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HLSC 495: Seminar in Health Science: Writing Literature Reviews

Resources for Fox's Seminar in Health Science

What is a Literature Review?

Good scholarship involves:

  • Connecting ideas, theories, experience
  • Applying method/methodology to different areas
  • Creating new synthesis or insight
  • Re-examining existing knowledge

An essential means toward this end is the literature review. 

You may conduct a literature review in order to: 

  • Update current personal knowledge
  • Evaluate current practices
  • Develop and update guidelines for practice
  • Develop work-related policies
  • Develop a theory or conceptual framework
  • Make a case for further research

What makes a good literature review?

  • Gathers from many sources
  • Identifies key sources, issues, theories, concepts, & ideas
  • Discusses main questions, problems, & debates
  • Uses terminology accurately
  • Is well written
  • Contains accurate referencing

How do I do a literature review?

Steps for the literature review:

  1. Select a review topic (focus! manageable!)
  2. Searching the literature
  3. Gather, read and analyzing the literature
  4. Write the review
  5. References

Step One: Selecting a topic:

  • Is the topic interesting to you? Is there enough data?
  • Start narrow and focused topic;  broaden if necessary
  • Form a research question from your topic. 

Step Two: Searching the Literature:

  • Search relevant databases - check Subject Guides for help
  • Keep a record of the keywords and methods used in searching (for describing how the search was conducted)
  • Keywords: remember variations in spelling and synonyms
    • paediatric/pediatric
    • pressure ulcers/pressure sores
  • Use the limits/filters provided
  • Use existing literature reviews and systematic reviews
    • These are already a good overview of the research and will usually identify key or seminal works on a topic
    • Use their references to discover more sources - search the title in MuskieScholar or ask a librarian to help.
  • Be sure articles are published in a time frame appropriate to your topic

Step Three: Gather, read and analyzing the literature:

Analyze and synthesize the literature:

  • Scan the article summary or abstract
  • Group articles by type of source (primary, secondary)
  • Read and summarize. Pay attention to the:
    • Title, author, purpose, methodology, findings, outcomes
  • Cite your source
Primary source reading questions Secondary source reading questions
  • Title:
  • Author and year:
  • Journal (full reference):
  • Purpose of study:
  • Type of study:
  • Setting:
  • Data collection method:
  • Major findings:
  • Recommendations:
  • Key thoughts/comments, e.g. strengths/weakness:

Print a checklist

  • Title:
  • Author and year:
  • journal (full reference):
  • Review questions/purpose:
  • Key definitions:
  • Review boundaries:
  • Appraisal criteria:
  • Synthesis of studies:
  • Summary/conclusions:
  • Key thoughts/comments, e.g. strengths/weakness:

Print a checklist

Step Four: Writing the Review:

  • Work out a structure
    • Make an outline
    • Cluster and compare
  • Avoid long and confusing words jargon
  • Use short sentences
  • Use accurate spelling and grammar
  • Consists generally of introduction, body and conclusion
The Introduction The Main Body The Conclusion


  • Purpose of review
  • Overview of the problem
  • Outline key search terms
  • Describe limits, boundaries or inclusion/exclusion criteria
  • Comment about amount of literature found


  • Presents and discusses findings:
    • Divide the literature into themes or categories
    • Present literature chronologically
    • Draw links between works that build on each other
  • Personal opinions about quality only!


  • Conclude with summary of the findings
  • Expose gaps in knowledge and places for potential continued research
  • Recommendations or implications for practice, education and research



  • Use your own words
  • Highlight and compare results from key sources
  • Point out inconsistencies and contradictions


  • Misrepresent research findings
  • Be sloppy with citations
  • Forget to give credit to the words, ideas, and research of others

Step 5: Reference List:

Keep accurate references from the beginning to avoid having to hunt for missing citation information later on and to save time in general.

Using  a citation manager like Zotero can make this process easier.

Literature Maps

It may be helpful to you to create a literature map - a visual representation that identifies the connections between sources and how they build on each other. For example, consider this literature concept map.