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How to Write a Literature Review: Overview

This guide will assist in the development and structure for writing a literature review in a health sciences discipline

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review summarizes and analyzes available research on a specific topic.  Grant and Booth (2009) described this process in the SALSA Framework: Search, AppraisaL, Synthesis, and Analysis. By identifying and analyzing current research, the writer can determine themes, gaps and/or inconsistencies to demonstrate where future research is needed.  Results can be demonstrated either chronologically, thematically or conceptually (Cronin, Ryan, & Coughlan, 2008).

Cronin, P., Ryan, F., & Coughlan, M. (2008). Undertaking a literature review: a step-by-step approach. British Journal of Nursing 17(1), 38-43. DOI: 10.12968/bjon.2008.17.1.28059.

Grant, M. J., & Booth, A. (2009). A typology of reviews: An analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies: A typology of reviews, Maria J. Grant & Andrew Booth. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 26(2), 91–108.

Literature Review Steps

1. Formulate your research question

  • Use tools like PICO, SPIDER, SPICE or ECLIPSE to create a concise, informative question

2. Search the literature

3a. Read the selected resources.

  • Take notes on title/author, purpose, methodology, findings, outcomes and your general impressions or any questions you may have about the articles.

3b. Analyzing the selected resources.

  • Take time to find commonality, emerging themes, conflicting information, authors or experts in the field, similar testing methodologies found throughout the articles.

4. Write

5. Citing your references properly

  • Using a citation manager will help to organize your sources, start here


Steps adapted from Cronin, P., Ryan, F., & Coughlan, M. (2008). Undertaking a literature review: a step-by-step approach. British Journal of Nursing 17(1), 38-43. DOI: 10.12968/bjon.2008.17.1.28059.

Helpful Books

How to Write a Literature Review Video

Helpful Articles & Tools

Cornell University Library. (2021). Planning Worksheet for Structured Literature Reviews. Open Science Framework (OSF).

Toronto Metropolitan University. (nd). Advanced Research Skills: Conducting Literature and Systematic Reviews.

Cronin, P., Ryan, F., & Coughlan, M. (2008). Undertaking a literature review: a step-by-step approach [Review]. Br J Nurs, 17(1), 38-43.

Wakefield, A. (2015, Mar 18). Synthesising the literature as part of a literature review. Nurs Stand, 29(29), 44-51.

Lingard, L. (2018, Feb). Writing an effective literature review : Part I: Mapping the gap. Perspect Med Educ, 7(1), 47-49.

Lingard, L. (2018, Apr). Writing an effective literature review : Part II: Citation technique. Perspect Med Educ, 7(2), 133-135.

Leite, D. F. B., Padilha, M. A. S., & Cecatti, J. G. (2019). Approaching literature review for academic purposes: The Literature Review Checklist. Clinics (Sao Paulo), 74, e1403.

Randolph, J. (2009). A Guide to Writing the Dissertation Literature Review Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation, 14(13).

Consult a Health Sciences Librarian

The content and design of this page was gathered from and inspired by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Database Search Tips LibGuide.

Neil John Maclean Health Sciences Library (University of Manitoba) --- ph. 204-789-3342 |