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Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Bachelor of Psychiatric Nursing, Centre for Professional Nursing Education

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What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is an in-depth critical analysis of published scholarly research related to a specific topic. A solid literature review must:

  • Be organized around & relate directly to your research question 
  • Synthesize results into a summary what is known, or not known on the topic
  • Identify common themes that emerge from the literature
  • Identify areas of controversy in the literature
  • Formulate questions that need further research


Adapted from: Literature Review - A Self-Guided Tutorial, created by Kathleen Hanna, with contributions from Sara Lowe and Ted Polley. Lcensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Literature Reviews: Getting Started

Literature Review Steps

Always look to your assignment guidelines and rubric. Literature reviews serve a variety of purposes, and assignments can look very different.

1. Define your topic or question. 

2. Develop and document your search strategy. 

  • Select the databases you will be searching (CINAHL, PubMED, PsycINFO) 
  • Identify keywords and subject headings to use in your search
  • Craft your database search using OR / AND
  • Document: Keep notes on databases & keywords used, search strategy, and result count (#)

3. Select and evaluate:

  • Identify quality research articles that answer aspects of your question / topic
  • You may wish to use a critical appraisal checklist to help with assessing quality and generalizability
  • Read articles closely, looking for common themes. You may wish to use an article synthesis matrix

4. Writing your literature review:

  • Summarize the articles and synthesize findings on common themes Identify any gaps, controversies, etc.
  • Be sure to include a clear introduction or background and conclusion / summary to your review. Check assignment guidelines.
  • Follow APA style for an APA paper, with in-text citations throughout, and a references listed at the end. See

How to narrow your research topic

Questions for narrowing your topic

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