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How to Write a Literature Review
What Is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a survey of scholarly knowledge on a topic. It is often a well-organized examination of the existing research which evaluates each resource in a systematic way. Often a literture review will involve a series of inclusion/exclusion criteria or an assessment rubric which examines the research in-depth. Below are some sources regarding literature review..

Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review This PLoS One article itemizes the steps in the literature review proccess.

The Writing Center's Literature Reviews UNC-Chapel Hill's writing center explains some of the key criteria involved in doing a literature review.

Literature Review vs. Systematic Review This article details the difference between a literature review and a systematic review. Though the two share similar attributes, key differences are identified here.

Literature Review Steps

1. Identify a research question. For example: "Does the use of warfarin in elderly patients recovering from myocardial infarction help prevent stroke?" Ask a clear, answerable question.

2. Consider which databases might provide information for your topic. Often PubMed or Web of Science will cover a wide spectrum of biomedical issues. However, other databases and grey literature sources may specialize in certain disciplines. Embase is generally comprehensive but also specializes in pharmacological interventions and even lesser-known databases such as Alt HealthWatch (EBSCO) can be good sources for alternative medicine. Literature Search: Where to Start Searching for Information

3. Select the major subjects or ideas from your question. Focus in on the particular concepts involved in your research. Then brainstorm synonyms and related terminology for these topics. Selecting general or nonspecific terms will generate a long list of studies, many of which may be unrelated to your study. More specific search terms will result in a more effective and focused search strategy.

4. Build your search using boolean operators. Combine the synonyms in your database using boolean operators such as AND or OR. Sometimes it is necessary to research parts of a question rather than the whole. So you might link searches for things like the preventive effects of anticoagulants with stroke or embolism, then AND these results with the therapy for patients with cardiovascular disease. ("Anticoagulants"[Mesh] AND ("Stroke"[Mesh] OR "Embolism"[Mesh]) AND "prevention and control" [Subheading]) AND "Cardiovascular Diseases/therapy"[Mesh]


5. Filter and save your search results. This may be a short list because of your topic's limitations. You may have search results for searches in more than one database. Make sure your list is saved or archived and presents you with what's needed to access the full text.

6. Read the selected articles thoroughly and evaluate them. Evaluate and synthesize the studies' findings and conclusions.
Note the following:

  • assumptions some or most researchers seem to make
  • methodologies, testing procedures, subjects, material tested researchers use
  • experts in the field: names/labs that are frequently referenced
  • conflicting theories, results, methodologies
  • popularity of theories and how this has/has not changed over time

7. Organize the selected papers by looking for patterns and by developing subtopics.
Note the following:

  • Findings that are common/contested
  • Important trends in the research
  • The most influential theories

8. Develop a thesis or purpose statement. Write a one or two sentence statement summarizing the conclusion you have reached about the major trends and developments you see in the research that has been conducted on your subject.

9. Write the literature review. Begin by summarizing why your research is important and explain why your approach will help fill gaps in current knowledge. Then incorporate how the information you've selected will help you to do this. You do not need to write about all of the included research you've chosen, only the most pertienent. Structure your sections by themes or subtopics, not by individual theorists or researchers. If you find that each paragraph begins with a researcher's name, it might indicate that, instead of evaluating and comparing the research literature from an analytical point of view, you have simply described what research has been done.

10. Review your work

  • Look at the topic sentences of each paragraph. If you were to read only these sentences, would you find that your paper presented a clear position, logically developed, from beginning to end? The topic sentences of each paragraph should indicate the main points of your literature review.
  • Make an outline of each section of the review and decide whether you need to add information, to delete irrelevant information, or to restructure sections.
  • Read your work out loud. That way you will be better able to identify where you need punctuation marks to signal pauses or divisions within sentences, where you have made grammatical errors, or where your sentences are unclear.
  • Since the purpose of a literature review is to demonstrate that the writer is familiar with the important professional literature on the chosen subject, check to make certain that you have covered all of the important, up-to-date, and pertinent texts. In the sciences and some of the social sciences it is important that your literature be quite recent.
  • Make certain that all of the citations and references are correct and that you are referencing in the appropriate style, which will most likely be AMA Style.
  • Check to make sure that you have not plagiarized either by failing to cite a source of information, or by using words quoted directly from a source.
  • Text should be written in a clear and concise academic style; it should not be descriptive in nature or use the language of everyday speech.
  • There should be no grammatical or spelling errors.
Library Book
Garrard, Judith. Health Sciences Literature Review Made Easy : The Matrix Method. 5th ed., Jones & Bartlett Learning, LLC, 2016. This book details a practical, step-by-step method for conducting a literature review in the health sciences. Aiming to synthesize the information while also analyzing it, the Matrix Indexing System enables users to establish a structured process for tracking, organizing and integrating the knowledge within a collection.
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