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Literature Review

A guide for everything related to Literature Reviews, how to write one, what they are used for, and more.

What is a Literature Review?

What is a Literature Review?

  • Literature = books, case studies, journal articles, reports, or any other scholarly resources relevant to your area of research
  • Review = critical assessment or formal appraisal
  • Literature Review =  "thematic synthesis of sources used to provide readers with an up-to-date summary of theoretical and empirical findings on a particular topic" (Cisco, 2014, p. 42).


A Literature Review does NOT provide a separate summary for each author

Correct Incorrect

Two educational institutions were found to have used funny animated characters in their online library programs (Brown, 2020; Redman, 2019). Although these institutions reported their efforts at using animation as successful, their measure of success was not based on any formal assessment. 

Although much of the literature on the use of humor referred to its use in face to face programs, the reasons given for using humor could apply to any method of instruction. Addison (2019) and Levey (2017) recommended using humor in non-library programs, while other researchers gave examples of its use in library programs (Fawlty, 2015; Gardener & Swift, 2021; Rickman, 2020; Zephyr, 2016).

The librarians at the University College found that using a sassy cartoon character in their online classes helped the students learn (Brown, 2020). Concentrating more on the entertainment angle, the main aim was to keep the content of these videos “best suited to audience preferences” (Brown, 2020, p. 115). Each of the videos, for example, featured the Star Wars signature opening crawl.

The Polygon Polytechnic, on the other hand, conducted a study with focus groups that were formed to discuss the animated character in the new library instruction program (Redman, 2019). Although most of the members of the focus groups enjoyed the animation, the author warns that this may not be enough to encourage learning. Interestingly, those students who found the humor not to be funny and the animation to be “corny” (Redman, 2019, p. 14)

Cisco, J. (2014). Teaching the literature review: A practical approach for college instructorsTeaching & Learning Inquiry, 2(2), 41-47. 

What a Literature Review Does

What a Literature Review DOES

A literature review provides an overview of research from all over the world on a specific topic, highlighting:

  • the key authors or writers 
  • what researchers are saying
  • what questions are being asked
  • the most popular theories and hypotheses
  • what methods and methodologies are useful and being used.

Scan the Literature

SCAN the Literature

  • Once you have a topic in mind, you need to conduct a quick search in order to:
    • see what is happening in the field
    • identify any research gaps
    • Google Scholar can help give you a very basic overview of what to expect, e.g.
      • telemedicine AND "mental health" = 60,900 results
      • telemedicine AND "music therapy" = 36,400 results
      • telemedicine AND vietnam = 6,900 results
        • the implication here is that you may expect some difficulty finding published research on your topic if a Google Scholar search does not result in huge numbers. 


  • You may find you need to select another topic!
  • Once you have established that enough research has been published for you to proceed, you can start searching for the literature for your review.


Find literature at

Choose your Topic

Choose your TOPIC

  • Consult your Prof or Supervisor to make sure you are on the right path.
  • Be flexible. You may need to change your topic if you find there is not enough research by others for you to review. 
  • Using the Evidence Based Practice framework? Use PEO or PICO to help you choose synonyms and alternate keywords for your search strings.

In-text Citations

IN-Text Citations


  • We know that we need to cite ALL our references in the Reference list or Bibliography at the end of our papers, right?
  • But do we always remember to cite the work of others in-text when quoting or paraphrasing? An example of a in-text citation for a direct quote is (Choy, 2019, p. 17). 


You may read more about this here.

When Do I Stop Searching?

Creative Commons Attribution license (reuse allowed)

If you are asking yourself when can you stop searching the literature, here is some excellent advice from Prof Liesbet van Zoonen from Erasmus University in Rotterdam.


The Prof outlines 3 elements you should consider:

1.) Practical 

  • when in doubt, ask your supervisor
  • aim to spend ONE THIRD of your time on your searching and reading

2.) Substantial

  • always refer back to your research question when refining your search strategy
  • if you cannot find enough information on your topic, you may need to change your scope

3.) Risks

  • do not start reading again! If you find that your searches are finding nothing new, start writing


Literature Review vs Systematic Review

  Literature Review
Systematic Review
  • Qualitatively summarizes evidence on a topic using informal or subjective methods to collect and interpret studies
  • High-level overview of primary research on a focused question that identifies, selects, synthesizes, and appraises all high quality research evidence relevant to that question
  • Provide summary or overview of topic
  • Answers a focused clinical question
  • Eliminate bias    
  • Can be a general topic or a specific question
  • Clearly defined and answerable clinical question
  • Recommend using PICO as a guide    
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • Reference list
  • Pre-specified eligibility criteria
  • Systematic search strategy
  • Assessment of the validity of findings
  • Interpretation and presentation of results
  • Reference list
no. of authors
  • One or more
  • Three or more
  • Weeks to months
  • Months to years
  • Average eighteen months
  • Understanding of topic
  • Perform searches of one or more databases
  • Thorough knowledge of topic
  • Perform searches of all relevant databases
  • Statistical analysis resources (for meta-analysis)    
  • Provides summary of literature on the topic
  • Connects practicing clinicians to high quality evidence
  • Supports evidence-based practice

Taken from Penn State University Libraries, Nursing guide - CC BY 4.0