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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 May 31, 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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
Scribbr slides are free to use, customize, and distribute for educational purposes.
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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.
- Sampling methods
- Simple random sampling
- Stratified sampling
- Cluster sampling
- Likert scales
- Null hypothesis
- Statistical power
- Probability distribution
- Effect size
- Poisson distribution
- Optimism bias
- Cognitive bias
- Implicit bias
- Hawthorne effect
- Anchoring bias
- Explicit bias
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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A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other (also called synthesis ). The lit review is an important genre in many disciplines, not just literature (i.e., the study of works of literature such as novels and plays). When we say “literature review” or refer to “the literature,” we are talking about the research ( scholarship ) in a given field. You will often see the terms “the research,” “the scholarship,” and “the literature” used mostly interchangeably.
Where, when, and why would I write a lit review?
There are a number of different situations where you might write a literature review, each with slightly different expectations; different disciplines, too, have field-specific expectations for what a literature review is and does. For instance, in the humanities, authors might include more overt argumentation and interpretation of source material in their literature reviews, whereas in the sciences, authors are more likely to report study designs and results in their literature reviews; these differences reflect these disciplines’ purposes and conventions in scholarship. You should always look at examples from your own discipline and talk to professors or mentors in your field to be sure you understand your discipline’s conventions, for literature reviews as well as for any other genre.
A literature review can be a part of a research paper or scholarly article, usually falling after the introduction and before the research methods sections. In these cases, the lit review just needs to cover scholarship that is important to the issue you are writing about; sometimes it will also cover key sources that informed your research methodology.
Lit reviews can also be standalone pieces, either as assignments in a class or as publications. In a class, a lit review may be assigned to help students familiarize themselves with a topic and with scholarship in their field, get an idea of the other researchers working on the topic they’re interested in, find gaps in existing research in order to propose new projects, and/or develop a theoretical framework and methodology for later research. As a publication, a lit review usually is meant to help make other scholars’ lives easier by collecting and summarizing, synthesizing, and analyzing existing research on a topic. This can be especially helpful for students or scholars getting into a new research area, or for directing an entire community of scholars toward questions that have not yet been answered.
What are the parts of a lit review?
Most lit reviews use a basic introduction-body-conclusion structure; if your lit review is part of a larger paper, the introduction and conclusion pieces may be just a few sentences while you focus most of your attention on the body. If your lit review is a standalone piece, the introduction and conclusion take up more space and give you a place to discuss your goals, research methods, and conclusions separately from where you discuss the literature itself.
- An introductory paragraph that explains what your working topic and thesis is
- A forecast of key topics or texts that will appear in the review
- Potentially, a description of how you found sources and how you analyzed them for inclusion and discussion in the review (more often found in published, standalone literature reviews than in lit review sections in an article or research paper)
- Summarize and synthesize: Give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
- Analyze and interpret: Don’t just paraphrase other researchers – add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
- Critically Evaluate: Mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
- Write in well-structured paragraphs: Use transition words and topic sentence to draw connections, comparisons, and contrasts.
- Summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance
- Connect it back to your primary research question
How should I organize my lit review?
Lit reviews can take many different organizational patterns depending on what you are trying to accomplish with the review. Here are some examples:
- Chronological : The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time, which helps familiarize the audience with the topic (for instance if you are introducing something that is not commonly known in your field). If you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order. Try to analyze the patterns, turning points, and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred (as mentioned previously, this may not be appropriate in your discipline — check with a teacher or mentor if you’re unsure).
- Thematic : If you have found some recurring central themes that you will continue working with throughout your piece, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic. For example, if you are reviewing literature about women and religion, key themes can include the role of women in churches and the religious attitude towards women.
- Qualitative versus quantitative research
- Empirical versus theoretical scholarship
- Divide the research by sociological, historical, or cultural sources
- Theoretical : In many humanities articles, the literature review is the foundation for the theoretical framework. You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts. You can argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach or combine various theorical concepts to create a framework for your research.
What are some strategies or tips I can use while writing my lit review?
Any lit review is only as good as the research it discusses; make sure your sources are well-chosen and your research is thorough. Don’t be afraid to do more research if you discover a new thread as you’re writing. More info on the research process is available in our "Conducting Research" resources .
As you’re doing your research, create an annotated bibliography ( see our page on the this type of document ). Much of the information used in an annotated bibliography can be used also in a literature review, so you’ll be not only partially drafting your lit review as you research, but also developing your sense of the larger conversation going on among scholars, professionals, and any other stakeholders in your topic.
Usually you will need to synthesize research rather than just summarizing it. This means drawing connections between sources to create a picture of the scholarly conversation on a topic over time. Many student writers struggle to synthesize because they feel they don’t have anything to add to the scholars they are citing; here are some strategies to help you:
- It often helps to remember that the point of these kinds of syntheses is to show your readers how you understand your research, to help them read the rest of your paper.
- Writing teachers often say synthesis is like hosting a dinner party: imagine all your sources are together in a room, discussing your topic. What are they saying to each other?
- Look at the in-text citations in each paragraph. Are you citing just one source for each paragraph? This usually indicates summary only. When you have multiple sources cited in a paragraph, you are more likely to be synthesizing them (not always, but often
- Read more about synthesis here.
The most interesting literature reviews are often written as arguments (again, as mentioned at the beginning of the page, this is discipline-specific and doesn’t work for all situations). Often, the literature review is where you can establish your research as filling a particular gap or as relevant in a particular way. You have some chance to do this in your introduction in an article, but the literature review section gives a more extended opportunity to establish the conversation in the way you would like your readers to see it. You can choose the intellectual lineage you would like to be part of and whose definitions matter most to your thinking (mostly humanities-specific, but this goes for sciences as well). In addressing these points, you argue for your place in the conversation, which tends to make the lit review more compelling than a simple reporting of other sources.
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120 Fresh and Thought-Provoking Topics for Literature Reviews in Different Disciplines
A literature review is an account of the scholarly works published on a topic. It is different from an annotated bibliography – and far more interesting at that. Instead of being just a list of summaries, a literature review synthesizes the information from all available sources in an overall relationship to your guiding concept. This may be the problem you are discussing, a statement you are arguing, a theory you are verifying, etc.
The goals of a literature review may vary:
- giving a historical overview of the research in the field
- summarizing the existing state of the topic
- finding a problem or a gap in the research field
- developing a new theory, etc.
That is why good literature review topics are often formulated as research questions. This type of paper is not an easy writing. You will need to parse immense volumes of information, synthesize and summarize coherently. You also need to devote plenty of time to reading.
This post contains a list of literature review topics suggested for various subjects. However, when choosing the most fitting one to dig into, ask yourself, what are the passions that you can apply to this research? This assignment will take a while, so you will need more than just a good study discipline to soldier on. A bit of enthusiasm and intrinsic motivation will get you much farther.
Literature Review Topics Examples on English and World Literature
Some of the suggestions in this post are linked to literature review examples in our free database. By clicking on a title, you get to a corresponding sample page, where you can read the entire text. If the topic you like isn't linked, but you would like to read an example, you can order it. We will arrange the most qualified paper writer to prepare it for you exclusively.
Ready? Let's start with topics for literature review papers on English and World Literature.
- Phoenix as a symbol for endurance in a worn path
- The novel Intuition by Allegra Goodman
- Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Birthmark through Girard's Lens
- Ender's Game by an Orson Scott Card
- Depiction of freedom and happiness in Brave New World
- Feminism and Post-Colonialism in Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake and Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games
- Rationality, logic, and mathematics in the novel The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time
- Victims of their time as a character type in the World literature
- The last days of Judas Iscariot : a play by Stephen Adly Guirgis
- The use of symbolism in Kafka's prose
- Naturalism in American literature
- Grotesque and Sublime in the prose of Edgar Allan Poe
Lit Review Topic Ideas on Science and Technology
Next are some literature review topic ideas on science and technology.
- Electronic library and effects of its implementation
- Benjamin Franklin: scientist and inventor
- Virtual Reality, science fiction, and society today
- Science, Technology, and Society as a field of knowledge
- Frederick Winslow Taylor and the principles of scientific management
- What is the future of work
- Concepts of science and technology
- The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis and influence of technological advancement on man and nature
- Types of machine learning
- Internet of Things and biometrics: implications, benefits, threats
- Emotional intelligence and natural language processing
- SmartCity projects that have already been implemented and their lessons
As the field is vast, we can barely scratch the surface with these suggestions. To help you with brainstorming, here are a few tips on how to choose good topics for a literature review yourself:
- Make sure the topic ties nicely with class requirements as well as your interests
- Do some preliminary research to see if there is enough literature on your topic
- Scale up if the information is scarce or down if there are too many sources to handle
- Use sources recommended for reading in the class materials
- Supplement the list with only trustworthy scholarly sources
Follow these guidelines, and you are on a path to some great ideas!
Psychology Literature Review Topics
When brainstorming topics on psychology, don't forget about the subdisciplines: biopsychology, social, educational, organizational, etc. If the suggestions below won't be enough, try looking for inspiration in Biology, Sociology, Education, or Business. The most exciting topics are often at the intersection of different areas of knowledge!
- Tricyclic antidepressants vs. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) in treatment of depression
- Stress, its causes, effects, and coping strategies
- The family system and psychology
- Tibetan compassion practices: working with terror, trauma, and transcendence
- Behaviorism psychology
- Culture and psychopathology
- Correlation between diet and cognitive functions in primary school students
- The evolutionary role of phobias and intrusive thoughts
- Popular psychology and its implications
- PTSD in mass disasters survivors: immediate relief and long-term assistance
- Cults and vulnerable populations
- False memories and gaslighting
Nursing Literature Review Topics
Nursing lit review topics are probably the most diverse in scale, as you can see from the examples below. They can describe a larger issue or a concrete solution applied to a narrowly defined problem. Following this principle, you can modify our lit review topics suggestions zooming out or in on the subject material.
- Legalization of medical marijuana and its effects on the youth
- Health effects of fiber: research findings
- Achieving higher levels of education and training for nurses
- Organic foods and cardiovascular disease
- The importance of Central Venous Line (CVL) and Central Venous Access Devices (CVAD)
- What effects do different types of music have on humans and their mental health?
- The use of laboratory-grown organs for transplantation
- The role of xylitol in alleviating dry mouth
- The detection of tar and nicotine content of cigarette smoke extract using HPLC
- Rheumatoid arthritis: etiology, diagnosis, vulnerable populations
- Mobility aids for the elderly and quality of life
- The role of play in the recuperation of hospitalized children
Education Literature Review Topics
To get more ideas from these literature review topic examples, try isolating an issue and put it in another educational context. For instance, student motivation in primary school vs. middle school or sleep deprivation in high school vs. college. This should give you plenty of material for brainstorming.
- Simulation education for crisis prevention program
- A critical consideration of the new pedagogy in its relation to modern science
- Lack of students interest in studying science
- Discovery-based learning and student-centered learning with a focus on mathematics at a high school level
- The adverse effects of sleep deprivation on academic performance: a college student's struggle
- Gender bias in special education programs
- Higher education for senior citizens: challenges and best practices
- Significant challenges of the teaching profession in the US
- Factors contributing to international student mobility
- Student motivation in private vs. state colleges
- Benefits and challenges of homeschooling for students and families
- Correlation between workload, stress levels, and self-esteem in middle-school students
Sociology Literature Review Topics
The best advice on finding current sociology topics is to look at the challenges your community faces. Become the first one to notice and address these issues!
- Are video games affecting our current and future students ?
- Ways to prevent social media bullying
- Spanking of children in the USA
- The relation of poverty and exposure to crime in adolescent men
- Transgender discrimination
- The link between science and Utopia in Utopia and the New Atlantis
- Effectiveness of group therapy in social work
- Peer pressure, depression, and causes of suicide in the adolescents
- Religious separatism social issues connected with it
- Causes and effects of domestic abuse
- Physical appearance and social status
- Race, nationality, ethnicity, and identity
Political Science Literature Review Topics
Political science is one of the more formal disciplines on this list. Being heavy with abstract concepts, it doesn't lend itself easily to casual brainstorming. Well, at least start with these:
- Electoral College, its functions, and role in public life
- Why American and the British IPE are so different
- Contingency planning
- Effects of political gerrymandering
- American political parties
- The present urban regimes in Canada
- International policies and domestic regulations: precedence and clashes
- Tolerance as a political virtue
- Grassroots activism and its impact on state and federal law
- National security and constitutional freedoms
- Historical analysis of anarchism
- The effect of social media on civic engagement
Criminal Justice Literature Review Topics
Criminal justice is a complex field. It's ripe with variance and challenges – which is good for topic ideas at least. And you have state, federal, and international levels to add more variables.
- Juvenile justice and the Missouri model
- Car-related crime in the USA
- An analysis of the impact of sexual harassment/sexual assault in the military
- The process of the arbitration without the involvement of national courts
- Serial killers and profiling
- Policing and criminal justice systems
- Psychological effects of cyberbullying on adolescents
- Sexual human trafficking from the Central America region
- Human sex-trafficking: the Canadian perspective
- Gender and racial bias in criminal investigations
- Possible ethical and legal dilemmas of using sniffer dogs
- Sting operations vs. entrapment: ethics and regulations
Chemistry and Biology Literature Review Topics
Biology is fascinating. It has something for everyone: from biochemistry and genetics to ecosystems and nature preservation. Here are some suggestions to guide your choice:
- Brain size correlation
- Haruko Obokata, ethics of stem cells research, and scientific misconduct
- Genomic and molecular genetics major and its perspectives for students
- DNA use in mass disasters
- DNA detection from dried blood spots
- Captive breeding of marine mammals: pros and cons
- The Dynamics of ER and mitochondria
- Biomarkers in gastric cancer treatment
- The chemistry behind gene splicing
- Carcinogens and hyper-processed foods
- Primates and monkeys as potential sources of novel zoonotic infections
- Natural gases, ecosystems, and the global warming
Business and Marketing Literature Review Topics
Finally, here are some business and marketing topics as well. These disciplines might be relatively new, but they are among the most dynamic and information-rich – which means great fun to explore.
- Effectiveness of neuromarketing in comparison to traditional marketing methods
- Green supply chain management
- Effectiveness of e-marketing to non-profit making organizations
- The value of information
- Shareholder engagement/activism and corporate performance
- The relationship between ethics, stress, and productivity in the workplace
- The role of integrity in business
- Client confidentiality and its role in a prosperous business
- Businesses, their impact on the community, and social responsibility
- Startup fundraising stages
- Innovative marketing in the age of instant feedback: risks and possibilities
- Strategies for staff motivation
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How To Write An A-Grade Literature Review
3 straightforward steps (with examples) + free template.
By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Expert Reviewed By: Dr. Eunice Rautenbach | October 2019
Quality research is about building onto the existing work of others , “standing on the shoulders of giants”, as Newton put it. The literature review chapter of your dissertation, thesis or research project is where you synthesise this prior work and lay the theoretical foundation for your own research.
Long story short, this chapter is a pretty big deal, which is why you want to make sure you get it right . In this post, I’ll show you exactly how to write a literature review in three straightforward steps, so you can conquer this vital chapter (the smart way).
Overview: The Literature Review Process
- Understanding the “ why “
- Finding the relevant literature
- Cataloguing and synthesising the information
- Outlining & writing up your literature review
- Example of a literature review
But first, the “why”…
Before we unpack how to write the literature review chapter, we’ve got to look at the why . To put it bluntly, if you don’t understand the function and purpose of the literature review process, there’s no way you can pull it off well. So, what exactly is the purpose of the literature review?
Well, there are (at least) four core functions:
- For you to gain an understanding (and demonstrate this understanding) of where the research is at currently, what the key arguments and disagreements are.
- For you to identify the gap(s) in the literature and then use this as justification for your own research topic.
- To help you build a conceptual framework for empirical testing (if applicable to your research topic).
- To inform your methodological choices and help you source tried and tested questionnaires (for interviews ) and measurement instruments (for surveys ).
Most students understand the first point but don’t give any thought to the rest. To get the most from the literature review process, you must keep all four points front of mind as you review the literature (more on this shortly), or you’ll land up with a wonky foundation.
Okay – with the why out the way, let’s move on to the how . As mentioned above, writing your literature review is a process, which I’ll break down into three steps:
- Finding the most suitable literature
- Understanding , distilling and organising the literature
- Planning and writing up your literature review chapter
Importantly, you must complete steps one and two before you start writing up your chapter. I know it’s very tempting, but don’t try to kill two birds with one stone and write as you read. You’ll invariably end up wasting huge amounts of time re-writing and re-shaping, or you’ll just land up with a disjointed, hard-to-digest mess . Instead, you need to read first and distil the information, then plan and execute the writing.
Step 1: Find the relevant literature
Naturally, the first step in the literature review journey is to hunt down the existing research that’s relevant to your topic. While you probably already have a decent base of this from your research proposal , you need to expand on this substantially in the dissertation or thesis itself.
Essentially, you need to be looking for any existing literature that potentially helps you answer your research question (or develop it, if that’s not yet pinned down). There are numerous ways to find relevant literature, but I’ll cover my top four tactics here. I’d suggest combining all four methods to ensure that nothing slips past you:
Method 1 – Google Scholar Scrubbing
Google’s academic search engine, Google Scholar , is a great starting point as it provides a good high-level view of the relevant journal articles for whatever keyword you throw at it. Most valuably, it tells you how many times each article has been cited, which gives you an idea of how credible (or at least, popular) it is. Some articles will be free to access, while others will require an account, which brings us to the next method.
Method 2 – University Database Scrounging
Generally, universities provide students with access to an online library, which provides access to many (but not all) of the major journals.
So, if you find an article using Google Scholar that requires paid access (which is quite likely), search for that article in your university’s database – if it’s listed there, you’ll have access. Note that, generally, the search engine capabilities of these databases are poor, so make sure you search for the exact article name, or you might not find it.
Method 3 – Journal Article Snowballing
At the end of every academic journal article, you’ll find a list of references. As with any academic writing, these references are the building blocks of the article, so if the article is relevant to your topic, there’s a good chance a portion of the referenced works will be too. Do a quick scan of the titles and see what seems relevant, then search for the relevant ones in your university’s database.
Method 4 – Dissertation Scavenging
Similar to Method 3 above, you can leverage other students’ dissertations. All you have to do is skim through literature review chapters of existing dissertations related to your topic and you’ll find a gold mine of potential literature. Usually, your university will provide you with access to previous students’ dissertations, but you can also find a much larger selection in the following databases:
- Open Access Theses & Dissertations
- Stanford SearchWorks
Keep in mind that dissertations and theses are not as academically sound as published, peer-reviewed journal articles (because they’re written by students, not professionals), so be sure to check the credibility of any sources you find using this method. You can do this by assessing the citation count of any given article in Google Scholar. If you need help with assessing the credibility of any article, or with finding relevant research in general, you can chat with one of our Research Specialists .
Alright – with a good base of literature firmly under your belt, it’s time to move onto the next step.
Need a helping hand?
Step 2: Log, catalogue and synthesise
Once you’ve built a little treasure trove of articles, it’s time to get reading and start digesting the information – what does it all mean?
While I present steps one and two (hunting and digesting) as sequential, in reality, it’s more of a back-and-forth tango – you’ll read a little , then have an idea, spot a new citation, or a new potential variable, and then go back to searching for articles. This is perfectly natural – through the reading process, your thoughts will develop , new avenues might crop up, and directional adjustments might arise. This is, after all, one of the main purposes of the literature review process (i.e. to familiarise yourself with the current state of research in your field).
As you’re working through your treasure chest, it’s essential that you simultaneously start organising the information. There are three aspects to this:
- Logging reference information
- Building an organised catalogue
- Distilling and synthesising the information
I’ll discuss each of these below:
2.1 – Log the reference information
As you read each article, you should add it to your reference management software. I usually recommend Mendeley for this purpose (see the Mendeley 101 video below), but you can use whichever software you’re comfortable with. Most importantly, make sure you load EVERY article you read into your reference manager, even if it doesn’t seem very relevant at the time.
2.2 – Build an organised catalogue
In the beginning, you might feel confident that you can remember who said what, where, and what their main arguments were. Trust me, you won’t. If you do a thorough review of the relevant literature (as you must!), you’re going to read many, many articles, and it’s simply impossible to remember who said what, when, and in what context . Also, without the bird’s eye view that a catalogue provides, you’ll miss connections between various articles, and have no view of how the research developed over time. Simply put, it’s essential to build your own catalogue of the literature.
I would suggest using Excel to build your catalogue, as it allows you to run filters, colour code and sort – all very useful when your list grows large (which it will). How you lay your spreadsheet out is up to you, but I’d suggest you have the following columns (at minimum):
- Author, date, title – Start with three columns containing this core information. This will make it easy for you to search for titles with certain words, order research by date, or group by author.
- Categories or keywords – You can either create multiple columns, one for each category/theme and then tick the relevant categories, or you can have one column with keywords.
- Key arguments/points – Use this column to succinctly convey the essence of the article, the key arguments and implications thereof for your research.
- Context – Note the socioeconomic context in which the research was undertaken. For example, US-based, respondents aged 25-35, lower- income, etc. This will be useful for making an argument about gaps in the research.
- Methodology – Note which methodology was used and why. Also, note any issues you feel arise due to the methodology. Again, you can use this to make an argument about gaps in the research.
- Quotations – Note down any quoteworthy lines you feel might be useful later.
- Notes – Make notes about anything not already covered. For example, linkages to or disagreements with other theories, questions raised but unanswered, shortcomings or limitations, and so forth.
If you’d like, you can try out our free catalog template here (see screenshot below).
2.3 – Digest and synthesise
Most importantly, as you work through the literature and build your catalogue, you need to synthesise all the information in your own mind – how does it all fit together? Look for links between the various articles and try to develop a bigger picture view of the state of the research. Some important questions to ask yourself are:
- What answers does the existing research provide to my own research questions?
- Which points do the researchers agree (and disagree) on?
- How has the research developed over time?
- Where do the gaps in the current research lie?
To help you develop a big-picture view and synthesise all the information, you might find mind mapping software such as Freemind useful. Alternatively, if you’re a fan of physical note-taking, investing in a large whiteboard might work for you.
Step 3: Outline and write it up!
Once you’re satisfied that you have digested and distilled all the relevant literature in your mind, it’s time to put pen to paper (or rather, fingers to keyboard). There are two steps here – outlining and writing:
3.1 – Draw up your outline
Having spent so much time reading, it might be tempting to just start writing up without a clear structure in mind. However, it’s critically important to decide on your structure and develop a detailed outline before you write anything. Your literature review chapter needs to present a clear, logical and an easy to follow narrative – and that requires some planning. Don’t try to wing it!
Naturally, you won’t always follow the plan to the letter, but without a detailed outline, you’re more than likely going to end up with a disjointed pile of waffle , and then you’re going to spend a far greater amount of time re-writing, hacking and patching. The adage, “measure twice, cut once” is very suitable here.
In terms of structure, the first decision you’ll have to make is whether you’ll lay out your review thematically (into themes) or chronologically (by date/period). The right choice depends on your topic, research objectives and research questions, which we discuss in this article .
Once that’s decided, you need to draw up an outline of your entire chapter in bullet point format. Try to get as detailed as possible, so that you know exactly what you’ll cover where, how each section will connect to the next, and how your entire argument will develop throughout the chapter. Also, at this stage, it’s a good idea to allocate rough word count limits for each section, so that you can identify word count problems before you’ve spent weeks or months writing!
PS – check out our free literature review chapter template…
3.2 – Get writing
With a detailed outline at your side, it’s time to start writing up (finally!). At this stage, it’s common to feel a bit of writer’s block and find yourself procrastinating under the pressure of finally having to put something on paper. To help with this, remember that the objective of the first draft is not perfection – it’s simply to get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper, after which you can refine them. The structure might change a little, the word count allocations might shift and shuffle, and you might add or remove a section – that’s all okay. Don’t worry about all this on your first draft – just get your thoughts down on paper.
Once you’ve got a full first draft (however rough it may be), step away from it for a day or two (longer if you can) and then come back at it with fresh eyes. Pay particular attention to the flow and narrative – does it fall fit together and flow from one section to another smoothly? Now’s the time to try to improve the linkage from each section to the next, tighten up the writing to be more concise, trim down word count and sand it down into a more digestible read.
Once you’ve done that, give your writing to a friend or colleague who is not a subject matter expert and ask them if they understand the overall discussion. The best way to assess this is to ask them to explain the chapter back to you. This technique will give you a strong indication of which points were clearly communicated and which weren’t. If you’re working with Grad Coach, this is a good time to have your Research Specialist review your chapter.
Finally, tighten it up and send it off to your supervisor for comment. Some might argue that you should be sending your work to your supervisor sooner than this (indeed your university might formally require this), but in my experience, supervisors are extremely short on time (and often patience), so, the more refined your chapter is, the less time they’ll waste on addressing basic issues (which you know about already) and the more time they’ll spend on valuable feedback that will increase your mark-earning potential.
Literature Review Example
In the video below, we unpack an actual literature review so that you can see how all the core components come together in reality.
In this post, we’ve covered how to research and write up a high-quality literature review chapter. Let’s do a quick recap of the key takeaways:
- It is essential to understand the WHY of the literature review before you read or write anything. Make sure you understand the 4 core functions of the process.
- The first step is to hunt down the relevant literature . You can do this using Google Scholar, your university database, the snowballing technique and by reviewing other dissertations and theses.
- Next, you need to log all the articles in your reference manager , build your own catalogue of literature and synthesise all the research.
- Following that, you need to develop a detailed outline of your entire chapter – the more detail the better. Don’t start writing without a clear outline (on paper, not in your head!)
- Write up your first draft in rough form – don’t aim for perfection. Remember, done beats perfect.
- Refine your second draft and get a layman’s perspective on it . Then tighten it up and submit it to your supervisor.
Psst… there’s more (for free)
This post is part of our dissertation mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project.
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Thank you very much. This page is an eye opener and easy to comprehend.
This is awesome!
I wish I come across GradCoach earlier enough.
But all the same I’ll make use of this opportunity to the fullest.
Thank you for this good job.
Keep it up!
You’re welcome, Yinka. Thank you for the kind words. All the best writing your literature review.
Thank you for a very useful literature review session. Although I am doing most of the steps…it being my first masters an Mphil is a self study and one not sure you are on the right track. I have an amazing supervisor but one also knows they are super busy. So not wanting to bother on the minutae. Thank you.
You’re most welcome, Renee. Good luck with your literature review 🙂
This has been really helpful. Will make full use of it. 🙂
Thank you Gradcoach.
Really agreed. Admirable effort
thank you for this beautiful well explained recap.
Thank you so much for your guide of video and other instructions for the dissertation writing.
It is instrumental. It encouraged me to write a dissertation now.
Thank you the video was great – from someone that knows nothing thankyou
an amazing and very constructive way of presetting a topic, very useful, thanks for the effort,
It is timely
It is very good video of guidance for writing a research proposal and a dissertation. Since I have been watching and reading instructions, I have started my research proposal to write. I appreciate to Mr Jansen hugely.
I learn a lot from your videos. Very comprehensive and detailed.
Thank you for sharing your knowledge. As a research student, you learn better with your learning tips in research
I was really stuck in reading and gathering information but after watching these things are cleared thanks, it is so helpful.
Really helpful, Thank you for the effort in showing such information
This is super helpful thank you very much.
Thank you for this whole literature writing review.You have simplified the process.
I’m so glad I found GradCoach. Excellent information, Clear explanation, and Easy to follow, Many thanks Derek!
You’re welcome, Maithe. Good luck writing your literature review 🙂
Thank you Coach, you have greatly enriched and improved my knowledge
Great piece, so enriching and it is going to help me a great lot in my project and thesis, thanks so much
This is THE BEST site for ANYONE doing a masters or doctorate! Thank you for the sound advice and templates. You rock!
Thanks, Stephanie 🙂
This is mind blowing, the detailed explanation and simplicity is perfect.
I am doing two papers on my final year thesis, and I must stay I feel very confident to face both headlong after reading this article.
thank you so much.
if anyone is to get a paper done on time and in the best way possible, GRADCOACH is certainly the go to area!
This is very good video which is well explained with detailed explanation
Thank you excellent piece of work and great mentoring
Thanks, it was useful
Thank you very much. the video and the information were very helpful.
Good morning scholar. I’m delighted coming to know you even before the commencement of my dissertation which hopefully is expected in not more than six months from now. I would love to engage my study under your guidance from the beginning to the end. I love to know how to do good job
Thank you so much Derek for such useful information on writing up a good literature review. I am at a stage where I need to start writing my one. My proposal was accepted late last year but I honestly did not know where to start
Like the name of your YouTube implies you are GRAD (great,resource person, about dissertation). In short you are smart enough in coaching research work.
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105 Literature Review Topics + How-to Guide 
A literature review is a variant of curtsy in scientific circles. It presents your acknowledgment that you are not the first to tackle the issue. Your predecessors have made progress in answering your research question, and you plan to start from the point they finished.
This article features examples of literature review topics on multiple knowledge areas. Additionally, you will find exhaustive disambiguation of all the types of a literature review, as well as its purposes, definition, outline, and formatting.
- 🔝 Top 15 Topics
- ✍️ Writing Tips
- Political Science
- Criminal Justice
🔝 top 15 literature review topics.
- What does the science say about extraterrestrial life?
- Redesigning organisms in synthetic biology: Where are we at now?
- Equality of human rights at the international level.
- Why do genes happen to be active or inactive?
- Legalizing physician-assisted suicide.
- Can an adult person change their native language?
- The most efficient study programs.
- The ethics of using surveillance cameras.
- The effect of reading fiction on your brain.
- British imperialism in India.
- What is kindness: A philosophical approach.
- Modern technologies can sift out fake news.
- Multiculturalism: A romantic myth or today’s reality?
- The demographics of liberal worldview in the US.
- Chronic fatigue: Literature review and hypotheses.
✍️ Literature Review Writing Tips
Speaking of a literature review , the definition is too broad to be used as writing guidance. It is an overview of credible materials on a particular research question. A literature review usually becomes chapter 1 in dissertations and theses , allowing to explore the current knowledge on the topic. It evaluates academic and professional articles, journal publications, books, and web-based resources.
A literature review is an indispensable part of a research paper. It serves many purposes, some of which are not evident.
What Is the Purpose of a Literature Review?
- To draw the background context;
- To compare your results with previous research;
- To justify your research methods;
- To frame research gaps and show the scientific novelty of your project;
- To explain the social value of your work;
- To demonstrate your knowledge of the referenced literature;
- To train your analytical thinking.
Types of Literature Review
Below you’ll find the 6 types of literature reviews.
A systematic literature review is a most comprehensive and data-oriented type. It defines the timeframe of the selected literature and is subdivided into two categories:
- Meta-analysis ( deductive research through standardized statistical procedures)
- Meta-synthesis (inductive study by non-statistical qualitative methods)
It is also called a traditional or critical literature review. The purpose is to summarize the available material, critique it, and identify the gaps and inconsistencies. This type works well for almost any research question, provided it is sufficiently focused and limited in time or subject matter.
As the name implies, it estimates the scope of available literature on a literature review topic. Unlike a systematic literature review, which aims to find the most specific research question, this type looks for the most general one. It answers the question of what else can be researched in the field.
A theoretical literature review explores the pool of theories that have so far accumulated on a concept. It lists the existing ideas, their relationships, and gaps. The purpose is to develop hypotheses to be tested in the experimental section.
This type provides the most selective literature review to prove or refute an argument already established in the research literature. However, this is also the most biased review among all types.
This literature review integrates, synthesizes, and critiques the available secondary data to develop new research frameworks and perspectives.
Systematic Review vs. Literature Review vs. Annotated Bibliography
Literature Review Outline
How long should a literature review be? It depends on the assignment requirements and your outline.
A literature review is often used as a part of a more general research paper. In such a case, you can limit yourself to the standard introduction –main body – conclusion formula.
In all the other situations, use the following literature review outline.
- Introduction Trace the scope and highlight the importance of your review. Why did you choose the given topic or research question? How does it contribute to the previous study?
- Methodology We have listed the types of literature review above. Depending on your purposes, select one and explain why your choice is the best. You can also specify which logic you used while choosing the sources for your review.
- Discussion It is the central part of the text which compares, contrasts, and explains the relationships between various ideas you found in the bibliography items.
- Conclusion Are you satisfied with the result of your work? How will it help further research? Which gaps have you spotted, and which hypothesis could you generate?
- List of references As in any research paper, this is an indispensable part of your literature review. Be sure to follow the format requirements as provided below.
Literature Review Format
All citation styles require you to indicate the author’s name, book title, publication year, number of pages, and volume or issue number. This data is available in any printed edition, as publishers use it to identify their products.
It may sound simple until you discover that each citation style has a multi-page list of nuanced details specific to this format and inapplicable to any other.
Browse the guides for each of the most popular types below.
APA style is a format for scholarly documents. It is particularly popular in the fields of social and behavioral sciences. APA is well-known for its simplicity in source references. Thus, a vast majority of American universities and colleges prefer this format.
MLA style manual is an abridged version of the MLA Handbook published by the Modern Language Association. It was created for students to assist in their research aspirations. Its 8 th edition is addressed to secondary-school and undergraduate university and college teachers and students. The style is popular in humanities (modern languages, literature, cultural studies, and related disciplines).
Chicago style (also called CMS or CMOS) is a style guide for American English. The University of Chicago Press first published it in 1906. Since then, it has had 17 editions and has become one of the most popular citation styles in the US. The guide instructs on editorial practice, grammar, document preparation, formatting, and even the use of the singular “they.”
💡 Literature Review Topics
Literature review topics in education.
- How can we make classrooms more inclusive ?
- Flipped classroom approach.
- Waldorf schools and their concept.
- How do ADHD symptoms affect a student’s learning abilities?
- Educational leadership.
- Methods of tracking the performance of schoolchildren.
- How can token economy diminish off-task behavior in students with autism?
- Resegregation in US schools.
- Is bilingual education realizable in contemporary schools?
- Growing violence incidents in educational institutions.
Political Science Literature Review Topics
- Gender cosmopolitanism in Sweden .
- Security policy is based on political ideology .
- The emotional effect of populism .
- The theory and classification of political speeches.
- Global measures in COVID-19 response.
- The international politics of the Arab world.
- How do we select our leaders ?
- Officials in politics: Emotional labor .
- Relational peace between countries.
- The invisible force holding countries together.
Criminal Justice Literature Review Topics
- The problematic issues of prosecution and legal enforcement in Eastern Europe.
- Track the evolution of international criminal justice practices.
- Crime prevention methods.
- The evolution of criminology as a social science.
- The cycle of domestic violence : Theory and statistics.
- The patterns in child abuse perpetrators.
- Randomized experimental designs in criminology .
- Current measures to stop human trafficking in the US.
- How should we punish environmental crimes?
- Terrorism : Approaches to its definitions.
Sociology Literature Review Topics
- Does coded language help us fight racial inequality ?
- Workplace bullying.
- International conflicts in terms of social representation theory.
- Gender and sexual activity.
- Is our society liberal or conservative ?
- Single African American parents.
- Racial salary gap in the US.
- Substance abuse and health care costs for employers.
- Does federal aid succeed at fighting urban poverty?
- How does hate speech spur desensitization?
Nursing Literature Review Topics
- Practice in the field of healthcare.
- Evidence-based nursing practice.
- Traumatic brain injury.
- Alzheimer’s disease.
- Pressure ulcers study.
- Post-operative readmission rates.
- Nursing ratios and nosocomial infections.
- Patient fall prevention study.
- Emergency room wait time.
- Electronic health records.
Psychology Literature Review Topics
- Parents’ experiences of caring for a child with ASD
- The long-term consequences of child abuse
- The neurology of depression .
- Explore the psychological effects of loud noise.
- Why is it so hard to accept what contradicts our beliefs?
- The psychological mechanisms of compulsive eating.
- Why are some people more prone to discrimination and prejudice?
- Self-protection against grief .
- Non-verbal communication rates in different cultures.
- Love : Chemistry or feeling?
Biology Literature Review Topics
- Camouflage in plants.
- Color differences in male and female bird species.
- Acceptability of genetic engineering.
- Natural reforestation: Too long to wait.
- Why are domestic plants weaker than wild ones?
- Hepcidin: importance, production, regulation.
- How can we edit DNA sequences ?
- Which anti- COVID vaccines are the most effective and why?
- Cancer : An umbrella term for many diseases.
- Species that are important to our ecology.
Easy Literature Review Topics
- Sustainable agriculture : Our future reality.
- The scientific background behind music therapy .
- Stono revolt.
- The latest findings in stopping brain aging.
- Articles on cyber security of young children.
- Data-driven personalization : Prospects and achievements.
- Importance of the literature review in research.
- Critical literature review of digital signature.
- Reviewing quantitative academic literature and data.
❓ Literature Review Topics FAQ
❓ what is discussed in literature review.
A literature review discusses the texts that are the most relevant to your research question. It summarizes, compares, evaluates, and critiques the available literature to find the points of intersection and blind spots. As a result, you will develop a specific topic for further research or pose a hypothesis.
❓ What are the 3 parts of literature review?
The three parts of this academic genre are the same as those of any other research paper. The introduction explores the background and importance of the topic. The main body analyzes the selected texts. It may also contain a methodology section that explains why you chose such or another literary review type. The conclusion outlines the perspectives of your research.
❓ What are the four stages of literature review?
- Formulating the problem (which topic is under study and what are its constituent parts?);
- Searching the literature (making up the preliminary bibliography list to be described in the literature review);
- Evaluating the data (which sources are the most significant in our understanding of the topic?);
- Analyzing and interpreting the essential findings.
- Literature Reviews – UNC Writing Center
- Learn how to write a review of literature
- Writing a Literature Review // Purdue Writing Lab
- Types of Literature Reviews – Systematic Reviews
- How to Conduct a Literature Review
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Lau F, Kuziemsky C, editors. Handbook of eHealth Evaluation: An Evidence-based Approach [Internet]. Victoria (BC): University of Victoria; 2017 Feb 27.
Handbook of eHealth Evaluation: An Evidence-based Approach [Internet].
Chapter 9 methods for literature reviews.
Guy Paré and Spyros Kitsiou .
Literature reviews play a critical role in scholarship because science remains, first and foremost, a cumulative endeavour ( vom Brocke et al., 2009 ). As in any academic discipline, rigorous knowledge syntheses are becoming indispensable in keeping up with an exponentially growing eHealth literature, assisting practitioners, academics, and graduate students in finding, evaluating, and synthesizing the contents of many empirical and conceptual papers. Among other methods, literature reviews are essential for: (a) identifying what has been written on a subject or topic; (b) determining the extent to which a specific research area reveals any interpretable trends or patterns; (c) aggregating empirical findings related to a narrow research question to support evidence-based practice; (d) generating new frameworks and theories; and (e) identifying topics or questions requiring more investigation ( Paré, Trudel, Jaana, & Kitsiou, 2015 ).
Literature reviews can take two major forms. The most prevalent one is the “literature review” or “background” section within a journal paper or a chapter in a graduate thesis. This section synthesizes the extant literature and usually identifies the gaps in knowledge that the empirical study addresses ( Sylvester, Tate, & Johnstone, 2013 ). It may also provide a theoretical foundation for the proposed study, substantiate the presence of the research problem, justify the research as one that contributes something new to the cumulated knowledge, or validate the methods and approaches for the proposed study ( Hart, 1998 ; Levy & Ellis, 2006 ).
The second form of literature review, which is the focus of this chapter, constitutes an original and valuable work of research in and of itself ( Paré et al., 2015 ). Rather than providing a base for a researcher’s own work, it creates a solid starting point for all members of the community interested in a particular area or topic ( Mulrow, 1987 ). The so-called “review article” is a journal-length paper which has an overarching purpose to synthesize the literature in a field, without collecting or analyzing any primary data ( Green, Johnson, & Adams, 2006 ).
When appropriately conducted, review articles represent powerful information sources for practitioners looking for state-of-the art evidence to guide their decision-making and work practices ( Paré et al., 2015 ). Further, high-quality reviews become frequently cited pieces of work which researchers seek out as a first clear outline of the literature when undertaking empirical studies ( Cooper, 1988 ; Rowe, 2014 ). Scholars who track and gauge the impact of articles have found that review papers are cited and downloaded more often than any other type of published article ( Cronin, Ryan, & Coughlan, 2008 ; Montori, Wilczynski, Morgan, Haynes, & Hedges, 2003 ; Patsopoulos, Analatos, & Ioannidis, 2005 ). The reason for their popularity may be the fact that reading the review enables one to have an overview, if not a detailed knowledge of the area in question, as well as references to the most useful primary sources ( Cronin et al., 2008 ). Although they are not easy to conduct, the commitment to complete a review article provides a tremendous service to one’s academic community ( Paré et al., 2015 ; Petticrew & Roberts, 2006 ). Most, if not all, peer-reviewed journals in the fields of medical informatics publish review articles of some type.
The main objectives of this chapter are fourfold: (a) to provide an overview of the major steps and activities involved in conducting a stand-alone literature review; (b) to describe and contrast the different types of review articles that can contribute to the eHealth knowledge base; (c) to illustrate each review type with one or two examples from the eHealth literature; and (d) to provide a series of recommendations for prospective authors of review articles in this domain.
9.2. Overview of the Literature Review Process and Steps
As explained in Templier and Paré (2015) , there are six generic steps involved in conducting a review article:
- formulating the research question(s) and objective(s),
- searching the extant literature,
- screening for inclusion,
- assessing the quality of primary studies,
- extracting data, and
- analyzing data.
Although these steps are presented here in sequential order, one must keep in mind that the review process can be iterative and that many activities can be initiated during the planning stage and later refined during subsequent phases ( Finfgeld-Connett & Johnson, 2013 ; Kitchenham & Charters, 2007 ).
Formulating the research question(s) and objective(s): As a first step, members of the review team must appropriately justify the need for the review itself ( Petticrew & Roberts, 2006 ), identify the review’s main objective(s) ( Okoli & Schabram, 2010 ), and define the concepts or variables at the heart of their synthesis ( Cooper & Hedges, 2009 ; Webster & Watson, 2002 ). Importantly, they also need to articulate the research question(s) they propose to investigate ( Kitchenham & Charters, 2007 ). In this regard, we concur with Jesson, Matheson, and Lacey (2011) that clearly articulated research questions are key ingredients that guide the entire review methodology; they underscore the type of information that is needed, inform the search for and selection of relevant literature, and guide or orient the subsequent analysis. Searching the extant literature: The next step consists of searching the literature and making decisions about the suitability of material to be considered in the review ( Cooper, 1988 ). There exist three main coverage strategies. First, exhaustive coverage means an effort is made to be as comprehensive as possible in order to ensure that all relevant studies, published and unpublished, are included in the review and, thus, conclusions are based on this all-inclusive knowledge base. The second type of coverage consists of presenting materials that are representative of most other works in a given field or area. Often authors who adopt this strategy will search for relevant articles in a small number of top-tier journals in a field ( Paré et al., 2015 ). In the third strategy, the review team concentrates on prior works that have been central or pivotal to a particular topic. This may include empirical studies or conceptual papers that initiated a line of investigation, changed how problems or questions were framed, introduced new methods or concepts, or engendered important debate ( Cooper, 1988 ). Screening for inclusion: The following step consists of evaluating the applicability of the material identified in the preceding step ( Levy & Ellis, 2006 ; vom Brocke et al., 2009 ). Once a group of potential studies has been identified, members of the review team must screen them to determine their relevance ( Petticrew & Roberts, 2006 ). A set of predetermined rules provides a basis for including or excluding certain studies. This exercise requires a significant investment on the part of researchers, who must ensure enhanced objectivity and avoid biases or mistakes. As discussed later in this chapter, for certain types of reviews there must be at least two independent reviewers involved in the screening process and a procedure to resolve disagreements must also be in place ( Liberati et al., 2009 ; Shea et al., 2009 ). Assessing the quality of primary studies: In addition to screening material for inclusion, members of the review team may need to assess the scientific quality of the selected studies, that is, appraise the rigour of the research design and methods. Such formal assessment, which is usually conducted independently by at least two coders, helps members of the review team refine which studies to include in the final sample, determine whether or not the differences in quality may affect their conclusions, or guide how they analyze the data and interpret the findings ( Petticrew & Roberts, 2006 ). Ascribing quality scores to each primary study or considering through domain-based evaluations which study components have or have not been designed and executed appropriately makes it possible to reflect on the extent to which the selected study addresses possible biases and maximizes validity ( Shea et al., 2009 ). Extracting data: The following step involves gathering or extracting applicable information from each primary study included in the sample and deciding what is relevant to the problem of interest ( Cooper & Hedges, 2009 ). Indeed, the type of data that should be recorded mainly depends on the initial research questions ( Okoli & Schabram, 2010 ). However, important information may also be gathered about how, when, where and by whom the primary study was conducted, the research design and methods, or qualitative/quantitative results ( Cooper & Hedges, 2009 ). Analyzing and synthesizing data : As a final step, members of the review team must collate, summarize, aggregate, organize, and compare the evidence extracted from the included studies. The extracted data must be presented in a meaningful way that suggests a new contribution to the extant literature ( Jesson et al., 2011 ). Webster and Watson (2002) warn researchers that literature reviews should be much more than lists of papers and should provide a coherent lens to make sense of extant knowledge on a given topic. There exist several methods and techniques for synthesizing quantitative (e.g., frequency analysis, meta-analysis) and qualitative (e.g., grounded theory, narrative analysis, meta-ethnography) evidence ( Dixon-Woods, Agarwal, Jones, Young, & Sutton, 2005 ; Thomas & Harden, 2008 ).
9.3. Types of Review Articles and Brief Illustrations
EHealth researchers have at their disposal a number of approaches and methods for making sense out of existing literature, all with the purpose of casting current research findings into historical contexts or explaining contradictions that might exist among a set of primary research studies conducted on a particular topic. Our classification scheme is largely inspired from Paré and colleagues’ (2015) typology. Below we present and illustrate those review types that we feel are central to the growth and development of the eHealth domain.
9.3.1. Narrative Reviews
The narrative review is the “traditional” way of reviewing the extant literature and is skewed towards a qualitative interpretation of prior knowledge ( Sylvester et al., 2013 ). Put simply, a narrative review attempts to summarize or synthesize what has been written on a particular topic but does not seek generalization or cumulative knowledge from what is reviewed ( Davies, 2000 ; Green et al., 2006 ). Instead, the review team often undertakes the task of accumulating and synthesizing the literature to demonstrate the value of a particular point of view ( Baumeister & Leary, 1997 ). As such, reviewers may selectively ignore or limit the attention paid to certain studies in order to make a point. In this rather unsystematic approach, the selection of information from primary articles is subjective, lacks explicit criteria for inclusion and can lead to biased interpretations or inferences ( Green et al., 2006 ). There are several narrative reviews in the particular eHealth domain, as in all fields, which follow such an unstructured approach ( Silva et al., 2015 ; Paul et al., 2015 ).
Despite these criticisms, this type of review can be very useful in gathering together a volume of literature in a specific subject area and synthesizing it. As mentioned above, its primary purpose is to provide the reader with a comprehensive background for understanding current knowledge and highlighting the significance of new research ( Cronin et al., 2008 ). Faculty like to use narrative reviews in the classroom because they are often more up to date than textbooks, provide a single source for students to reference, and expose students to peer-reviewed literature ( Green et al., 2006 ). For researchers, narrative reviews can inspire research ideas by identifying gaps or inconsistencies in a body of knowledge, thus helping researchers to determine research questions or formulate hypotheses. Importantly, narrative reviews can also be used as educational articles to bring practitioners up to date with certain topics of issues ( Green et al., 2006 ).
Recently, there have been several efforts to introduce more rigour in narrative reviews that will elucidate common pitfalls and bring changes into their publication standards. Information systems researchers, among others, have contributed to advancing knowledge on how to structure a “traditional” review. For instance, Levy and Ellis (2006) proposed a generic framework for conducting such reviews. Their model follows the systematic data processing approach comprised of three steps, namely: (a) literature search and screening; (b) data extraction and analysis; and (c) writing the literature review. They provide detailed and very helpful instructions on how to conduct each step of the review process. As another methodological contribution, vom Brocke et al. (2009) offered a series of guidelines for conducting literature reviews, with a particular focus on how to search and extract the relevant body of knowledge. Last, Bandara, Miskon, and Fielt (2011) proposed a structured, predefined and tool-supported method to identify primary studies within a feasible scope, extract relevant content from identified articles, synthesize and analyze the findings, and effectively write and present the results of the literature review. We highly recommend that prospective authors of narrative reviews consult these useful sources before embarking on their work.
Darlow and Wen (2015) provide a good example of a highly structured narrative review in the eHealth field. These authors synthesized published articles that describe the development process of mobile health ( m-health ) interventions for patients’ cancer care self-management. As in most narrative reviews, the scope of the research questions being investigated is broad: (a) how development of these systems are carried out; (b) which methods are used to investigate these systems; and (c) what conclusions can be drawn as a result of the development of these systems. To provide clear answers to these questions, a literature search was conducted on six electronic databases and Google Scholar . The search was performed using several terms and free text words, combining them in an appropriate manner. Four inclusion and three exclusion criteria were utilized during the screening process. Both authors independently reviewed each of the identified articles to determine eligibility and extract study information. A flow diagram shows the number of studies identified, screened, and included or excluded at each stage of study selection. In terms of contributions, this review provides a series of practical recommendations for m-health intervention development.
9.3.2. Descriptive or Mapping Reviews
The primary goal of a descriptive review is to determine the extent to which a body of knowledge in a particular research topic reveals any interpretable pattern or trend with respect to pre-existing propositions, theories, methodologies or findings ( King & He, 2005 ; Paré et al., 2015 ). In contrast with narrative reviews, descriptive reviews follow a systematic and transparent procedure, including searching, screening and classifying studies ( Petersen, Vakkalanka, & Kuzniarz, 2015 ). Indeed, structured search methods are used to form a representative sample of a larger group of published works ( Paré et al., 2015 ). Further, authors of descriptive reviews extract from each study certain characteristics of interest, such as publication year, research methods, data collection techniques, and direction or strength of research outcomes (e.g., positive, negative, or non-significant) in the form of frequency analysis to produce quantitative results ( Sylvester et al., 2013 ). In essence, each study included in a descriptive review is treated as the unit of analysis and the published literature as a whole provides a database from which the authors attempt to identify any interpretable trends or draw overall conclusions about the merits of existing conceptualizations, propositions, methods or findings ( Paré et al., 2015 ). In doing so, a descriptive review may claim that its findings represent the state of the art in a particular domain ( King & He, 2005 ).
In the fields of health sciences and medical informatics, reviews that focus on examining the range, nature and evolution of a topic area are described by Anderson, Allen, Peckham, and Goodwin (2008) as mapping reviews . Like descriptive reviews, the research questions are generic and usually relate to publication patterns and trends. There is no preconceived plan to systematically review all of the literature although this can be done. Instead, researchers often present studies that are representative of most works published in a particular area and they consider a specific time frame to be mapped.
An example of this approach in the eHealth domain is offered by DeShazo, Lavallie, and Wolf (2009). The purpose of this descriptive or mapping review was to characterize publication trends in the medical informatics literature over a 20-year period (1987 to 2006). To achieve this ambitious objective, the authors performed a bibliometric analysis of medical informatics citations indexed in medline using publication trends, journal frequencies, impact factors, Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) term frequencies, and characteristics of citations. Findings revealed that there were over 77,000 medical informatics articles published during the covered period in numerous journals and that the average annual growth rate was 12%. The MeSH term analysis also suggested a strong interdisciplinary trend. Finally, average impact scores increased over time with two notable growth periods. Overall, patterns in research outputs that seem to characterize the historic trends and current components of the field of medical informatics suggest it may be a maturing discipline (DeShazo et al., 2009).
9.3.3. Scoping Reviews
Scoping reviews attempt to provide an initial indication of the potential size and nature of the extant literature on an emergent topic (Arksey & O’Malley, 2005; Daudt, van Mossel, & Scott, 2013 ; Levac, Colquhoun, & O’Brien, 2010). A scoping review may be conducted to examine the extent, range and nature of research activities in a particular area, determine the value of undertaking a full systematic review (discussed next), or identify research gaps in the extant literature ( Paré et al., 2015 ). In line with their main objective, scoping reviews usually conclude with the presentation of a detailed research agenda for future works along with potential implications for both practice and research.
Unlike narrative and descriptive reviews, the whole point of scoping the field is to be as comprehensive as possible, including grey literature (Arksey & O’Malley, 2005). Inclusion and exclusion criteria must be established to help researchers eliminate studies that are not aligned with the research questions. It is also recommended that at least two independent coders review abstracts yielded from the search strategy and then the full articles for study selection ( Daudt et al., 2013 ). The synthesized evidence from content or thematic analysis is relatively easy to present in tabular form (Arksey & O’Malley, 2005; Thomas & Harden, 2008 ).
One of the most highly cited scoping reviews in the eHealth domain was published by Archer, Fevrier-Thomas, Lokker, McKibbon, and Straus (2011) . These authors reviewed the existing literature on personal health record ( phr ) systems including design, functionality, implementation, applications, outcomes, and benefits. Seven databases were searched from 1985 to March 2010. Several search terms relating to phr s were used during this process. Two authors independently screened titles and abstracts to determine inclusion status. A second screen of full-text articles, again by two independent members of the research team, ensured that the studies described phr s. All in all, 130 articles met the criteria and their data were extracted manually into a database. The authors concluded that although there is a large amount of survey, observational, cohort/panel, and anecdotal evidence of phr benefits and satisfaction for patients, more research is needed to evaluate the results of phr implementations. Their in-depth analysis of the literature signalled that there is little solid evidence from randomized controlled trials or other studies through the use of phr s. Hence, they suggested that more research is needed that addresses the current lack of understanding of optimal functionality and usability of these systems, and how they can play a beneficial role in supporting patient self-management ( Archer et al., 2011 ).
9.3.4. Forms of Aggregative Reviews
Healthcare providers, practitioners, and policy-makers are nowadays overwhelmed with large volumes of information, including research-based evidence from numerous clinical trials and evaluation studies, assessing the effectiveness of health information technologies and interventions ( Ammenwerth & de Keizer, 2004 ; Deshazo et al., 2009 ). It is unrealistic to expect that all these disparate actors will have the time, skills, and necessary resources to identify the available evidence in the area of their expertise and consider it when making decisions. Systematic reviews that involve the rigorous application of scientific strategies aimed at limiting subjectivity and bias (i.e., systematic and random errors) can respond to this challenge.
Systematic reviews attempt to aggregate, appraise, and synthesize in a single source all empirical evidence that meet a set of previously specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a clearly formulated and often narrow research question on a particular topic of interest to support evidence-based practice ( Liberati et al., 2009 ). They adhere closely to explicit scientific principles ( Liberati et al., 2009 ) and rigorous methodological guidelines (Higgins & Green, 2008) aimed at reducing random and systematic errors that can lead to deviations from the truth in results or inferences. The use of explicit methods allows systematic reviews to aggregate a large body of research evidence, assess whether effects or relationships are in the same direction and of the same general magnitude, explain possible inconsistencies between study results, and determine the strength of the overall evidence for every outcome of interest based on the quality of included studies and the general consistency among them ( Cook, Mulrow, & Haynes, 1997 ). The main procedures of a systematic review involve:
- Formulating a review question and developing a search strategy based on explicit inclusion criteria for the identification of eligible studies (usually described in the context of a detailed review protocol).
- Searching for eligible studies using multiple databases and information sources, including grey literature sources, without any language restrictions.
- Selecting studies, extracting data, and assessing risk of bias in a duplicate manner using two independent reviewers to avoid random or systematic errors in the process.
- Analyzing data using quantitative or qualitative methods.
- Presenting results in summary of findings tables.
- Interpreting results and drawing conclusions.
Many systematic reviews, but not all, use statistical methods to combine the results of independent studies into a single quantitative estimate or summary effect size. Known as meta-analyses , these reviews use specific data extraction and statistical techniques (e.g., network, frequentist, or Bayesian meta-analyses) to calculate from each study by outcome of interest an effect size along with a confidence interval that reflects the degree of uncertainty behind the point estimate of effect ( Borenstein, Hedges, Higgins, & Rothstein, 2009 ; Deeks, Higgins, & Altman, 2008 ). Subsequently, they use fixed or random-effects analysis models to combine the results of the included studies, assess statistical heterogeneity, and calculate a weighted average of the effect estimates from the different studies, taking into account their sample sizes. The summary effect size is a value that reflects the average magnitude of the intervention effect for a particular outcome of interest or, more generally, the strength of a relationship between two variables across all studies included in the systematic review. By statistically combining data from multiple studies, meta-analyses can create more precise and reliable estimates of intervention effects than those derived from individual studies alone, when these are examined independently as discrete sources of information.
The review by Gurol-Urganci, de Jongh, Vodopivec-Jamsek, Atun, and Car (2013) on the effects of mobile phone messaging reminders for attendance at healthcare appointments is an illustrative example of a high-quality systematic review with meta-analysis. Missed appointments are a major cause of inefficiency in healthcare delivery with substantial monetary costs to health systems. These authors sought to assess whether mobile phone-based appointment reminders delivered through Short Message Service ( sms ) or Multimedia Messaging Service ( mms ) are effective in improving rates of patient attendance and reducing overall costs. To this end, they conducted a comprehensive search on multiple databases using highly sensitive search strategies without language or publication-type restrictions to identify all rct s that are eligible for inclusion. In order to minimize the risk of omitting eligible studies not captured by the original search, they supplemented all electronic searches with manual screening of trial registers and references contained in the included studies. Study selection, data extraction, and risk of bias assessments were performed independently by two coders using standardized methods to ensure consistency and to eliminate potential errors. Findings from eight rct s involving 6,615 participants were pooled into meta-analyses to calculate the magnitude of effects that mobile text message reminders have on the rate of attendance at healthcare appointments compared to no reminders and phone call reminders.
Meta-analyses are regarded as powerful tools for deriving meaningful conclusions. However, there are situations in which it is neither reasonable nor appropriate to pool studies together using meta-analytic methods simply because there is extensive clinical heterogeneity between the included studies or variation in measurement tools, comparisons, or outcomes of interest. In these cases, systematic reviews can use qualitative synthesis methods such as vote counting, content analysis, classification schemes and tabulations, as an alternative approach to narratively synthesize the results of the independent studies included in the review. This form of review is known as qualitative systematic review.
A rigorous example of one such review in the eHealth domain is presented by Mickan, Atherton, Roberts, Heneghan, and Tilson (2014) on the use of handheld computers by healthcare professionals and their impact on access to information and clinical decision-making. In line with the methodological guidelines for systematic reviews, these authors: (a) developed and registered with prospero ( www.crd.york.ac.uk/ prospero / ) an a priori review protocol; (b) conducted comprehensive searches for eligible studies using multiple databases and other supplementary strategies (e.g., forward searches); and (c) subsequently carried out study selection, data extraction, and risk of bias assessments in a duplicate manner to eliminate potential errors in the review process. Heterogeneity between the included studies in terms of reported outcomes and measures precluded the use of meta-analytic methods. To this end, the authors resorted to using narrative analysis and synthesis to describe the effectiveness of handheld computers on accessing information for clinical knowledge, adherence to safety and clinical quality guidelines, and diagnostic decision-making.
In recent years, the number of systematic reviews in the field of health informatics has increased considerably. Systematic reviews with discordant findings can cause great confusion and make it difficult for decision-makers to interpret the review-level evidence ( Moher, 2013 ). Therefore, there is a growing need for appraisal and synthesis of prior systematic reviews to ensure that decision-making is constantly informed by the best available accumulated evidence. Umbrella reviews , also known as overviews of systematic reviews, are tertiary types of evidence synthesis that aim to accomplish this; that is, they aim to compare and contrast findings from multiple systematic reviews and meta-analyses ( Becker & Oxman, 2008 ). Umbrella reviews generally adhere to the same principles and rigorous methodological guidelines used in systematic reviews. However, the unit of analysis in umbrella reviews is the systematic review rather than the primary study ( Becker & Oxman, 2008 ). Unlike systematic reviews that have a narrow focus of inquiry, umbrella reviews focus on broader research topics for which there are several potential interventions ( Smith, Devane, Begley, & Clarke, 2011 ). A recent umbrella review on the effects of home telemonitoring interventions for patients with heart failure critically appraised, compared, and synthesized evidence from 15 systematic reviews to investigate which types of home telemonitoring technologies and forms of interventions are more effective in reducing mortality and hospital admissions ( Kitsiou, Paré, & Jaana, 2015 ).
9.3.5. Realist Reviews
Realist reviews are theory-driven interpretative reviews developed to inform, enhance, or supplement conventional systematic reviews by making sense of heterogeneous evidence about complex interventions applied in diverse contexts in a way that informs policy decision-making ( Greenhalgh, Wong, Westhorp, & Pawson, 2011 ). They originated from criticisms of positivist systematic reviews which centre on their “simplistic” underlying assumptions ( Oates, 2011 ). As explained above, systematic reviews seek to identify causation. Such logic is appropriate for fields like medicine and education where findings of randomized controlled trials can be aggregated to see whether a new treatment or intervention does improve outcomes. However, many argue that it is not possible to establish such direct causal links between interventions and outcomes in fields such as social policy, management, and information systems where for any intervention there is unlikely to be a regular or consistent outcome ( Oates, 2011 ; Pawson, 2006 ; Rousseau, Manning, & Denyer, 2008 ).
To circumvent these limitations, Pawson, Greenhalgh, Harvey, and Walshe (2005) have proposed a new approach for synthesizing knowledge that seeks to unpack the mechanism of how “complex interventions” work in particular contexts. The basic research question — what works? — which is usually associated with systematic reviews changes to: what is it about this intervention that works, for whom, in what circumstances, in what respects and why? Realist reviews have no particular preference for either quantitative or qualitative evidence. As a theory-building approach, a realist review usually starts by articulating likely underlying mechanisms and then scrutinizes available evidence to find out whether and where these mechanisms are applicable ( Shepperd et al., 2009 ). Primary studies found in the extant literature are viewed as case studies which can test and modify the initial theories ( Rousseau et al., 2008 ).
The main objective pursued in the realist review conducted by Otte-Trojel, de Bont, Rundall, and van de Klundert (2014) was to examine how patient portals contribute to health service delivery and patient outcomes. The specific goals were to investigate how outcomes are produced and, most importantly, how variations in outcomes can be explained. The research team started with an exploratory review of background documents and research studies to identify ways in which patient portals may contribute to health service delivery and patient outcomes. The authors identified six main ways which represent “educated guesses” to be tested against the data in the evaluation studies. These studies were identified through a formal and systematic search in four databases between 2003 and 2013. Two members of the research team selected the articles using a pre-established list of inclusion and exclusion criteria and following a two-step procedure. The authors then extracted data from the selected articles and created several tables, one for each outcome category. They organized information to bring forward those mechanisms where patient portals contribute to outcomes and the variation in outcomes across different contexts.
9.3.6. Critical Reviews
Lastly, critical reviews aim to provide a critical evaluation and interpretive analysis of existing literature on a particular topic of interest to reveal strengths, weaknesses, contradictions, controversies, inconsistencies, and/or other important issues with respect to theories, hypotheses, research methods or results ( Baumeister & Leary, 1997 ; Kirkevold, 1997 ). Unlike other review types, critical reviews attempt to take a reflective account of the research that has been done in a particular area of interest, and assess its credibility by using appraisal instruments or critical interpretive methods. In this way, critical reviews attempt to constructively inform other scholars about the weaknesses of prior research and strengthen knowledge development by giving focus and direction to studies for further improvement ( Kirkevold, 1997 ).
Kitsiou, Paré, and Jaana (2013) provide an example of a critical review that assessed the methodological quality of prior systematic reviews of home telemonitoring studies for chronic patients. The authors conducted a comprehensive search on multiple databases to identify eligible reviews and subsequently used a validated instrument to conduct an in-depth quality appraisal. Results indicate that the majority of systematic reviews in this particular area suffer from important methodological flaws and biases that impair their internal validity and limit their usefulness for clinical and decision-making purposes. To this end, they provide a number of recommendations to strengthen knowledge development towards improving the design and execution of future reviews on home telemonitoring.
Table 9.1 outlines the main types of literature reviews that were described in the previous sub-sections and summarizes the main characteristics that distinguish one review type from another. It also includes key references to methodological guidelines and useful sources that can be used by eHealth scholars and researchers for planning and developing reviews.
Typology of Literature Reviews (adapted from Paré et al., 2015).
As shown in Table 9.1 , each review type addresses different kinds of research questions or objectives, which subsequently define and dictate the methods and approaches that need to be used to achieve the overarching goal(s) of the review. For example, in the case of narrative reviews, there is greater flexibility in searching and synthesizing articles ( Green et al., 2006 ). Researchers are often relatively free to use a diversity of approaches to search, identify, and select relevant scientific articles, describe their operational characteristics, present how the individual studies fit together, and formulate conclusions. On the other hand, systematic reviews are characterized by their high level of systematicity, rigour, and use of explicit methods, based on an “a priori” review plan that aims to minimize bias in the analysis and synthesis process (Higgins & Green, 2008). Some reviews are exploratory in nature (e.g., scoping/mapping reviews), whereas others may be conducted to discover patterns (e.g., descriptive reviews) or involve a synthesis approach that may include the critical analysis of prior research ( Paré et al., 2015 ). Hence, in order to select the most appropriate type of review, it is critical to know before embarking on a review project, why the research synthesis is conducted and what type of methods are best aligned with the pursued goals.
9.5. Concluding Remarks
In light of the increased use of evidence-based practice and research generating stronger evidence ( Grady et al., 2011 ; Lyden et al., 2013 ), review articles have become essential tools for summarizing, synthesizing, integrating or critically appraising prior knowledge in the eHealth field. As mentioned earlier, when rigorously conducted review articles represent powerful information sources for eHealth scholars and practitioners looking for state-of-the-art evidence. The typology of literature reviews we used herein will allow eHealth researchers, graduate students and practitioners to gain a better understanding of the similarities and differences between review types.
We must stress that this classification scheme does not privilege any specific type of review as being of higher quality than another ( Paré et al., 2015 ). As explained above, each type of review has its own strengths and limitations. Having said that, we realize that the methodological rigour of any review — be it qualitative, quantitative or mixed — is a critical aspect that should be considered seriously by prospective authors. In the present context, the notion of rigour refers to the reliability and validity of the review process described in section 9.2. For one thing, reliability is related to the reproducibility of the review process and steps, which is facilitated by a comprehensive documentation of the literature search process, extraction, coding and analysis performed in the review. Whether the search is comprehensive or not, whether it involves a methodical approach for data extraction and synthesis or not, it is important that the review documents in an explicit and transparent manner the steps and approach that were used in the process of its development. Next, validity characterizes the degree to which the review process was conducted appropriately. It goes beyond documentation and reflects decisions related to the selection of the sources, the search terms used, the period of time covered, the articles selected in the search, and the application of backward and forward searches ( vom Brocke et al., 2009 ). In short, the rigour of any review article is reflected by the explicitness of its methods (i.e., transparency) and the soundness of the approach used. We refer those interested in the concepts of rigour and quality to the work of Templier and Paré (2015) which offers a detailed set of methodological guidelines for conducting and evaluating various types of review articles.
To conclude, our main objective in this chapter was to demystify the various types of literature reviews that are central to the continuous development of the eHealth field. It is our hope that our descriptive account will serve as a valuable source for those conducting, evaluating or using reviews in this important and growing domain.
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- Cite this Page Paré G, Kitsiou S. Chapter 9 Methods for Literature Reviews. In: Lau F, Kuziemsky C, editors. Handbook of eHealth Evaluation: An Evidence-based Approach [Internet]. Victoria (BC): University of Victoria; 2017 Feb 27.
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- Types of Review Articles and Brief Illustrations
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Worthy Literature Review Topics for Presenting a Cogent Work
What Topics for Literature Review to Consider to Outshine
Studying at college or university, planning to build up a final research paper, preparing for classes, creating a graduate project, or working on a capstone project always involves dealing with plentiful literature and analyzing reports on many topics. A literature review is an academic writing that unites a student’s knowledge of a defined topic, and it’s up to them to pick winning literature review topics to prove their expertise in the chosen field, as well as show the ability to analyze and compare several sources.
As usual, a literature review presents a consistent overview of the used material, the main points of the research, the author’s critical assessment of the topic, covers the existing theories, fills the informational gaps, and expresses a personal point of view. It can be a standalone piece of academic writing based on the literature on a specific topic or be an integral part or separate section of a paper or research project.
Speaking about the intentions in a political science literature review or another, a source report on the topic is designed. It’s important to remember a student should present a well-reasoned scientific review on the topic or a debate but not enlist all literature they use, so it looks like a library collection. When dealing with a dissertation or a term paper, creating a decent review that will summarize the whole literature is one of the most important tasks after selecting a fitting topic.
So, it’s up to a student to submit a well-reasonable, cogent literature review to evidence their knowledge of the chosen topic. There are several purposes why you should prepare a review of the used literature:
- Provide a critical analysis of a topic and define a frame of questions that should be resolved.
- Showing your familiarity with the topic and understanding of the state of research in the field.
- Determining the gaps compared to the prior investigations you can cover in your research.
- Know the previous literature regarding the chosen topic, summarize theories, making outcomes to present your groundwork and exploration.
When writing your literature review, it’s necessary to concentrate on your literature review and pick proper sources to cover the topic fully by focusing on the gaps that weren’t presented before by other writers. To gain the needed results of a literature review, a student should highlight scientific controversies and try to solve them by offering their solutions and viewpoints on the topic.
Worthy Literature Review Topics Psychology: Cover Issues Rationally
For a vast majority of students choosing good literature review topics for psychology research can be even more difficult than writing it. Indeed, making the first step in the research process is always daunting and can waste time greatly without gaining particular results from the literature review on a specific topic. Therefore, when thinking about a topic for your literature review in the psychology field you’d like to investigate, you should consider the previous works to avoid repetition and demonstrate your interest in the field.
Since there are diverse branches of psychology, you need to think about what field is more interesting to you than others and then consider literature review topic ideas. Are you interested in a literature review on topics related to health psychology, developmental, or occupational psychology? Can’t determine what topic you want to investigate in your literature review? Then our service offers you a list of topics for a literature review to choose from. Nevertheless, for your literature review, consider those topics that appeal to you most, and you have a good background in:
- The effect of praise and reward on a person’s motivation and achievements.
- Addiction to social media: that’s why children become aggressive and rude.
- Frequent anxiety attacks as the first sign of a psychological disorder.
- Gender role in modern society: is there any discrimination?
- How to manage stress and relax in a stressful environment?
- Sports influence human behavior and psychological state.
So, finally, you choose the literature review topics psychology offers and can move further with your investigation. Now it’s important to arrange a research paper wisely to cover the maximum possible questions by following the correct structure. Like other academic works, a good literature review on psychology should have an introduction, main part, and conclusion.
A literature review should be well-structured, logical, and cover the topic wholly. Its parts should be interconnected by preserving a single and unique idea and outlining a strong thesis statement showing your final attitude to education literature review topics or others.
List of Literature Review Topics Examples That Are Worth Attention
No matter what area you deal with in your literature review: education, economics, medicine, sciences, philology, architecture, or engineering, you should define a topic for your research to create a decent review that will include all aspects that matter and cover these issues.
Numerous topics make sense to people. There are endless questions regarding each of them. So, it’s vital to define what aspects haven’t been explored yet, and you can use this opportunity to fill the gap and conduct a well-grounded investigation. Let’s have a look at some of the current literature review topics examples you can find worthy:
- Bulimia and anorexia: are these eating disorders a consequence of psychological issues?
- The relationship between economic prosperity and unemployment rate.
- Applying 3D technology in modern civil engineering & construction.
- Blood donation process: what you should know before the donation.
- Data mining technology in boosting business processes.
- The benefits of installing solar panels.
All in all, it’s a challenging task to select good topics for literature review, so it’ll depict the critical issues of your research and highlight the most prominent works in the chosen field. When selecting a proper topic, take into account it shouldn’t be too broad or narrow. There should be aspects that haven’t been discussed before in literature reviews.
A perfect review of the literature should interpret the existing research and explicate your own idea, so together, they create a unique cogent text. Another highly important aspect of a literature review is using authoritative sources that can back up your statements. This is an integral part of a high-quality research review because you show what contributions were made before and apply them to your critical analysis.
Literature Review Topic Examples to Build Your Work Easily
A standard review of sources consists of the same parts as an ordinary essay or a term paper: first, you introduce the chosen topic by enlisting points you’ll discuss in your work. Second, you prepare a critical assessment of the key issues, mention ways to resolve and provide your alternative to fix them, and finally, you summarize your statements with a persuasive thesis statement.
It’s necessary to say there’s no defined formula on how to build a literature review correctly. The structure of the literature review on your topic depends on the scientific area a student investigates. It also relates to the scientific aims and arguments a writer displays to support or disprove.
It’s recommended to include the following patterns to organize the literature review:
- Chronological development of the examined topic.
- Concepts that were used primarily to cover the gaps.
- Key definitions that were mentioned in the research.
- Outline the debates around the raised issue.
- Provide statements for and against the major problem.
- Key authors and works that focus on the topic selected.
- Mention the methodology used to conduct research.
Remember, the most important thing about a literature review on any topic is to present your stance based on the works of reputable researchers and scientists. So, concentrate your attention on the literature that fits your viewpoints and thereby strengthen your review on the topic you’ve chosen.
Consider Good Literature Review Topics to Stand Out From the Rest
If a student hesitates about what theme to choose for their term paper, nowadays, there are lots of literature review topic examples that are worth attention. To determine what topic is more relevant to the studying field and a student’s major, they should do a detailed preliminary literature review of sources and define whether it’s enough to conduct an elaborate and robust work.
Struggling with finding literature review essay topics? Our literature review writing services will gladly help you brainstorm the most appropriate ones to get high grades and prove your competence in the specialization field. To pick a good theme and succeed in writing a literature review, it’s also important to possess specific skills that facilitate the whole writing process. Hence, it’ll be easier for students with a particular skill set to compose a reasonable and measurable review of the used literature on the topic:
- Ability to think critically.
- Analyze the information deeply.
- Outline main tasks, goals, and proofs.
- Be detail-oriented and pick up the most vital info.
- Define key points of the research to render the core sense.
Additionally, to find good topics for a literature review, it’s possible to visit some online libraries, guides, and databases with diverse scientific works and publications that will back up your exploratory studies.
To show up against others, it’s better to pay attention to the topics that relate to the advanced technologies that can be applied in numerous areas, i.e., topics for literature review in education, medicine, business, engineering, science, etc. The IT sector is rapidly spreading throughout the entire area and facilitates better and stronger competition rates. Thus, your literature review will have success at least by choosing a highly competitive topic.
Top Literature Review Nursing Topics: Meet Demands Without a Hitch
Being one of the most expanded studying areas, a research paper on nursing requires sufficient time to build up a well-structured & thought-out paper and a consistent report of literature sources accordingly. To impress tutors and scientific supervisors, we offer you to select one of the following literature review topic examples that can relate to the next issues:
- Cyberbullying and the tendency to commit suicide among teens.
- Teamwork as a motivator for achieving greater results at work.
- Parental separation: its harsh effect on a child’s mental health.
- Meditation as a useful way to fight depression and stress.
- Depression and its influence on working efficiency.
- How to handle pressure and stay cool-headed?
- Abusive relationships between teenagers.
- Autistic children and their socialization.
It’s a well-known fact that preparing a literature review on psychology means sleepless nights for the majority of students. Choosing fitting literature review nursing topics takes lots of time and effort to arrange a paper correctly without losing the key idea. Although, selecting and writing a review of the used literature on the topic isn’t as complicated as you may think.
The biggest problem with nursing literature review topics selection is to tune in the process and analyze tens of publications and articles on the related topic. Sure, it’s impossible to read all the literature on the topic you’ve picked. You’d rather prepare a list of the most fitting topics and make notes about the major points mentioned there. By reviewing the main concepts and methods and outlining topics and outcomes, you’ll be able to formulate your final results and then compare them with the prior literature.
To conclude, selecting appropriate topics for literature review of the paper, a student should have a solid background in the chosen subfield to know where and what to search to compile a persuasive and facts-based review. The truth is that choosing a good topic is half of success, and the last thing you need to do is to write it considering the requirements for the literature review.
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 Step 3 Step 4 Step 5
The key to successfully choosing a topic is to find one that is not too broad (impossible to adequately cover) but also not too narrow (not enough has been written about it). Use the tools below to help you brainstorm a topic and keywords that then you can use to search our many databases.
Step #1: Choosing a Topic CHOOSING A TOPIC Choosing your research topic is an important step in writing a literature review. First, choose a strong topic and one you're interested in. You don't want a topic that is too narrow or one that has little or no research about it. Think of a topic that will have enough supporting articles relating to it.
A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other (also called synthesis ). The lit review is an important genre in many disciplines, not just literature (i.e., the study of works of literature such as novels and plays).
Here are some tips: Choose a topic that you are interested in! The research process is more relevant if you care about your topic. Narrow your topic to something manageable. If your topic is too broad, you will find too much information and not be able to focus. Background reading can help you choose and limit the scope of your topic.
LSU Libraries Literature Reviews Choosing a Topic Read recent issues of the top scholarly journals in your field. Not sure what those are? Ask your professor/advisor, or you can use tools like Journal Citation Reports (below) to identify top journals by impact factor. Read Calls for Papers in your field.
a literature review. Equally, however, it can help refine or focus a broad research question and is useful for both topic selection and topic refinement. It can also be helpful in developing conceptual or theoretical frameworks (Coughian Table 1. Non-research reasons for undertaking a literature review •As an assignment for an academic course
TOPIC SELECTION 1 Literature Review Topic Selection Assignment Jennifer L. Comer-Acker Liberty University BUSI 730, Strategic Allocation of Financial Resources Dr. Melanie Hicks March 28, 2021
Selection of a research topic is a challenge for students and professionals alike. This paper addresses those challenges by presenting some strategies based on existing body of knowledge and...
29 Jul 2021 A literature review is an account of the scholarly works published on a topic. It is different from an annotated bibliography - and far more interesting at that. Instead of being just a list of summaries, a literature review synthesizes the information from all available sources in an overall relationship to your guiding concept.
If you need to narrow a topic from a broad subject to a specific research question or thesis statement, one of the easiest ways is by asking yourself the 5Ws - who, what, where, when, and why. You don't have to answer all the questions, but should answer enough so that your topic is manageable to research and will fit within your assignment ...
Selection Criteria You may want to think about criteria that will be used to select articles for your literature review based on your research question. These are commonly known as inclusion criteria and exclusion criteria. Be aware that you may introduce bias ...
Step 1: Find the relevant literature Naturally, the first step in the literature review journey is to hunt down the existing research that's relevant to your topic. While you probably already have a decent base of this from your research proposal, you need to expand on this substantially in the dissertation or thesis itself.
A literature review surveys books, scholarly articles, and any other sources relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory, and by so doing, provides a description, summary, and critical evaluation of these works in relation to the research problem being investigated.
Top 15 Literature Review Topics What does the science say about extraterrestrial life? Redesigning organisms in synthetic biology: Where are we at now? Equality of human rights at the international level. Why do genes happen to be active or inactive? Legalizing physician-assisted suicide. Can an adult person change their native language?
Among other methods, literature reviews are essential for: (a) identifying what has been written on a subject or topic; (b) determining the extent to which a specific research area reveals any interpretable trends or patterns; (c) aggregating empirical findings related to a narrow research question to support evidence-based practice; (d) generat...
The present methodological literature review (cf. Aguinis et al., 2020) addresses this void and aims to identify the dominant approaches to sample selection and provide insights into essential choices in this step of systematic reviews, with a particular focus on management research.To follow these objectives, I have critically reviewed systematic reviews published in the two most prominent ...
The following will help you select education literature review topics for yourself: Make sure you're clear about the specific things you'll be researching. Consider all the benefits and drawbacks of diverse points of view. Make a list of the categories of scholarly papers you want to find.
The biggest problem with nursing literature review topics selection is to tune in the process and analyze tens of publications and articles on the related topic. Sure, it's impossible to read all the literature on the topic you've picked. You'd rather prepare a list of the most fitting topics and make notes about the major points ...
A formal literature review is an evidence-based, in-depth analysis of a subject. There are many reasons for writing ... Selection of articles to include is where bias ... Key stages of writing a literature review. Stages Example Select review topic/title Biomarkers for prostate cancer Identify keywords and
Literature review papers: the search and selection process Bert van Wee & David Banister Received 10 Oct 2022, Accepted 28 Mar 2023, Published online: 11 Apr 2023 Download citation https://doi.org/10.1080/12460125.2023.2197703 In this article Full Article Figures & data References Citations Metrics Licensing Reprints & Permissions View PDF ABSTRACT
Summary of key research findings in recruitment and selection. A systematic, fully comprehensive literature review of extent selection and recruitment literature is beyond the scope of this paper - rather, we focus our effort on recent meta-analyses as well as conceptual and literature review papers to identify the meta-trends in the recruitment and selection research.
Some of the specific rationales for your research that might emerge from your literature review include the following: 1. You may find a lack of consistency in reported results across the studies you have chosen to review and undertake research to explore the basis of the inconsistency.