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NURS 3750 - Nursing Honors Project (Neil): Literature Reviews

Nursing Literature Reviews

What is a Literature (Lit) Review? 

A Literature Review is Not: 

  • a quick summary of sources
  • a grouping of broad, unrelated sources
  • a compilation of everything that has ever been written on a topic
  • a literature criticism or book review

So, what is it then?

A literature review is an integrated analysis-- not just a summary-- of scholarly writings that are related directly to your research question.  That is, it represents the literature that provides background information on your topic and shows a correspondence between those writings and your research question.

A literature review may be a stand alone work or the introduction to a larger research paper, depending on the assignment.  Rely heavily on the guidelines your instructor has given you.

Why is it important?

A literature review is important because it:

  • Explains the background of research on a topic.
  • Demonstrates why a topic is significant to a subject area.
  • Discovers relationships between research studies/ideas.
  • Identifies major themes, concepts, and researchers on a topic.
  • Identifies critical gaps and points of disagreement.
  • Discusses further research questions that logically come out of the previous studies.

Adapted from: by Hillary Fox, University of West Florida,

Creating a Literature Review using the Matrix Method: 

A matrix review allows you to quickly compare and contrast articles in an easy to read format. It can help you to easily spot differences and similarities between journal articles and your nursing research topic. Review matrices are especially helpful for health sciences literature reviews that cover the scope of research over a given amount of time. 

Most literature reviews are set up in this format: 

An example of a nursing literature review matrix
Source(citation) Research Question (Purpose) Methods Major findings  Notes:
Martin, JE et al. (2006) A DNA vaccine for ebola virus is safe and immunogenic in phase I clinical trial. Clinical Vaccine and Immunology, 13(11), 1267-1277. Determine the safety and immuogenicity of ebola vaccine in healthy adults Dependent variables were reactogenicity (recorded by participants)/antibody response. Independent variables were dose placebo or vaccine. 27 = n, 21 = vaccine, 6 = placebo, male and female, 18- 44. Phase I, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blinded, dose escalation

-safe and well tolerated in 21 adults, -induced ebola specific antibodies and T-cell response

Ledgerwood, J.E. et al. (2010). A replication defective recombinant Ad5 vaccine expressing Ebola virus GP is safe and immunogenic ain healthy adults. Vaccine, 29(2), 304-13. Determine safety and immunogenicity of ebola cavvine in healthy adults Dependent variables were reactogenicity (recorded by participants)/ antibody response. Independent variables were dose- placebo or vaccine. 31 = n, 23 vaccine, 8 placebo, male and female, 15-50 (originally 32, one dropped out). Phase I, double-blinded, randomized placebo-controlled, dose escalation.  -3 adverse events in course of study, -was immunogenic and produced humoral and T cell responses  

Chart adapted from the book below: 

Steps for Conducting a Literature Review

1. Choose Your Topic

  • Review your PICO question and think about your central research question. To review the PICO process, please see Kerry Sewell's LibGuide on this subject. 

2. Decide on the scope of your review

  • How many studies do you need to look at? 
  • How comprehensive should it be? 
  • How many years should it cover? (Dr. Larson usually prefers articles no older than 5 years)

3. Select the databases you want to use to conduct your searches (See the Databases Tab Above!)

4. Conduct your searches and find the literature. (Keep track of your searches)

  • Review the abstracts and conclusions carefully. This will help you decide which articles actually fit the criteria you are looking for. 
  • Write down the keywords you used and where you found them. 
  • Use RefWorks to keep track of your citations. (Email me  - -  if you need help!) 

5. Review the Literature (This will probably be the most time consuming part)

  • What was the research question of the study you are reviewing?  What were the authors trying to discover? 
  • Was the research funded by a company or source that could influence the findings? (Such as Colgate® sponsoring a toothpaste study?)
  • What were the research methodologies? Analyze the paper's literature review, the samples and variables used, the results and conclusions. Does the research seem to be complete? Could it have been conducted more soundly? What questions does it raise? 
  • If there are conflicting studies, why do you think that is? 
  • How are the authors of the paper viewed in the field? Has this study been cited by other publications? 

Adapted from: by Hillary Fox, University of West Florida,

Literature Review Examples

Remember, a lit review provides an intelligent overview of the topic. There may or may not be a method for how studies are collected or interpreted. Lit reviews aren't always labeled specifically as "literature reviews," they may often be embedded with other sections such as an introduction or background. 

Adapted from: by Hillary Fox, University of West Florida,

Carrie Forbes, MLS

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Carrie Forbes
Laupus Library
Room 2518
East Carolina University
600 Moye Blvd.
Greenville, NC 27834
252-744-2217 -OR- 252-689-8734 (TEXT)
Subjects: Nursing