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How to Write a Literature Review

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.

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).

Helpful Books