Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Nursing Research

Literature Reviews

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 comprehensiveness, types of study included, and purpose. Narrative literature reviewssystematic reviews, and integrative reviews are some of the most common.  

Helpful guides:

How to undertake a literature search: a step-by-step guide (Watson, 2020, BJN, 29(7): 431-435) 

Writing the Literature Review : A Practical Guide by Sara Efrat Efron and Ruth Ravid

Writing Literature Reviews guide from RSU Libraries


Types of Literature Reviews

  • Traditional (Narrative) 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
    • Ten simple rules for writing a literature review (Pautasso, M. (2013). PLoS Comput Biol9(7), e1003149.)
  • Systematic Reviews
    • specifically include 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
    •  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.
  • 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.
    • 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.



CINAHL Advanced Search 

Use the Publication Type menu. 

-- Choose Review and/or Systematic Review, from the menu. (Select more than one by holding down CTRL while you click)

Elsevier ScienceDirect 

-- Use the Advanced Search function.

-- Limit by article type including Review and Research articles 

-- Limit by publication date or date range (e.g. 2017 or 2015-2020)

-- Can also limit by Subject Area (e.g. Nursing and Health Professions)


-- Limit to Free Full-Text

-- Limit to article type including Review, Systematic Review, Meta-Analysis, Randomized Controlled Trial and others

-- Limit by Date or Date Range

--Has Cite and Permalink features