Skip to Main Content


Nursing information in the library, from basic knowledge to specific types of research articles to video tutorials

Literature Reviews

Literature reviews are summaries of the literature on a particular topic. Reviews are generally considered "research", especially systematic and integrative reviews, but are not experimental in nature. There are several kinds of reviews: plain literature reviews, systematic reviews, and integrative reviews are the most common. Chapter 5 of Introduction to Nursing Research: Incorporating Evidence-based Practice (Cannon & Boswell, 2011, 2nd ed. Sudbury, Mass: Jones & Bartlett Learning) covers the purpose and process of a literature review in the context of writing a research article, thesis, or dissertation. How to undertake a literature search: a step-by-step guide (Watson, 2020, BJN, 29(7): 431-435) is a good overall guide.

Types of literature reviews:

  • Literature Reviews
    • summaries of relevant literature
    • generally descriptive
    • not necessarily any analysis of the literature
    • methodology of the literature search is not always given
    • good for gaining background knowledge of a subject without having to do all the searches and reading yourself.
    • good source for starting reading lists and literature searches.
    • not generally considered a good source for clinical decision making
    • Note: In the past, reviews were not differentiated by type, so older reviews may use systematic or integrative methodology but not be specified as such.
    • Reading: Ten simple rules for writing a literature review (Pautasso, M. (2013). PLoS Comput Biol9(7), e1003149.)
    • Reading: Conducting Your Literature Review (Hempel, S. (2020). Washington, DC : American Psychological Association.)
  • Systematic Reviews
    • specifically includes experimental research studies
    • search and selection methodology is very precise and should be explicitly described well enough for another researcher to duplicate the searches and the study selection. See Table 1 of this article (Hoojimans et al. (2012). PLoS One, 7(11): e48811) for a good example of describing the search methods.
    • the purpose of a systematic review is to reach some conclusion regarding the topic: for example, the selection of high quality studies to be used in a meta-analysis*, the gaps in current research, or the best clinical evidence for determining evidence based practice.
    • the first stage of meta-analysis studies--all meta-analyses should include a systematic review, but all systematic reviews do not lead to a meta-analysis
    • usually done in a group to reduce researcher bias in the selection and evaluation of individual studies
    • Reading: A practical guide to conducting a systematic review (Forward & Hobby, 2002, Nursing Times, 98(2), 36) provides some basic advice for conducting a systematic review.
      Reading:  PRISMA-S: an extension to the PRISMA Statement for Reporting Literature Searches in Systematic Reviews. (Rethlefsen, M.L., et al. (2021). Syst Rev 1039.
  • Integrative Reviews 
    • commonly include non-experimental research, such as case studies, observational studies, and meta-analyses, but may also include practice applications, theory, and guidelines
    • should have clear and precise search and selection criteria
    • search and selection methodology should be described well enough for another researcher to duplicate the process
    • selected literature should be analyzed, not just summarized--articles and groups of articles compared, themes identified, gaps noted, etc.
    • Reading: The integrative review: updated methodology (Whittemore & Knaf, 2005, Journal of Advanced Nursing, 52(5), 546–553) provides an overview of the purpose and practice of integrative reviews.
      Reading: A Step-by-Step Guide to Conducting an Integrative Review | SpringerLink (SCSU ebook, login required.)
  • Scoping or Mapping Reviews


*A meta-analysis study is one where carefully selected data from previous studies is combined to bring more rigor to a statistical or other analysis. No additional experimental work is done (usually). A systematic review is necessary to be sure that the data from the selected studies is comparable and combinable.

Additional reading:

Finding Reviews

Grey Literature

"Grey Literature" is the non journal article literature that isn't usually included in library database searches. It can include things like agency reports, grant proposals and reports, whitepapers, theses/dissertations, etc. It is SOMETIMES appropriate to include grey literature in a review.