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Understanding Review Types: Literature Reviews

This guide includes a series of blog posts written by Grace Romund (2017) for the Neil John Maclean Health Sciences Library. Some slight modifications have been made to update the work and ensure link consistency.

Literature Reviews

A literature review is an account of what has been published on a topic. They are written primarily by researchers working in the topic's area of study.

A literature review illustrates what knowledge and ideas have been established on a particular topic, what the strengths and weaknesses are, and to identify controversies in the literature. Literature reviews also formulate questions for further research and inquiry.

When conducting a literature review, it is important to have a clearly defined research question or problem. It is also important to consider what type of analysis might be appropriate for your topic: qualitative or quantitative? Will you be looking at issues of theory? Methodology? Policy? Or others? Will you present your findings based on chronology? Concept or theme? Are there “key works” that might help guide the process?

Many questions need to be asked before writing a literature review - and finding the answers to these questions early on in the process can benefit both researcher and librarian when it’s time to search for literature.

Literature searches for this type of review are often less formal than other types, such as systematic reviews or meta-analyses (Grant & Booth, 2009). While there is a process for identifying materials for potential inclusion (informed by some of the questions above), a literature review does not necessarily seek to find and analyze every possible material. As well, the level of evidence of the selected materials may be less important than with other types of reviews.

Librarians at the Health Sciences Libraries are always happy to help patrons with formulating effective search strategies for their literature search. They can also provide valuable insight into citation management and assistance with accessing library materials.

Literature searches are available to WRHA Virtual Library patrons, Fee-For-Service Physicians, Manitoba Health and MHIKNET workers. Follow the link for more information on available library services:



Grant, M. & Booth, A. (2009). A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologiesHealth Information and Libraries Journal, 26(2), 91-108. DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x

National Center for Biotechnology Information. Review Literature as Topic. 2005. Available from: (accessed March 31 2017).


Other Readings

Keary, E., Byrne, M., & Lawton, A. (2012). How to conduct a literature review. The Irish Psychologist, 38(9-10), 239-245.


This article was originally a part of the HSL News series Understanding review types. For more information about this series, read the series’ introduction.

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