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Literature Reviews (Health Sciences)

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review provides an overview of what's been written about a specific topic. There are many different types of literature reviews. They vary in terms of scope, comprehensiveness, time constraints, and types of studies included.

Types of Reviews

A traditional narrative/literature review provides a quick overview of current studies. It helps explain why your study is important in the context of the literature, and can also help you identify areas that need further research. The rest of this guide will cover some basic steps to consider when conducting a traditional literature review. Click on the right thumbnail to see an excerpt from this type of literature review.

A scoping review involves a broad research question that explores the current evidence base (Armstrong, Hall, Doyle, & Waters, 2011). It can help inform areas that are appropriate for a systematic review. Click on the right thumbnail to see an excerpt from this type of literature review.

Integrative reviews "synthesize findings from different approaches, like experimental and non-experimental studies" (Whittemore & Knafl, 2005). This approach allows for the integration of qualitative studies with quantitative studies. They may or may not be systematic reviews. Click on the right thumbnail to see an excerpt from this type of literature review.

A systematic review is a research method that aims to answer question(s) by analyzing studies meeting a specific criteria (Glasziou, Iwirg, Bain & Corditz, 2001).  Systematic reviews synthesize high quality empirical information to answer a given research question (The Cochrane Collaboration, n.d.). Conducting a systematic review involves following rigorous, predefined protocols that "minimise bias and ensure transparency" (Glanville & McCool, n.d.). See one of our Librarians for more information on what they are and how to conduct one. Click on the right thumbnail to see an excerpt from this type of literature review.

Meta-analyses are "the statistical integration of separate studies" (Egger & Smith, 1997). They involve identifying similar studies and pooling their data to obtain a more accurate estimate of true effect size. A systematic review can include a meta-analysis. Click on the right thumbnail to see an excerpt from this type of literature review.

Both these reviews investigate implementation of interventions across real world contexts as they synthesize research that seeks an explanatory focus answering the question "what about a programme works for whom and in what circumstances?" (Pawson, 2005, p.22)  They can be categorized as "What works, for whom, in what circumstances ... and why" (Pawson, 2012, p. 178). More and more realist reviews are being indexed in PubMed. Please access more information about Realist Reviews in the Sophie Newsletter, May 2013.