subject. After this first exploration, you will conduct a deeper dive into the literature to learn everything you can about the topic and its related issues.

Literature Review Tutorial

A video titled "Literature Reviews: An overview for graduate students." Video here: Transcript available here:

1.2 Literature Review Basics

An effective literature review must:

  • Methodologically analyze and synthesize quality literature on a topic
  • Provide a firm foundation to a topic or research area
  • Provide a firm foundation for the selection of a research methodology
  • Demonstrate that the proposed research contributes something new to the overall body of knowledge of advances the research field’s knowledge base. ( Levy & Ellis, 2006 ).

All literature reviews, whether they are qualitative, quantitative or both, will at some point:

  • Introduce the topic and define its key terms
  • Establish the importance of the topic
  • Provide an overview of the amount of available literature and its types (for example: theoretical, statistical, speculative)
  • Identify gaps in the literature
  • Point out consistent finding across studies
  • Arrive at a synthesis that organizes what is known about a topic
  • Discusses possible implications and directions for future research

1.3 Types of Literature Reviews

There are many different types of literature reviews, however there are some shared characteristics or features.  Remember a comprehensive literature review is, at its most fundamental level, an original work based on an extensive critical examination and synthesis of the relevant literature on a topic. As a study of the research on a particular topic, it is arranged by key themes or findings, which may lead up to or link to the  research question.  In some cases, the research question will drive the type of literature review that is undertaken.

The following section includes brief descriptions of the terms used to describe different literature review types with examples of each.   The included citations are open access, Creative Commons licensed or copyright-restricted.

1.3.1 Types of Review conceptual.

Guided by an understanding of basic issues rather than a research methodology. You are looking for key factors, concepts or variables and the presumed relationship between them. The goal of the conceptual literature review is to categorize and describe concepts relevant to your study or topic and outline a relationship between them. You will include relevant theory and empirical research.

Examples of a Conceptual Review:

  • Education : The formality of learning science in everyday life: A conceptual literature review. ( Dohn, 2010 ).
  • Education : Are we asking the right questions? A conceptual review of the educational development literature in higher education. ( Amundsen & Wilson, 2012 ).

Figure 1.1 shows a diagram of possible topics and subtopics related to the use of information systems in education. In this example, constructivist theory is a concept that might influence the use of information systems in education. A related but separate concept the researcher might want to explore are the different perspectives of students and teachers regarding the use of information systems in education. Empirical

An empirical literature review collects, creates, arranges, and analyzes numeric data reflecting the frequency of themes, topics, authors and/or methods found in existing literature. Empirical literature reviews present their summaries in quantifiable terms using descriptive and inferential statistics.

Examples of an Empirical Review:

  • Nursing : False-positive findings in Cochrane meta-analyses with and without application of trial sequential analysis: An empirical review. ( Imberger, Thorlund, Gluud, & Wettersley, 2016 ).
  • Education : Impediments of e-learning adoption in higher learning institutions of Tanzania: An empirical review ( Mwakyusa & Mwalyagile, 2016 ). Exploratory

Unlike a synoptic literature review, the purpose here is to provide a broad approach to the topic area. The aim is breadth rather than depth and to get a general feel for the size of the topic area. A graduate student might do an exploratory review of the literature before beginning a synoptic, or more comprehensive one.

Examples of an Exploratory Review:

  • Education : University research management: An exploratory literature review. ( Schuetzenmeister, 2010 ).
  • Education : An exploratory review of design principles in constructivist gaming learning environments. ( Rosario & Widmeyer, 2009 ).

literature review topic nursing Focused

A type of literature review limited to a single aspect of previous research, such as methodology. A focused literature review generally will describe the implications of choosing a particular element of past research, such as methodology in terms of data collection, analysis and interpretation.

Examples of a Focused Review:

  • Nursing : Clinical inertia in the management of type 2 diabetes mellitus: A focused literature review. ( Khunti, Davies, & Khunti, 2015 ).
  • Education : Language awareness: Genre awareness-a focused review of the literature. ( Stainton, 1992 ). Integrative

Critiques past research and draws overall conclusions from the body of literature at a specified point in time. Reviews, critiques, and synthesizes representative literature on a topic in an integrated way. Most integrative reviews are intended to address mature topics or  emerging topics. May require the author to adopt a guiding theory, a set of competing models, or a point of view about a topic.  For more description of integrative reviews, see Whittemore & Knafl (2005).

Examples of an Integrative Review:

  • Nursing : Interprofessional teamwork and collaboration between community health workers and healthcare teams: An integrative review. ( Franklin,  Bernhardt, Lopez, Long-Middleton, & Davis, 2015 ).
  • Education : Exploring the gap between teacher certification and permanent employment in Ontario: An integrative literature review. ( Brock & Ryan, 2016 ). Meta-analysis

A subset of a  systematic review, that takes findings from several studies on the same subject and analyzes them using standardized statistical procedures to pool together data. Integrates findings from a large body of quantitative findings to enhance understanding, draw conclusions, and detect patterns and relationships. Gather data from many different, independent studies that look at the same research question and assess similar outcome measures. Data is combined and re-analyzed, providing a greater statistical power than any single study alone. It’s important to note that not every systematic review includes a meta-analysis but a meta-analysis can’t exist without a systematic review of the literature.

Examples of a Meta-Analysis:

  • Education : Efficacy of the cooperative learning method on mathematics achievement and attitude: A meta-analysis research. ( Capar & Tarim, 2015 ).
  • Nursing : A meta-analysis of the effects of non-traditional teaching methods on the critical thinking abilities of nursing students. ( Lee, Lee, Gong, Bae, & Choi, 2016 ).
  • Education : Gender differences in student attitudes toward science: A meta-analysis of the literature from 1970 to 1991. ( Weinburgh, 1995 ). Narrative/Traditional

An overview of research on a particular topic that critiques and summarizes a body of literature. Typically broad in focus. Relevant past research is selected and synthesized into a coherent discussion. Methodologies, findings and limits of the existing body of knowledge are discussed in narrative form. Sometimes also referred to as a traditional literature review. Requires a sufficiently focused research question. The process may be subject to bias that supports the researcher’s own work.

Examples of a Narrative/Traditional Review:

  • Nursing : Family carers providing support to a person dying in the home setting: A narrative literature review. ( Morris, King, Turner, & Payne, 2015 ).
  • Education : Adventure education and Outward Bound: Out-of-class experiences that make a lasting difference. ( Hattie, Marsh, Neill, & Richards, 1997 ).
  • Education : Good quality discussion is necessary but not sufficient in asynchronous tuition: A brief narrative review of the literature. ( Fear & Erikson-Brown, 2014 ).
  • Nursing : Outcomes of physician job satisfaction: A narrative review, implications, and directions for future research. ( Williams & Skinner, 2003 ). Realist

Aspecific type of literature review that is theory-driven and interpretative and is intended to explain the outcomes of a complex intervention program(s).

Examples of a Realist Review:

  • Nursing : Lean thinking in healthcare: A realist review of the literature. ( Mazzacato, Savage, Brommels, 2010 ).
  • Education : Unravelling quality culture in higher education: A realist review. ( Bendermacher, Egbrink, Wolfhagen, & Dolmans, 2017 ). Scoping

Tend to be non-systematic and focus on breadth of coverage conducted on a topic rather than depth. Utilize a wide range of materials; may not evaluate the quality of the studies as much as count the number. One means of understanding existing literature. Aims to identify nature and extent of research; preliminary assessment of size and scope of available research on topic. May include research in progress.

Examples of a Scoping Review:

  • Nursing : Organizational interventions improving access to community-based primary health care for vulnerable populations: A scoping review. ( Khanassov, Pluye, Descoteaux, Haggerty,  Russell, Gunn, & Levesque, 2016 ).
  • Education : Interdisciplinary doctoral research supervision: A scoping review. ( Vanstone, Hibbert, Kinsella, McKenzie, Pitman, & Lingard, 2013 ).
  • Nursing : A scoping review of the literature on the abolition of user fees in health care services in Africa. ( Ridde, & Morestin, 2011 ). Synoptic

Unlike an exploratory review, the purpose is to provide a concise but accurate overview of all material that appears to be relevant to a chosen topic. Both content and methodological material is included. The review should aim to be both descriptive and evaluative. Summarizes previous studies while also showing how the body of literature could be extended and improved in terms of content and method by identifying gaps.

Examples of a Synoptic Review:

  • Education : Theoretical framework for educational assessment: A synoptic review. ( Ghaicha, 2016 ).
  • Education : School effects research: A synoptic review of past efforts and some suggestions for the future. ( Cuttance, 1981 ). Systematic Review

A rigorous review that follows a strict methodology designed with a presupposed selection of literature reviewed.  Undertaken to clarify the state of existing research, the evidence, and possible implications that can be drawn from that.  Using comprehensive and exhaustive searching of the published and unpublished literature, searching various databases, reports, and grey literature.  Transparent and reproducible in reporting details of time frame, search and methods to minimize bias.  Must include a team of at least 2-3 and includes the critical appraisal of the literature.  For more description of systematic reviews, including links to protocols, checklists, workflow processes, and structure see “ A Young Researcher’s Guide to a Systematic Review “.

Examples of a Systematic Review:

  • Education : The potentials of using cloud computing in schools: A systematic literature review ( Hartmann, Braae, Pedersen, & Khalid, 2017 )
  • Nursing : Is butter back? A systematic review and meta-analysis of butter consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and total mortality. ( Pimpin, Wu, Haskelberg, Del Gobbo, & Mozaffarian, 2016 ).
  • Education : The use of research to improve professional practice: a systematic review of the literature. ( Hemsley-Brown & Sharp, 2003 ).
  • Nursing : Using computers to self-manage type 2 diabetes. ( Pal, Eastwood, Michie, Farmer, Barnard, Peacock, Wood, Inniss, & Murray, 2013 ). Umbrella/Overview of Reviews

Compiles evidence from multiple systematic reviews into one document. Focuses on broad condition or problem for which there are competing interventions and highlights reviews that address those interventions and their effects. Often used in recommendations for practice.

Examples of an Umbrella/Overview Review:

  • Education : Reflective practice in healthcare education: An umbrella review. ( Fragknos, 2016 ).
  • Nursing : Systematic reviews of psychosocial interventions for autism: an umbrella review. ( Seida, Ospina, Karkhaneh, Hartling, Smith, & Clark, 2009 ).

For a brief discussion see “ Not all literature reviews are the same ” (Thomson, 2013).

1.4 Why do a Literature Review?

The purpose of the literature review is the same regardless of the topic or research method. It tests your own research question against what is already known about the subject.

1.4.1 First – It’s part of the whole. Omission of a literature review chapter or section in a graduate-level project represents a serious void or absence of critical element in the research process.

The outcome of your review is expected to demonstrate that you:

  • can systematically explore the research in your topic area
  • can read and critically analyze the literature in your discipline and then use it appropriately to advance your own work
  • have sufficient knowledge in the topic to undertake further investigation

1.4.2 Second – It’s good for you!

  • You improve your skills as a researcher
  • You become familiar with the discourse of your discipline and learn how to be a scholar in your field
  • You learn through writing your ideas and finding your voice in your subject area
  • You define, redefine and clarify your research question for yourself in the process

1.4.3 Third – It’s good for your reader. Your reader expects you to have done the hard work of gathering, evaluating and synthesizes the literature.  When you do a literature review you:

  • Set the context for the topic and present its significance
  • Identify what’s important to know about your topic – including individual material, prior research, publications, organizations and authors.
  • Demonstrate relationships among prior research
  • Establish limitations of existing knowledge
  • Analyze trends in the topic’s treatment and gaps in the literature

1.4.4 Why do a literature review?

  • To locate gaps in the literature of your discipline
  • To avoid reinventing the wheel
  • To carry on where others have already been
  • To identify other people working in the same field
  • To increase your breadth of knowledge in your subject area
  • To find the seminal works in your field
  • To provide intellectual context for your own work
  • To acknowledge opposing viewpoints
  • To put your work in perspective
  • To demonstrate you can discover and retrieve previous work in the area

1.5 Common Literature Review Errors

Graduate-level literature reviews are more than a summary of the publications you find on a topic.  As you have seen in this brief introduction, literature reviews are a very specific type of research, analysis, and writing.  We will explore these topics more in the next chapters.  Some things to keep in mind as you begin your own research and writing are ways to avoid the most common errors seen in the first attempt at a literature review.  For a quick review of some of the pitfalls and challenges a new researcher faces when he/she begins work, see “ Get Ready: Academic Writing, General Pitfalls and (oh yes) Getting Started! ”.

As you begin your own graduate-level literature review, try to avoid these common mistakes:

  • Accepts another researcher’s finding as valid without evaluating methodology and data
  • Contrary findings and alternative interpretations are not considered or mentioned
  • Findings are not clearly related to one’s own study, or findings are too general
  • Insufficient time allowed to define best search strategies and writing
  • Isolated statistical results are simply reported rather than synthesizing the results
  • Problems with selecting and using most relevant keywords, subject headings and descriptors
  • Relies too heavily on secondary sources
  • Search methods are not recorded or reported for transparency
  • Summarizes rather than synthesizes articles

In conclusion, the purpose of a literature review is three-fold:

  • to survey the current state of knowledge or evidence in the area of inquiry,
  • to identify key authors, articles, theories, and findings in that area, and
  • to identify gaps in knowledge in that research area.

A literature review is commonly done today using computerized keyword searches in online databases, often working with a trained librarian or information expert. Keywords can be combined using the Boolean operators, “and”, “or” and sometimes “not”  to narrow down or expand the search results. Once a list of articles is generated from the keyword and subject heading search, the researcher must then manually browse through each title and abstract, to determine the suitability of that article before a full-text article is obtained for the research question.

Literature reviews should be reasonably complete, and not restricted to a few journals, a few years, or a specific methodology or research design. Reviewed articles may be summarized in the form of tables, and can be further structured using organizing frameworks such as a concept matrix.

A well-conducted literature review should indicate whether the initial research questions have already been addressed in the literature, whether there are newer or more interesting research questions available, and whether the original research questions should be modified or changed in light of findings of the literature review.

The review can also provide some intuitions or potential answers to the questions of interest and/or help identify theories that have previously been used to address similar questions and may provide evidence to inform policy or decision-making. ( Bhattacherjee, 2012 ).

literature review topic nursing

Read Abstract 1.  Refer to Types of Literature Reviews.  What type of literature review do you think this study is and why?  See the Answer Key for the correct response.

Nursing : To describe evidence of international literature on the safe care of the hospitalised child after the World Alliance for Patient Safety and list contributions of the general theoretical framework of patient safety for paediatric nursing.

An integrative literature review between 2004 and 2015 using the databases PubMed, Cumulative Index of Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), Scopus, Web of Science and Wiley Online Library, and the descriptors Safety or Patient safety, Hospitalised child, Paediatric nursing, and Nursing care.

Thirty-two articles were analysed, most of which were from North American, with a descriptive approach. The quality of the recorded information in the medical records, the use of checklists, and the training of health workers contribute to safe care in paediatric nursing and improve the medication process and partnerships with parents.

General information available on patient safety should be incorporated in paediatric nursing care. ( Wegner, Silva, Peres, Bandeira, Frantz, Botene, & Predebon, 2017 ).

Read Abstract 2.  Refer to Types of Literature Reviews.  What type of lit review do you think this study is and why?  See the Answer Key for the correct response.

Education : The focus of this paper centers around timing associated with early childhood education programs and interventions using meta-analytic methods. At any given assessment age, a child’s current age equals starting age, plus duration of program, plus years since program ended. Variability in assessment ages across the studies should enable everyone to identify the separate effects of all three time-related components. The project is a meta-analysis of evaluation studies of early childhood education programs conducted in the United States and its territories between 1960 and 2007. The population of interest is children enrolled in early childhood education programs between the ages of 0 and 5 and their control-group counterparts. Since the data come from a meta-analysis, the population for this study is drawn from many different studies with diverse samples. Given the preliminary nature of their analysis, the authors cannot offer conclusions at this point. ( Duncan, Leak, Li, Magnuson, Schindler, & Yoshikawa, 2011 ).

Test Yourself

See Answer Key for the correct responses.

The purpose of a graduate-level literature review is to summarize in as many words as possible everything that is known about my topic.

A literature review is significant because in the process of doing one, the researcher learns to read and critically assess the literature of a discipline and then uses it appropriately to advance his/her own research.

Read the following abstract and choose the correct type of literature review it represents.

Nursing: E-cigarette use has become increasingly popular, especially among the young. Its long-term influence upon health is unknown. Aim of this review has been to present the current state of knowledge about the impact of e-cigarette use on health, with an emphasis on Central and Eastern Europe. During the preparation of this narrative review, the literature on e-cigarettes available within the network PubMed was retrieved and examined. In the final review, 64 research papers were included. We specifically assessed the construction and operation of the e-cigarette as well as the chemical composition of the e-liquid; the impact that vapor arising from the use of e-cigarette explored in experimental models in vitro; and short-term effects of use of e-cigarettes on users’ health. Among the substances inhaled by the e-smoker, there are several harmful products, such as: formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, acroleine, propanal, nicotine, acetone, o-methyl-benzaldehyde, carcinogenic nitrosamines. Results from experimental animal studies indicate the negative impact of e-cigarette exposure on test models, such as ascytotoxicity, oxidative stress, inflammation, airway hyper reactivity, airway remodeling, mucin production, apoptosis, and emphysematous changes. The short-term impact of e-cigarettes on human health has been studied mostly in experimental setting. Available evidence shows that the use of e-cigarettes may result in acute lung function responses (e.g., increase in impedance, peripheral airway flow resistance) and induce oxidative stress. Based on the current available evidence, e-cigarette use is associated with harmful biologic responses, although it may be less harmful than traditional cigarettes. (J ankowski, Brożek, Lawson, Skoczyński, & Zejda, 2017 ).

  • Meta-analysis
  • Exploratory

Education: In this review, Mary Vorsino writes that she is interested in keeping the potential influences of women pragmatists of Dewey’s day in mind while presenting modern feminist re readings of Dewey. She wishes to construct a narrowly-focused and succinct literature review of thinkers who have donned a feminist lens to analyze Dewey’s approaches to education, learning, and democracy and to employ Dewey’s works in theorizing on gender and education and on gender in society. This article first explores Dewey as both an ally and a problematic figure in feminist literature and then investigates the broader sphere of feminist pragmatism and two central themes within it: (1) valuing diversity, and diverse experiences; and (2) problematizing fixed truths. ( Vorsino, 2015 ).

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Literature Reviews for Education and Nursing Graduate Students Copyright © by Linda Frederiksen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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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, information, and tips from various university Writing Centers below that provides an excellent overview.  Then move on to the specific steps recommended on this page.

  • UNC- Chapel Hill Writing Center Literature Review Handout, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison Writing Center Learn how to write a review of literature, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
  • University of Toronto-- Writing Advice The Literature Review: A few tips on conducting it, from the University of Toronto.
  • 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.

  • Brainfuse Tutoring and Writing Assistance for Regis Online Students by Tricia Reinhart Last Updated Oct 26, 2023 424 views this year
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4.10: Literature Review

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  • Page ID 16523

  • Lapum et al.
  • Ryerson University (Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing) via Ryerson University Library

What it is?

A literature review involves summarizing what is known about a particular topic based on your examination of existing scholarly sources. You may be asked to write a literature review as a stand-alone assignment or as part of a larger assignment or research project. It will provide you and your readers with a summary of what is known and the gaps and inconsistencies in the existing literature and/or research approaches used.

A literature review involves synthesizing ideas. A synthesis combines multiple ideas and text into a larger whole. When you are synthesizing multiple texts, you should organize your writing based on the content as opposed to the individual sources. Consider the similar themes across multiple sources and organize your writing according to these themes. You should identify the main ideas in the literature and compare/contrast them with purpose.

Table 4.4 describes the types of literature reviews used in nursing. Various approaches can be used to frame reviews, but all literature reviews involve synthesis skills, with the exception of annotated bibliographies.

Table 4.4: Types of literature reviews

How to do it?

The following discussion explores annotated bibliographies and narrative reviews because these are common in undergraduate nursing curricula.

Annotated Bibliography

There are many ways to complete an annotated bibliography , depending on the assignment requirements. See Figure 4.7 outlining the two components of the annotated bibliography including the citation and the annotation


Figure 4.7 : Components of an annotated bibliography

Here are some general steps to take when completing an annotated bibliography :

  • Identify your topic for the bibliography and the number of texts to be included.
  • If the texts are not provided for you, search the literature for articles or other types of texts that relate to your topic.
  • Take notes while reading and critiquing the identified texts.
  • Review your notes and then construct a short annotation summarizing each text’s main points. If a text presents the results of a research study, you also include the study purpose, methods, and conclusions.
  • Depending on the outlined requirements or your instructor’s expectations, the annotation may also include brief comments critiquing each text, comparing and contrasting texts, and describing how each text adds to the overall topic of the bibliography.
  • A bibliographic citation is included prior to the written annotation. The citation will vary based on what reference style is required; APA formatting is often required in nursing.

**see Chapter 3 and Chapter 9 for more information on critiquing a text for quality and APA style rules.

Narrative literature reviews

Here are some general steps for writing a narrative literature review :

  • Narrow and define your topic , and then review the existing literature in that area. You may limit your literature search to certain dates (e.g., the last five years) or certain countries, or certain types of literature such as empirical, theoretical, and/or discussion. You need to decide what sources are acceptable to include, such as journal articles, books, and/or grey literature. You may also check the reference lists of the literature you have found.
  • Take notes about the main points and critique the literature while doing pre-reading and during the full reading of the literature that you have located.
  • Gather your notes and consider the literature you have reviewed as a whole. Think about: What are the main points across all sources reviewed? Are there common findings across sources? Do some sources contradict each other? What are the strengths and weaknesses in the literature? What are the gaps in the literature?
  • Make decisions on how to structure your review . The structure is often based on content trends across the various sources; these trends can be used as sub-headings to help you categorize and organize your writing. You might also organize a literature review chronologically, particularly if “time” is an important element. Some literature reviews are organized by method, with sub-sections focusing on theoretical, qualitative, survey, and intervention studies.
  • Use topic sentences in each paragraph and logically link each paragraph and section to the next.

What to keep in mind?

As you are writing literature reviews, keep in mind several points:

  • Annotated bibliographies are concise and typically presented as one paragraph, ranging from 100–300 words, but expectations vary, so check the assignment guidelines or ask your instructor.
  • Narrative literature reviews are much longer and vary in length based on the reason for writing it. If it is part of a larger assignment, your instructor may provide you a specific length. If it is part of an article publishing results from a study, it may serve as a background section and be fairly short (a few paragraphs). If it is part of a graduate thesis, it may form one of your chapters and may be many pages long.

Activity: Check Your Understanding

The original version of this chapter contained H5P content. You may want to remove or replace this element.

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100+ Current Nursing literature review topics + Examples to Write About

Nursing literature review is an important part of the nursing profession. It allows nurses to learn from the best studies and research on a particular topic. In this article, we will provide you with 100 good nursing literature review topics that you can use to help you write your nursing literature review.

Current Nursing literature review topics to Write About – topics for literature review in nursing

Nursing literature review is an essential component of any nursing program. Nurses need to have a comprehensive understanding of the latest nursing research in order to provide optimal care for their patients .

Here are current nursing literature review topics that you can explore:

  • The Role of Nursing Research in Clinical Practice
  • Enhancing Patient Outcomes through Nursing Research
  • Applications of evidence-based Practice in Nursing
  • The Relationship between Nursing Theory and Practice
  • Issues in Implementation and Translation of Research Evidence into Clinical Practice
  • Cultural Competence in Nursing: Perspectives from the Global South
  • Nursing Perspective on Genetics and Genetics in Nursing
  • Advances in Geriatric Nursing: From Theory to Practice
  • Transforming Pediatric Nursing Care through EvidenceBased Practice
  • Health Technology Assessment: A Critical Appraisal from a Nursing Perspective
  • Promoting Collaborative Care through Effective Communication Practices within the Health System
  • Nurses, Technology, and Innovation: Implications for Quality Improvement and Patient Safety
  • Nursing Ethics: A Multidisciplinary Perspective
  • Nursing in an Era of Health Care Reform
  • The Role of Nursing Research in Evaluating Nursing Practice
  • Nursing Research and Quality Improvement: Strategies for conducting systematic reviews
  • Collaborative Care in Nursing: Theory, Research, and Practice
  • The Impact of Nursing on Patient Safety
  • The Role of Nursing Ethics in Patient Safety
  • Nursing Informatics: A Critical Appraisal
  • What Nurses Should Know About the National Minimum Data Set (NMDS)
  • Assessing Electronic Health Records: Challenges and Opportunities
  • Nursing in the Era of the Affordable Care Act
  • The Influence of Nursing on Patient Outcomes
  • The Effects of Culture on Nursing Practice
  • Nursing in a Time of Economic Turmoil
  • Challenges Facing Nursing Education in the Context of Healthcare Reform
  • The Use of Technology by Nurses in the Delivery of Nursing Care
  • Creating an Effective Learning Environment for Nursing Students

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

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20 Mental health nursing literature review topics

  • Introduction to mental health nursing literature review: This literature review will introduce the reader to the field of mental health nursing and provide an overview of 20 different mental health nursing literature review topics.
  • Psychiatric assessment: This literature review will focus on the psychiatric assessment process, including topics such as history taking and diagnostic procedures.
  • Assessing for suicide risk: This literature review will discuss methods for assessing for suicide risk in patients, including coding criteria and risk assessment tools.
  • Cultural competency in mental health nursing: This literature review will explore ways to be culturally competent when providing care to patients with mental illness, such as understanding cultural norms and beliefs.
  • Therapeutic interventions for depression: This literature review will focus on therapeutic interventions for treating depression, such as pharmacological and psychological treatments.
  • Psychotherapy for anxiety disorders: This literature review will discuss psychotherapy options for treating anxiety disorders, including cognitive-behavioral therapy and group therapies.
  • Psychosocial rehabilitation interventions for addiction: This literature review will focus on psychosocial rehabilitation interventions designed to help patients recovering from addiction. Topics covered include relapse prevention and counseling techniques.
  • Care of childrenand adolescents with mental health issues: This literature review will discuss the care of children and adolescents with mental health issues, including pediatric mental health disorders and psychosocial interventions for children and adolescents.
  • Care of older adults with mental illness: This literature review will focus on the care of older adults with mental illness, including interventions for dementia-related psychosis and falls prevention.
  • Complementary and alternative medicine in mental health nursing: This literature review will explore complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies used to treat mental illness, such as acupuncture and meditation.
  • Ethics in mental health nursing: This literature review will discuss ethical considerations in providing care to patients with mental illness, such as cross-cultural competency and ensuring patient safety.
  • Mental health literacy: This literature review will focus on how to improve mental health literacy among nurses, including teaching strategies and clinical applications.
  • Research methods in mental health nursing: This literature review will discuss research methods used in the study of mental health Nursing, including qualitative methods and quantitative methods.
  • The role of nursing research in advancing mental health nursing: This literature review will discuss the role of nursing research in advancing the field of mentalhealth nursing, including the importance of randomized controlled trials.
  • The role of advocacy in mental health nursing: This literature review will discuss the role of advocacy in mental health nursing, including advocacy for better access to mental health care and insurance coverage for mental health services.
  • Patient safety in mental health nursing: This literature review will discuss patient safety issues in mental health nursing , including safe practices for handling psychiatric medications and preventing falls in elderly patients with dementia.
  • The role of social work in mental health nursing: This literature review will discuss the role of social work in mental health nursing, including providing support to patients and their families.
  • Geriatric psychiatry: This literature review will focus on the impact of aging on the brain and psychiatric disorders, including geriatric bipolar disorder and dementia-related psychosis.
  • Rehabilitation interventions for people with mental illness: This literature review will focus on rehabilitation interventions designed to help people with mental illness recover from their illnesses. Topics covered include cognitive-behavioral therapy and peer support groups.
  • Future research in mental health nursing: This literature review will discuss future research directions in mental health nursing, including innovative treatments and new approaches to understanding psychiatric disorders.

Here’s the process of Evaluating sources for a nursing literature review | Guide

List of 7 Nursing Literature Review Examples

  • Here’s a  sample Capstone project
  • Make use of this  Nursing Literature Review Sample | Benchmark – Part B: Literature Review
  • More resources for your study  Capstone Literature Review
  • Here’s the best  Capstone Project Literature Review – Solved Example
  • Working with a PICOT question, here’s a  Literature Review For The PICOT Question – Solved Essay
  • Make use of this  Grand Canyon Literature Review PICOT Statement Paper
  • Taking MSN, here’s a sample nursing literature review example that you should read  Literature Review: The Use Of Clinical Systems To Improve Outcomes And Efficiencies

40 Ideas for nursing literature review topics

Nursing literature review is an important practice that nurses use to learn about new concepts and research studies. It can also be used to evaluate the quality of nursing care.

Here are forty ideas for nursing literature review topics:

  • Nursing care of patients with dementia
  • Effect of bed rest on nurses’ health
  • Use of complementary and alternative medicine in nursing care
  • Impact of technology on nurses’ work
  • Role of nurses in disaster preparedness
  • Effectiveness of patient safety programs
  • Assessment and management of chronic diseases in the elderly
  • Developing culturally competent nursing care plans
  • Care of hospitalized pediatric patients
  • Nursing interventions for preventing falls in the elderly
  • Effectiveness of home health services for persons with disabilities
  • Strategies to improve communication between nurses and patients with dementia
  • Health promotion in hospitals: an evidence-based approach
  • Nursing care for critically ill patients
  • Promoting safe sleep for children
  • A qualitative exploration into transitional learning experiences in nursing
  • The intersection of race, ethnicity, and gender with nursing
  • Ethics education for nurses
  • Nurses’ experience working with migrant patients
  • The impact of social media on nurses’ work
  • Nurses’ perceptions of work stress and burnout
  • Nursing management of chronic pain in adults
  • Implementation and evaluation of nurse-led interventions for promoting oral health in older adults
  • The role of nurses in the transition to palliative care
  • Assessment and management of postoperative pain in adults
  • Effects of sleep deprivation on nurses’ performance
  • Nurse-led interventions for preventing falls in the elderly: a systematic review
  • Nursing care in intensive care units: an overview
  • Psychiatric nursing: an introduction
  • Impact of burnout on nurses’ quality of life
  • Nursing research: a critical perspective
  • The influence of culture on maternal nursing
  • Assessment and management of chronic diseases in children
  • Caregiving trajectories among migrant mothers in Canada
  • Development and evaluation of an evidence-based electronic health record for pediatric patients with chronic conditions (CHILD-EHR)
  • Research methods for studying nursing practices: a qualitative exploration
  • Cultural competency among hospital workers: implications for patient safety
  • Nursing interventions for managing postoperative pain
  • The role of nurses in disaster preparedness
  • A qualitative exploration of the experience of work-life balance in nurses

Pediatric nursing literature review topics

There are many nursing literature review topics that could be covered when studying pediatric nursing. A few possible topics include:

  • Acute care of the pediatric patient
  • Assessment and diagnosis of pediatric patients
  • Vital signs in pediatric patients
  • Nutrition in the pediatric patient
  • Pharmacology in the pediatric patient
  • Palliative care of the pediatric patient
  • Sleep patterns in the pediatric patient
  • Infectious diseases of the pediatric population
  • Child abuse and neglect in the pediatric population
  • Medications and their effects in pediatrics

Nursing dissertation topics literature review

Nursing dissertation topics can be incredibly diverse, and there are many different ways to approach them. Below is a list of thirty possible topics that could be used as a starting point for your literature review. This is by no means an exhaustive list – you may want to explore additional topics that you feel would be relevant to your project.

  • Care of the Elderly
  • Care of Patients with Chronic Conditions
  • Care of Pregnant Women
  • Developmental Nursing
  • Geriatric Nursing
  • Healthcare Ethics
  • Healthcare Leadership and Management
  • Industrial/Organizational Nursing
  • Neonatal/Pediatric Nursing
  • Patient Safety and Welfare
  • Primary Health care nursing
  • Public Health nursing
  • Women’s health nursing
  • Youth health nursing
  • Nursing Research Methods
  • Nursing Care of Children with Special Health Needs
  • Nursing Care of Patients with Developmental Disabilities
  • Nursing Care of the Elderly with Memory Loss
  • Nursing Research on Pediatric Populations
  • Nursing Research on Chronic Illness
  • Nursing Care of the Obese Patient
  • Nursing Research on Palliative Care
  • Nurse Anesthetists
  • Nurse Midwives
  • Nurse Practitioners
  • Nurses in Critical Care Settings
  • Nurses in Psychiatric Settings
  • Nurses in Geriatric Settings
  • Advanced Practice Registered Nurses
  • Collaborative Practice

Nursing literature review is an important part of the nursing profession. It allows nurses to learn from the best studies and research on a particular topic. In this article, we will provide you with 100 good nursing literature review topics that you can use to help you write your nursing literature review.

Other Nursing Dissertation Topic Areas include

  • The impact of technology on nursing
  • Global health nursing
  • Nursing care in the aged population
  • Geriatric psychiatry
  • Nursing research methods Nursing care of developmental disabilities
  • Nursing research with multicultural populations
  • Palliative care in nursing
  • Nursing leadership
  • Nursing care of hospitalized patients
  • Nursing research on pediatric populations
  • Nursing care of patients with chronic conditions
  • Nursing care for pediatric cancer patients
  • Nursing research on chronic illness
  • Nursing care of the obese patient
  • Nursing research on geriatric populations
  • Nursing care of the medically ill patient
  • Nursing care of the chronically ill patient
  • Nursing care of the postoperative patient
  • Nursing care of the pediatric patient in critical condition
  • Nursing research on perinatal and neonatal patients
  • Nursing care of the pediatric patient with cerebral palsy
  • Nursing research on palliative care

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List of Literature review topics for nursing students

Nursing students need to be familiar with a wide variety of literature review topics in order to become well-rounded professionals . Here are fifty of the most common nursing literature review topics.

  • Nursing care of people with disabilities
  • Advanced practice nurse practitioner roles and responsibilities
  • Infectious diseases in nurses and patients
  • Collaborative care: working together as a team in healthcare settings
  • Leadership concepts in nursing: decision making, planning, organizing, goal setting, communication, delegation, and problem solving
  • Nursing research: methods and applications in population-based studies
  • Violence against nurses:prevention, intervention and response
  • Nursing care of patients with chronic diseases
  • Health assessment in the clinical setting
  • Care of the elderly patient: principles and practice
  • Nursing care of persons with diabetes mellitus
  • Nursing care of the HIV-infected patient
  • Cardiovascular nursing
  • Advanced practice nurse roles in pediatric health nursing
  • Nursing care of the post-operative patient
  • Geriatric mental health nursing: a framework for practice
  • Critical care transport nursing
  • Community pharmacists in healthcare
  • Pediatric advanced practice nurse roles and responsibilities
  • Environmental health nursing
  • Nurse case managers: integrating evidence-based interventions into clinical practice
  • Mental health assessment tools for nurses
  • Acute renal failure: diagnosis and management
  • Nurses & social work collaboration in long-term care settings
  • Care of the homeless patient
  • Nursing care of the elderly at home
  • Palliative care for pediatric patients
  • Nursing care of older adults in assisted living facilities
  • Nurses & pharmacists: drug therapy interactions
  • Nursing care of cancer patients
  • Patient assessment
  • Care of the critically ill patient
  • Nursing interventions for acute care
  • Palliative care
  • Nursing assistantship and leadership development
  • Pharmacology for nursing students
  • Human growth and development
  • Community health nursing
  • Research methods in nursing
  • Nursing leadership and management
  • Mental health nursing
  • Nutrition for nurses
  • Psychiatric rehabilitation nursing
  • Nurse-midwife collaboration in obstetrics and gynecology
  • Pediatric infection control and prevention
  • Geriatric health teaching: a systematic approach
  • Palliative care for children and adolescents
  • Critical incident stress debriefing
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  • How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes . Revised on September 11, 2023.

What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .

There are five key steps to writing a literature review:

  • Search for relevant literature
  • Evaluate sources
  • Identify themes, debates, and gaps
  • Outline the structure
  • Write your literature review

A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.

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Table of contents

What is the purpose of a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1 – search for relevant literature, step 2 – evaluate and select sources, step 3 – identify themes, debates, and gaps, step 4 – outline your literature review’s structure, step 5 – write your literature review, free lecture slides, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions, introduction.

  • Quick Run-through
  • Step 1 & 2

When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:

  • Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and its scholarly context
  • Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
  • Position your work in relation to other researchers and theorists
  • Show how your research addresses a gap or contributes to a debate
  • Evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.

Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.

Literature review guide

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literature review topic nursing

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Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.

  • Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
  • Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
  • Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
  • Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)

You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.

Download Word doc Download Google doc

Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .

If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research problem and questions .

Make a list of keywords

Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.

  • Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
  • Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
  • Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth

Search for relevant sources

Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:

  • Your university’s library catalogue
  • Google Scholar
  • Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
  • Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
  • EconLit (economics)
  • Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)

You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.

Make sure to read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.

You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.

For each publication, ask yourself:

  • What question or problem is the author addressing?
  • What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
  • What are the key theories, models, and methods?
  • Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
  • What are the results and conclusions of the study?
  • How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?

Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.

You can use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.

Take notes and cite your sources

As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.

It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.

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To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:

  • Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
  • Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
  • Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
  • Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
  • Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?

This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.

  • Most research has focused on young women.
  • There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
  • But there is still a lack of robust research on highly visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat—this is a gap that you could address in your own research.

There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).


The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.

Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.

If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.

For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.


If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:

  • Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources


A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.

You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.

Like any other academic text , your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.

The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.

Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.

As you write, you can follow these tips:

  • 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 sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts

In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.

When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !

This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.

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If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

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A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .

It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.

There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:

  • To familiarize yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
  • To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
  • To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
  • To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
  • To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic

Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.

The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .

A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other  academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .

An  annotated bibliography is a list of  source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a  paper .  

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  • Volume 14, Issue 2
  • Nursing students’ Health Literacy skills: a scoping review protocol for driving research
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  • Giampiera Bulfone 1 ,
  • Valentina Bressan 2 ,
  • Irene Zerilli 3 ,
  • Rocco Mazzotta 3 ,
  • Giuliana Favara 1 ,
  • Roberta Magnano San Lio 1 ,
  • Martina Barchitta 1 ,
  • Antonella Agodi 1
  • 1 Department of Medical, Surgical Science and Advanced Technology "G. F. Ingrassia" , University of Catania , Catania , Italy
  • 2 Department of Specialistic Medicine , Azienda Sanitaria Universitaria Friuli Centrale , Udine , Italy
  • 3 Department of Biomedicine and Prevention , University of Rome Tor Vergata , Roma , Italy
  • Correspondence to Dr Giampiera Bulfone; giampiera.bulfone{at}

Introduction The healthcare systems in Europe are changing rapidly due to the increased complexity of healthcare needs, specifically for the ageing population with chronic diseases. Nurses play a key role in providing care for patients with chronic diseases, encouraging patients to take care of their own health improving their Health Literacy (HL) too. Previous works have highlighted the paucity of HL content in nursing curricula, and the need to prioritise the development of HL skills in academic teaching and assessment methods. The aim of this study is to analyse HL skills nursing literature to further develop scientific knowledge in this area of research.

Methods and analysis This scoping review will be conducted following Arksey and O’Malley’s framework. This study is based on the Joanna Briggs Institute manual. A systematic search will be performed by four researchers using the electronic databases of MEDLINE (via PubMed), the Education Resources Information Centre, the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, Scopus, Web of Science and Google Scholar. We will include any paper that focuses on HL skills and undergraduate nursing students. We will select every primary study (quantitative, qualitative and mixed method design) published in peer-reviewed journals up until February 2023, in both Italian and English language, without any time limit.

Ethics and dissemination This scoping review is part of a large project of the University of Catania which aims at developing higher educational standards for nursing student. This project will not involve patients/public and does not require ethical committee approval. This scoping review will be submitted to international peer-reviewed journals.

Registration details The protocol was registered with the Open Science Framework on 20 April 2023 ( ).

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To our knowledge, this will be the first scoping review on Health Literacy skills among nursing students.

The review will take a rigorous approach, adhering to the Joanna Briggs Institute manual.

Large searching strategies will be developed drawing on major databases and grey literature without any time limits.

A limit of this study is that articles in Italian and English only will be included and, being a scoping review, no quality of the chosen studies will be assessed.


The Europe healthcare landscape is undergoing rapid transformations, driven by the growing complexities of healthcare needs, particularly among the ageing population affected by chronic diseases. It is essential to empower patients in order to improve their quality of life, well-being, health outcomes and self-management. 1 2 In order for patient to better manage self-care and exercise a more active involvement in decision-making regarding own care, they will have to be educated by healthcare professionals. 3 Nurses play a critical role in caring for patients with chronic diseases, managing symptoms and preventing disease progression. 4–7 Their work will include promoting patients’ self-care through improving Health Literacy (HL) skills. 6 7 HL means, on the part of the patient, to access, understand and use health-related information and services, enabling informed health decisions that help improve, protect and promote the quality of life for themselves, their families and communities. 8–10 Specifically, low HL is associated with adverse health outcomes, including increased emergency department visits, reduced chronic disease management, poor medication adherence, hospitalisation and elevated mortality risk. 11 12 Consequently, it is critical to prepare nurses to address the challenges posed by patients with limited HL skills. 13

Scholars must actively engage in HL research, education and promotion to address these critical needs. 14 Previous works by McCleary-Jones 15 and Toronto and Weatherford 16 have highlighted the paucity and inconsistency of HL content in nursing curricula, highlighting the need to prioritise the development of HL-related skills, specially teaching and assessment methods. 15 16 McCleary-Jones 15 and Toronto and Weatherford 16 stressed the urgency of rigorous research on methods and procedures to generate understanding the subject matter and develop the relevant skills. This knowledge might offer insight on existing research, at the same time identifying potential gaps and informing future investigations. Advances in this field of research could significantly benefit nursing education by adapting more effective models and strategies, ultimately ensuring that students’ proficiency in HL translates into professionals capable of addressing the current healthcare needs of chronic patients. 6 7 13

Despite the relevance of HL proficiency among nursing students, no synthesis has been conducted to summarise findings, identify gaps and guide scholars in further research. Therefore, this study aims to identify the primary sources and types of evidence available regarding HL skills in nursing students, contributing to the development of research in this critical field.

Methods and analysis

Study design.

A scoping review will be conducted following Arksey and O’Malley’s 17 five-stage framework, which includes (1) identifying the research question based on the patient (P), concept (C) and context (C), (2) identifying relevant studies, (3) selecting the studies, (4) charting the data and (5) collating, summarising and reporting the results. 17 In developing this study, researchers will consult the Joanna Briggs Institute manual. 18 19 The protocol was registered with the Open Science Framework (OSF) on 20 April 2023 (LINK).

Identifying research questions

Given the aim/s of this study, our research questions are the following:

(1) What are the areas of research regarding HL skills among nursing students that have already been extensively studied? (2) Which areas require further investigation? (3) What are the methods used in the existing literature, and which of these could be more effective in future research?

The research questions will be formulated using key elements aligned with the Population, Concept and Context framework approach. 18 19 The population will be active undergraduate nursing students of every year of the programme, of any age, sex and nationality. The concept, focusing on interventions, phenomena of interest and outcomes, revolves around the development of HL skills throughout the undergraduate programme. HL skills are linked to Information Literacy, that is the ability to recognise any moment when information is needed. 8–10 The context is defined as the academic or educational setting, of every region, and cultural background they come from.

Search strategy

Four authors (GF, RM, RMSL and IZ) will undertake the article search in three sequential steps. Initially, they will review some studies on HL in nursing students to identify subject headings and keywords to narrow down the search strategy. In the second step, the researchers, under the supervision of a senior researcher (MB), will engage in discussions in order to reach a consensus on databases selection and search terms. The chosen online databases include MEDLINE (via PubMed), Education Resources Information Centre, the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, Scopus, Web of Science and Google Scholar. The search terms include “ Nursing Students ” (Mesh), “ Health Literacy ” (Mesh), “ Information Literacy ” (Mesh) and “ Clinical Competence ” (Mesh), combined using Boolean operators ‘AND’ and ‘OR’ ( table 1 ). Each study will be imported into the RefWorks database manager to discard duplicates. In the third and final step, the reference lists of all identified reports will be analysed for additional studies.

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Eligibility criteria

Papers on HL skills will be selected, especially those that focus on nursing students pursuing a nursing-degree level. The inclusion criteria consist of primary studies employing diverse research designs, including quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods. Selected studies are those already published in peer-reviewed journals up until February 2023 and will be available in either Italian or English. Letters, comments, conference abstracts, editorials, books, any form of review and doctoral theses will not be included. Where sample details lack clarity, researchers will meticulously examine the full text to ensure the inclusion of nursing students related material and information capable of providing data. No time frame limitation will be imposed ( table 2 ).

Selection of sources of evidence, charting the data process

Selection of sources of evidence

Based on the inclusion and exclusion criteria, three researchers (BG, VB and RM) will first independently screen titles, abstracts for inclusion criteria and then their full text. When a full text is not available, the researchers will contact the authors. Every researcher will structure a table in excel with title, authors, publication data, journal and notes to share information in a meeting with the senior researcher. In the case of disagreement concerning the inclusion of a study, an independent assessment will be conducted by a senior researcher (MB) ( table 2 ).

The number of the records removed and reasons for their removal will be reported in the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) 2020 flow diagram for systematic reviews. 20

Charting the data

After selecting the final set of studies, each researcher (BG, VB and RM) will independently extract and chart the data for the first five studies. Then the team will discuss the findings together for problems related to this process and purposes of adding data to extract. The researchers then will continue the charting data independently with a final meeting in order to share their results. In the case of disagreement, an independent assessment will be conducted by a fourth author (MB) ( table 2 ).

The researchers (BG, VB and RM) will independently abstract their data with regard to authors, year of publication, country of origin, aim, study design and sample size. In the case of studies considering non-nursing undergraduate, only the nursing students’ sample size will be given. Researchers will also extract the instruments used for HL measurement as well as the author of the instrument, the concept of HL and findings related to the aim of the study. In the case of qualitative studies, the themes that will emerge will be analysed and synthesised ( table 2 ).

Critical appraisal of individual sources of evidence

Given the intent of the review, the quality of the included studies will not be assessed. 21

Synthesis and presentation of results

The results will be described through each of their research questions. The quantitative and qualitative results will be reported in the main text and tables. Qualitative results will be synthesised, adopting the content analysis method. 22 Content analysis as a research method is a systematic and objective way to describe and quantify phenomena; it is useful for making replicable and valid inferences from data. 22

Specifically, the results section will consist of two parts: the first will describe the results of the search strategy and selection process, including a PRISMA flow diagram, while the second part will provide key information regarding the characteristics of the selected studies (design of the study, country, year of publication, sample, instrument for assessing the HL skills and main finding).

Ethics and dissemination

This scoping review is part of a large project of the university of Catania aimed at developing higher quality educational approaches to nursing curricula. This project will not involve patients/students/public and will not require ethical committee approval. This scoping review will be submitted to international peer-reviewed journal. The protocol was registered with the OSF on 20 April 2023 (LINK).

Patient and public involvement

None. The patients and the public are not involved in this project neither in the dissemination plans.

Discussion and conclusion

The aim of this scoping review is to identify the main sources and types of available evidence regarding HL skills among nursing students to further develop knowledge and understanding in this area of research.

This could pave the way for innovative strategies in higher education to significantly enhance nursing students’ learning and clinical experience.

Furthermore, this scoping review will seek to both address some of the most important gaps in HL skills among nursing students and facilitate new approaches in healthcare practice, research and education.

Ethics statements

Patient consent for publication.

Not applicable.

  • World Health Organization Joint Governance Working Group
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Contributors AA and MB are the senior researchers. GF, RMSL, RM and IZ developed the search strategy. GB, VB and RM are the reviewers. All authors drafted the manuscript, contributed to the development of the selection criteria and data extraction criteria. All authors read, provided feedback and approved the final manuscript.

Funding STARTING GRANT, University of Catania, Catania, Italy—No 85194 of 20230222 (2023-UNCTCLE-0085194). Incentives PLAN for University RESEARCH 2020/2022 (C.o.A. of 04.29.2020)—Intervention line 3 "Starting Grant".

Competing interests None declared.

Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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  • Published: 22 February 2024

A scoping review on the methodological and reporting quality of scoping reviews in China

  • Xinyu Xue 2 ,
  • Xintong Tang 2 ,
  • Shanshan Liu 2 ,
  • Ting Yu 3 ,
  • Zhonglan Chen 3 ,
  • Ningsu Chen 2 &
  • Jiajie Yu 1 , 2  

BMC Medical Research Methodology volume  24 , Article number:  45 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

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Scoping reviews have emerged as a valuable method for synthesizing emerging evidence, providing a comprehensive contextual overview, and influencing policy and practice developments. The objective of this study is to provide an overview of scoping reviews conducted in Chinese academic institutions over the last decades.

We conducted a comprehensive search of nine databases and six grey literature databases for scoping reviews conducted in Chinese academic institutions. The reporting quality of the included reviews was assessed using the Preferred Reporting Items for PRISMA-ScR checklist. We performed both quantitative and qualitative analyses, examining the conduct of the scoping reviews and exploring the breadth of research topics covered. We used Chi-squared and Wilcoxon rank-sum tests to compare methodological issues and reporting quality in English and Chinese-language reviews.

A total of 392 reviews published between 2013 and 2022 were included, 238 English-reported reviews and 154 Chinese-reported reviews, respectively. The primary purposes of these reviews were to map and summarize the evidence, with a particular focus on health and nursing topics. 98.7% of reviews explicitly used the term “scoping review”, and the Arksey and O’Malley framework was the most frequently cited framework. Thirty-five English-reported scoping reviews provided a protocol for scoping review. PubMed was the most common source in English-reported reviews and CNKI in Chinese-reported reviews. Reviews published in English were more likely to search the grey literature ( P  = 0.005), consult information specialists ( P  < 0.001) and conduct an updated search ( P  = 0.012) than those in Chinese. Reviews published in English had a significantly high score compared to those published in Chinese (16 vs. 14; P  < 0.001). The reporting rates in English-reported reviews were higher than those in Chinese reviews for seven items, but lower for structured summary ( P  < 0.001), eligibility criteria ( P  < 0.001), data charting process ( P  = 0.009) and data items ( P  = 0.015).

There has been a significant increase in the number of scoping reviews conducted in Chinese academic institutions each year since 2020. While the research topics covered are diverse, the overall reporting quality of these reviews is need to be improved. And there is a need for greater standardization in the conduct of scoping reviews in Chinese academic institutions.

Peer Review reports


Along with the increased production of primary research, the conduct and publication of evidence synthesis have also increased over time [ 1 ]. To address various questions for policymakers and other stakeholders, different types of reviews have emerged [ 2 ], with 48 types of reviews identified by 2019 [ 3 ]. One of the review types is the “scoping review”, also known as a “scoping study”, or “mapping review” [ 4 ]. Scoping reviews are a valuable approach to synthesizing emerging evidence, providing a comprehensive overview of the context and the potential to influence policy and practice developments [ 5 , 6 ]. Scoping reviews have been widely conducted in various fields, including health, technology and social sciences over the past decades [ 7 ].

Scoping reviews follow similar processes to systematic reviews in terms of identifying and analyzing relevant literature on a specific topic [ 8 ]. Scoping review characteristically involves the development, assimilation, and synthesis of a broad base of evidence derived from a diverse range of published research and grey literature research [ 9 ]. It aims to clarify the key concepts and characteristics that underpin a research area, determine a precise volume of literature and studies available, or can be a precursor to a systematic review [ 10 ]. Unlike systematic reviews, scoping reviews do not require a quality assessment of individual studies or the integration of evidence from different studies [ 11 ]. While a scoping study requires a framework to investigate existing literature, it does not involve assessing the weight of evidence for particular interventions or policies [ 12 ].

Scoping review is widely used to answer board research questions now. The concept was initially proposed by Mays in 2001 [ 13 ] and later used by Arksey and O’Malley, who provided the first guidance on conducting scoping review in 2005 [ 14 ]. In 2014, the JBI and JBI collaboration published their guidance on scoping review [ 15 ] and updated it in 2020 [ 16 , 17 ]. As a result, the publication of scoping reviews has significantly increased. To improve the methodological and reporting quality of scoping reviews, the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews extension for Scoping Review [ 18 ] (PRISMA-ScR) was published in 2018.

The research community involved in scoping reviews, mainly from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, shows a steady increase in literature and maintains a relatively high growth rate [ 4 ]. China is currently in the early stages of introducing and familiarizing itself with the scoping review methodology, with few documented examples of its practical application in the field of medicine [ 19 ]. Additionally, some review articles in China, although conceptually similar to scoping reviews, did not follow the standardized methodology and therefore could not be classified as scoping reviews [ 20 , 21 ]. This may be attributed to a lack of awareness and a delay in the adoption of scoping reviews by Chinese academic authors.

In light of the above situation and the growing utilization of scoping reviews in China, our study aims to (1) examine volume, scope and distribution of scoping reviews conducted in Chinese academic institutions; (2) summarize the purpose, topics, and methodological issues in these scoping reviews; (3) explore the extent to which scoping review adheres to reporting guidelines.

Methods and analysis

We used Arksey and O’Malley’s framework [ 14 ] on scoping review to guide our study. This protocol was registered on the open science framework ( ).

Identify the research questions

Our research questions were as follows.

1) What is the volume, scope and distribution of scoping reviews conducted in Chinese academic institutions?

2) What are the purposes, topics and methodological issues in the included scoping reviews?

3) To what extent do these scoping reviews adhere to the PRISMA ScR reporting guidelines?

Eligibility criteria

We included all scoping reviews that met the following criteria: (1) utilized a scoping review of the literature approach with a description of the synthesis method used and (2) focused on the field of health/medicine. We excluded studies that (1) did not synthesize literature, such as complete scoping of surveillance or administrative databases; (2) primarily described scoping review methods or guidelines and (3) full text was not available. We defined scoping reviews conducted in Chinese academic institutions as the corresponding author’s affiliations located in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan.

Identify relevant studies

We conducted a comprehensive literature search from the inception of the following five English electronic databases and four Chinese databases until Dec 2021, with an update to Dec 2022: PubMed, EMBASE, EBSCO, Web of Science, The Cochrane Library, SinoMed, VIP Chinese periodical Service, Wanfang Data Knowledge Service, and China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI). Grey literature (e.g. thesis and dissertation, newspaper, conference paper) and some web search engines (e.g. Google, Google Scholar, Baidu, Baidu Scholar) were also searched. The search strategy was not restricted by study design and an expert information specialist collaborated with the research team. The search strategies were listed in Appendix 1 We also cross-checked the included studies and references of a relevant scoping review.

Study selection

Inter-rater agreement for study inclusion was calculated using percent agreement. If the agreement exceed 75% among the team members, we proceeded to the next stage. All title and abstract screening and full-text screening were performed independently by at least two review authors (Xue XY, Tang XT, Liu SS, Yu T) using a pre-defined form. Any discrepancies were resolved through consensus or involving a third reviewer (Yu JJ) when necessary.

Charting the data

The following general information was collected from each eligible study: published year, regions, affiliations, journal name, study population, number of studies included, and funding source. We also collected details on the purpose of the scoping review (e.g., identified evidence gaps, future research opportunities, implications for policy or practice), as well as the topic addressed. We collected methodological information including the definition of “scoping review”, utilization of established methodological guidance (e.g., Arksey and O’Malley, Levac, Joanna Briggs Institute, or others), protocol and registration, research question, inclusion criteria, eligible study design (e.g., primary studies, secondary studies, both, or others), search strategy, databases searched, additional search resources (e.g. explore breadth/extent of evidence, grey literature, consulted experts, crosscheck references), title and abstract screening, full-text screening, pre-defined charting form, flow diagram, result presentation (tables and/or diagrams), the implication for research and practice [ 22 ].

We assessed the reporting quality of eligible scoping reviews using the PRISMA-ScR checklist [ 18 ], which includes 20 items and 2 optional items for critical appraisal of individual studies. Each item was determined with the option of “yes” or “no”, allocating 1 point if the study met the requirement for a specific item and 0 if not. A total score ranging from 0 to 22 was developed.

Data extraction and reporting quality from each eligible study were conducted by four reviewers, a pilot study was performed before formal extraction, and the interrater agreement percentage needed to be > 75%. Discrepancies were resolved by consensus or the involvement of a third reviewer.

Collating and summarizing results

We conducted both quantitative and qualitative analyses on the scoping reviewsThe quantitative analysis involved examining the distribution of reviews, methodological issues, and reporting quality. For quantitative analysis, frequencies and proportions were calculated for the categorical variables and mean (SD), median (range) or median (IQR) were used to analyze the continuous variables. Word clouds were generated using the online program WordClouds to visualize the synthesis topics (Zygomatic, 2022) ( ).

We performed a comparative analysis of methodological issues and reporting quality between eligible scoping reviews published in English and Chinese. Either X 2 or Fisher’s exact tests were used for the analysis of categorical variables and the Wilcoxon rank-sum test was used for continuous data with a non-normal distribution. For qualitative analysis, two reviewers independently categorized the key components, and the results were subsequently discussed by the research team.

Search and selection of scoping review

A total of 2958 citations relevant to scoping review were searched, and 2046 studies were included for screening after duplication. After reading 589 potentially relevant full-text papers, 392 articles were finally included (Fig.  1 ). The interrater agreements among the four reviewers were good, with agreement rates of 92.2% at the title and abstract screening, 94.8% at the full-text reading, and 95.3% at the table extraction.

figure 1

Details the flow of information through the different phases of the review; map out the number of records identified, included and excluded, and the reasons for their exclusion

Study characteristics of including scoping reviews

The scoping reviews included in our study were published between 2013 and 2022, with a significant majority ( n  = 340, 86.7%) published after 2020 (Fig.  2 ). The median number of studies included in these scoping reviews was 29 (Range: 5-6430). Among the included reviews, 238 (60.7%) were reported in English. A total of 217 journals were involved in publishing the scoping review, with the Chinese Journal of Nursing ( n  = 14, 3.6%) and the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health ( n  = 10, 2.6%) being the most commonly published Chinese and English journals, respectively (Table  1 ). Most of the reviews were conducted in Beijing ( n  = 66, 16.8%), Hong Kong ( n  = 59, 15.1%), and Shanghai ( n  = 44, 11.2%) (Appendix 2 ). The reviews originated from 166 institutions, primarily universities and hospitals (Table  1 ). 274 (69.9%) received funding support, with majority (98.5%) being publicly sponsored. Notably, the distribution of these characteristics was different between Chinese reviews and English reviews (Table  1 ).

figure 2

Published year

The annual number of scoping reviews conducted by Chinese academic institutions is visually represented in the form of a line graph

The study population for the included scoping review primarily consisted of patients ( n  = 200, 51.0%) and healthcare professionals ( n  = 60, 15.3%) (Appendix 3 ). The main purposes of the reviews were to map and summarize existing evidence ( n  = 230, 58.7%), followed by to identify and/or address knowledge gaps ( n  = 111, 28.3%) (Appendix 4 ). The topics covered in the reviews were diverse, with health and nursing being the common topics (Fig.  3 ).

figure 3

Word cloud of topics

The most common topic in the 392 scoping reviews is displayed, with the size of the topics in the word cloud corresponding to the frequency of their show

Method characteristics of including scoping reviews

Of the 392 scoping reviews, the majority (387, 98.7%) explicitly identified themselves as “scoping review”, while 122 (31.1%) provided a definition of the term ‘scoping review’. The most frequently cited framework for conducting scoping review was Arksey and O’Malley framework (2005), referenced in 157 reviews (40.1%). The research question was clearly stated in 39.8% of the reviews, while 75.8% clearly reported their inclusion criteria.

Thirty-four (8.7%) English-reported scoping reviews provided a protocol of scoping review, and 20 (5.1%) were registered on the Open Science Framework (OSF). The majority of reviews (369, 94.1%) searched more than one database, with PubMed ( n  = 184, 77.3%) being the most common source for English-language reviews and CNKI ( n  = 137, 89.0%) for Chinese-language reviews. In terms of additional search, English-reported reviews were more likely to search the grey literature (70 vs. 39, P  = 0.005), consult information specialists (18 vs. 3, P  < 0.001) and conducted an updated search (16 vs. 2, P  = 0.012) compared to Chinese-reported reviews (Table  2 ).

Approximately 80% of reviews screened title/abstract and full-text articles with more than two reviewers. A predefined abstraction form was used in 30.4% of the reviews and data extraction involved more than two reviewers in 57.7% of reviews. Among the included reviews, 56 reviews (14.3%) assessed the quality of the studies and six reviews (1.5%) conducted a meta-analyses. More than 75% of included reviews provided a study flow chart, while the difference was significant between reviews in English language and Chinese (212 vs. 90, P  < 0.001). Additionally, nearly 90% of the reviews presented their results in tabular form, while 31.1% used graphical representation. In terms of discussion, a higher proportion of scoping reviews published in English journals compared to Chinese journals mentioned the limitations of their studies (193 vs. 50, P  < 0.001) as well as their strengths (68 vs. 22, P  = 0.001) (Table  2 ).

Reporting quality of including scoping reviews

Of the 22 items, six (27.3%) were adequately reported: identification of the report as a scoping review in the title (93.1%), statement of eligibility criteria for included evidence (90.6%), description of all sources of information used in the search (100.0%), process for synthesizing the results (88.3%), methods of summarizing the evidence (100.0%) and presentation of a conclusion (97.4%). On the other hand, four items were reported less than 50% of the scoping reviews, including description of the rationale for the review (44.6%), accessibility of a protocol and registration information (8.2%), critical appraisal of individual sources of evidence (13.8%), and critical appraisal within sources of evidence (12.5%) (Fig.  4 ).

figure 4

Reporting quality of including reviews

The median score on the PRISMA-ScR checklist was 15 (i.q.r 13–17) and the reviews published in English had significantly higher score than those in Chinese (16 [ 14 , 15 , 16 , 17 , 18 ] vs. 14 [ 13 , 14 , 15 , 16 ]; P  < 0.001). Scoping reviews published in English were more likely than those in Chinese to report the title (95.8% versus 89.0%; P  = 0.009), protocol and registration (13.4% versus 0.0%; P  < 0.001), critical appraisal of individual sources of evidence (17.2% versus 8.4%; P  = 0.014), synthesis of results (79.4% versus 35.1%; P  < 0.001), selection of sources of evidence (90.3% versus 72.7%; P  < 0.001), critical appraisal within sources of evidence (16.4% versus 6.5%; P  = 0.004) and limitations (81.1% versus 32.5%; P  < 0.001). On the other hand, Chinese reviews preferred to report structured summaries (94.2% versus 68.9%; P  < 0.001), eligibility criteria (97.4% versus 86.1%; P  < 0.001), data charting process (75.3% versus 62.6%; P  = 0.009), data items (81.8% versus 71.0%; P  = 0.015) compared to English reviews (Fig.  4 ).

We conducted a comprehensive scoping review of 392 Chinese-authored scoping reviews over the last decade. Our findings revealed a significant increase in the number of scoping reviews in China, particularly since 2020, with 207 scoping reviews published in the past year alone, accounting for approximately half of the total number published in the previous decade. The increase in the number of scoping review publications after 2020 could be attributed to several possible reasons. First, the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 may have led to a broader literature review in the fields of health sciences and medicine to better understand and respond to the crisis. Second, scoping reviews have gained recognition within the academic and research community, leading to an increasing number of studies adopting scoping reviews for literature synthesis. Third, as research fields continue to evolve and expand, study topics become increasingly complex. Scoping reviews offer a flexible approach covering a wide range of literature, helping researchers to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the current state of research. Finally, some academic institutions and publishers may actively promote the use of scoping review methodology.

The majority of scoping reviews in our studies were conducted in hospitals and universities, with nursing and health being the predominant topics. This trend can be attributed to the education and dissemination efforts of organizations such as Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) and its collaboration. Additionally, most studies provided a clear definition of scoping reviews and followed the framework by Arksey and O’Malley’ framework [ 14 ]. However, few studies mentioned the dissemination of findings [ 22 ], which may be due to the optional nature in the Asksey and O’Malley framework.

In general, scoping reviews published in English demonstrated higher methodological and reporting quality compared to those published in Chinese. However, some key items recommended by JBI guidance were also poorly reported, including protocol registration, search strategy and data presentation. The significance of the protocol has been emphasized in both the JBI guidance and the PRISMA-ScR checklist (Peters et al., 2022). Surprisingly, less than 10% of the included scoping reviews in our study provided information about the protocol. It is worth noting that various platforms such as Figshare, Open Science Framework, ResearchGate, and Research Square allow protocol registration, and it is encouraged to include full protocols with available information for preregistration purposes.

Unsimilar to systematic review [ 23 ] and other evidence synthesis approaches, scoping reviews have the flexibility to include various types of literature including grey literature, newspapers, websites and social media, to address the question of “what has been done before” [ 24 ]. However, we found a limited number of included scoping reviews that conducted the additional search or consulted with information specialists. Furthermore, among those reviews performed database searches, only half of them provided a comprehensive search strategy for at least one database. It is important to consider conducting a more comprehensive search during the planning phase of a scoping review.

The scoping reviews included in our study showed a preference for presenting results in tables rather than images, resulting in a lack of diversity in data presentation. To enhance the interpretability of scoping review findings, various engaging methods, such as bubble charts, infographics, and Wordless, are available. We recommend that researchers, journal editors, and peer reviewers undergo additional training courses or access online resources (Stern et al., 2018) to improve the methodological quality of scoping reviews conducted by Chinese academic institutions. Furthermore, journal editors should require authors submitting scoping reviews to adhere to the PRISMA-ScR checklist before final submission. Additionally, we encourage research management agencies to promote the practice of conducting a scoping review in their respective fields prior to the initiation of research projects, helping researchers gain a better understanding of their research background and reduce research waste (Khalil et al., 2022).

Our findings are broadly consistent with the two previous scoping reviews of scoping reviews [ 7 , 25 ], demonstrating considerable variability in the purpose, topics, and methodological aspects. However, our study finds certain improvements in specific areas, such as a better understanding of the distinctions between scoping review and systematic review [ 26 , 27 , 28 ], as well as the adoption of descriptive conclusions instead of definitive conclusions for practice.

To identify all relevant scoping reviews conducted by Chinese academic institutions, we conducted a comprehensive search that encompassed grey literature and web search engines. Based on our findings, we provide suggestions to researchers, journal editors, and administrators. However, our study also has some limitations. We may have partially missed some reviews conducted by Chinese academic institutions if the author’s name was not a traditional Chinese form. Additionally, we only included studies in Chinese and English, which may have excluded reviews published in other languages by authors from Chinese academic institutions.

The annual number of scoping reviews conducted by Chinese academic institutions has shown a significant upward trend since 2020, encompassing a wide range of research topics, particularly within the realms of nursing and health. Scoping reviews are increasingly employed in practical applications, such as research preparation and identification of research questions. However, there remains a notable deficiency in the methodological rigor and reporting quality of scoping reviews conducted by Chinese academic institutions. Future research should prioritize enhancing the transparency of search and screening processes, diversifying data presentation techniques, and promoting standardization in reporting practices.

Data availability

The data used to support the findings of this study are included within the article and the supplementary information file.

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This research was funded by the Sichuan Provincial Department of Science and Technology Project, grant number 2023NSFSC0520. The funder had no role in the design of the study; in the collection, analysis, or interpretation of the data; in writing or approving the manuscript; or in the decision to submit the manuscript for publication.

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Department of Clinical Nutrition, West China Hospital, Sichuan University, Chengdu, 610041, China

Chinese Evidence-based Medicine Center, West China Hospital, Sichuan University, Chengdu, 610041, China

Xinyu Xue, Xintong Tang, Shanshan Liu, Ningsu Chen & Jiajie Yu

Evidence-based Nursing Center, West China School of Nursing, West China Hospital, Sichuan University, Chengdu, 610041, China

Ting Yu & Zhonglan Chen

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Xue Xinyu: searched the literature, extracted data, synthesized data, visualization and drafted the manuscript. Tang Xintong: searched the literature and extracted data. Liu Shanshan: searched the literature and extracted data. Yu Ting: searched the literature and extracted data. Chen Zhonglan: searched the literature and extracted data. Chen Ningsu: searched the literature and extracted data. Yu Jiajie: designed the systematic review and revised the manuscript.

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Xue, X., Tang, X., Liu, S. et al. A scoping review on the methodological and reporting quality of scoping reviews in China. BMC Med Res Methodol 24 , 45 (2024).

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Title: a literature review of literature reviews in pattern analysis and machine intelligence.

Abstract: By consolidating scattered knowledge, the literature review provides a comprehensive understanding of the investigated topic. However, excessive reviews, especially in the booming field of pattern analysis and machine intelligence (PAMI), raise concerns for both researchers and reviewers. In response to these concerns, this Analysis aims to provide a thorough review of reviews in the PAMI field from diverse perspectives. First, large language model-empowered bibliometric indicators are proposed to evaluate literature reviews automatically. To facilitate this, a meta-data database dubbed RiPAMI, and a topic dataset are constructed, which are utilized to obtain statistical characteristics of PAMI reviews. Unlike traditional bibliometric measurements, the proposed article-level indicators provide real-time and field-normalized quantified assessments of reviews without relying on user-defined keywords. Second, based on these indicators, the study presents comparative analyses of different reviews, unveiling the characteristics of publications across various fields, periods, and journals. The newly emerging AI-generated literature reviews are also appraised, and the observed differences suggest that most AI-generated reviews still lag behind human-authored reviews in several aspects. Third, we briefly provide a subjective evaluation of representative PAMI reviews and introduce a paper structure-based typology of literature reviews. This typology may improve the clarity and effectiveness for scholars in reading and writing reviews, while also serving as a guide for AI systems in generating well-organized reviews. Finally, this Analysis offers insights into the current challenges of literature reviews and envisions future directions for their development.

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