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Psychiatric Nursing

What is a Literature Review?

Gathering Articles For Your Literature Review

According to the sixth edition of the APA Publication Manual, literature reviews organize, integrate and evaluate research or reviews on a particular topic to help clarify a specific question or problem. Your literature review should

  • clearly define a question/problem
  • provide an overview of literature on the topic to date
  • explain the relationships among previous research (See the Research as Inquiry box below)
  • suggest areas of future research or ways to solve the problem

Many students have problems narrowing down their topic and deciding what the best articles are to include in their review.

Tips for narrowing your topic

Sometimes it is better to start with a very broad topic of interest and narrow your focus as you do your research. This allows you to keep an open mind and pursue a specific area to research that you didn't know existed before.

  • Read the abstract portion of some of the articles that come up in your broad search and see if there is a specific topic or problem that peaks your interest
  • If searching in Cinahl, use the Subject: Major Heading filters on the left of the screen to find recurring topics appearing in the articles in your search results
  • Use other filters in Cinahl to focus your topic. Maybe you can look at a topic from the vantage point of a particular segment of the population (people in a certain age group or gender)?

Tips for finding the best articles for your review

You may find a lot of articles related to your topic. How do you choose the most relevant?

  • Read the abstract and conclusion in the article - Is this article directly related to your topic?
  • In Cinahl, look for articles that have a Times Cited note to gage the impact/importance of the article
  • If you see a particular author referenced more than once, they may be an influential expert in the field. Search for all of their articles
  • Check to see if there are any systematic reviews on your topic (you'll find tips on how to find these if you click on the grey Find Articles tab. Systematic reviews have very stringent inclusion criteria and likely identify key articles that you will want to include in your review.
  • Academic books or encyclopedia entries written on the topic may include influential research and researchers in their bibliographies that you can search for to include in your review. Go to the grey Background information & Books tab on this guide for more information on how to find these resources.
  • If you really want to build a comprehensive search, you may want to go directly to the Cinahl Subject Headings or the MeSH Subject Headings if searching PubMed or Medline, so you can systematically select the for the best terms for your search.

Research as Inquiry: Literature Reviews are not Annotated Bibliographies






It is important to remember that literature reviews are not annotated bibliographies.

With annotated bibliographies you are basically summarizing individual articles, but with a literature review you are providing an overview of the literature in a particular area of research, which is more complex.

Journal articles are like a conversation where academics publish theories and empirical data and other academics publish their own articles where they may agree, disagree, or be inspired to publish new research that springboards from other articles.

Unlike annotated bibliographies, literature reviews focus on describing the relationships among the literature included in the review, rather than just providing a summary of individual articles.

Books & Other Resources

And don't forget the quality of your writing....