Literature reviews are a necessary step in a research process and often required when writing your research proposal. They involve gathering, analyzing, and evaluating existing knowledge about a topic in order to find gaps in the literature where future studies will be needed.
Ideally, once you have completed your literature review, you will be able to identify how your research project can build upon and extend existing knowledge in your area of study.
Generally, for my undergraduate research students, I recommend a narrative review, where themes can be generated in order for the students to develop sufficient understanding of the topic so they can build upon the themes using unique methods or novel research questions.
For more advanced students and scholars, literature reviews like systematic and meta-analyses may be more fitting, especially if the review is not to identify potential areas of research but to present practical and clinical recommendations based directly upon a reading of the literature.
Literature Review Examples
For the following types of literature review, I present an explanation and overview of the type, followed by links to some real-life literature reviews on the topics.
1. Narrative Review Examples
Also known as a traditional literature review, the narrative review provides a broad overview of the studies done on a particular topic.
It often includes both qualitative and quantitative studies and may cover a wide range of years.
The narrative review’s purpose is to identify commonalities, gaps, and contradictions in the literature.
I recommend to my students that they should gather their studies together, take notes on each study, then try to group them by themes that form the basis for the review (see my step-by-step instructions at the end of the article).
Title: Communication in healthcare: a narrative review of the literature and practical recommendations
Citation: Vermeir, P., Vandijck, D., Degroote, S., Peleman, R., Verhaeghe, R., Mortier, E., … & Vogelaers, D. (2015). Communication in healthcare: a narrative review of the literature and practical recommendations. International journal of clinical practice, 69(11), 1257-1267.
Overview: This narrative review analyzed themes emerging from 69 articles about communication in healthcare contexts. Five key themes were found in the literature: poor communication can lead to various negative outcomes, discontinuity of care, compromise of patient safety, patient dissatisfaction, and inefficient use of resources. After presenting the key themes, the authors recommend that practitioners need to approach healthcare communication in a more structured way, such as by ensuring there is a clear understanding of who is in charge of ensuring effective communication in clinical settings.
- Burnout in United States Healthcare Professionals: A Narrative Review (Reith, 2018) – read here
- Examining the Presence, Consequences, and Reduction of Implicit Bias in Health Care: A Narrative Review (Zestcott, Blair & Stone, 2016) – read here
- A Narrative Review of School-Based Physical Activity for Enhancing Cognition and Learning (Mavilidi et al., 2018) – read here
- A narrative review on burnout experienced by medical students and residents (Dyrbye & Shanafelt, 2015) – read here
2. Systematic Review Examples
This type of literature review is more structured and rigorous than a narrative review. It involves a detailed and comprehensive plan and search strategy derived from a set of specified research questions.
The key way you’d know a systematic review compared to a narrative review is in the methodology: the systematic review will likely have a very clear criteria for how the studies were collected, and clear explanations of exclusion/inclusion criteria.
The goal is to gather the maximum amount of valid literature on the topic, filter out invalid or low-quality reviews, and minimize bias. Ideally, this will provide more reliable findings, leading to higher-quality conclusions and recommendations for further research.
You may note from the examples below that the ‘method’ sections in systematic reviews tend to be much more explicit, often noting rigid inclusion/exclusion criteria and exact keywords used in searches.
Title: The importance of food naturalness for consumers: Results of a systematic review
Citation: Roman, S., Sánchez-Siles, L. M., & Siegrist, M. (2017). The importance of food naturalness for consumers: Results of a systematic review. Trends in food science & technology, 67, 44-57.
Overview: This systematic review included 72 studies of food naturalness to explore trends in the literature about its importance for consumers. Keywords used in the data search included: food, naturalness, natural content, and natural ingredients. Studies were included if they examined consumers’ preference for food naturalness and contained empirical data. The authors found that the literature lacks clarity about how naturalness is defined and measured, but also found that food consumption is significantly influenced by perceived naturalness of goods.
- A systematic review of research on online teaching and learning from 2009 to 2018 (Martin, Sun & Westine, 2020) – read here
- Where Is Current Research on Blockchain Technology? (Yli-Huumo et al., 2016) – read here
- Universities—industry collaboration: A systematic review (Ankrah & Al-Tabbaa, 2015) – read here
- Internet of Things Applications: A Systematic Review (Asghari, Rahmani & Javadi, 2019) – read here
This is a type of systematic review that uses statistical methods to combine and summarize the results of several studies.
Due to its robust methodology, a meta-analysis is often considered the ‘gold standard’ of secondary research, as it provides a more precise estimate of a treatment effect than any individual study contributing to the pooled analysis.
Furthermore, by aggregating data from a range of studies, a meta-analysis can identify patterns, disagreements, or other interesting relationships that may have been hidden in individual studies.
This helps to enhance the generalizability of findings, making the conclusions drawn from a meta-analysis particularly powerful and informative for policy and practice.
Title: Cholesterol and Alzheimer’s Disease Risk: A Meta-Meta-Analysis
Citation: Sáiz-Vazquez, O., Puente-Martínez, A., Ubillos-Landa, S., Pacheco-Bonrostro, J., & Santabárbara, J. (2020). Cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease risk: a meta-meta-analysis. Brain sciences, 10(6), 386.
Overview: This study examines the relationship between cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Researchers conducted a systematic search of meta-analyses and reviewed several databases, collecting 100 primary studies and five meta-analyses to analyze the connection between cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease. They find that the literature compellingly demonstrates that low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) levels significantly influence the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
- The power of feedback revisited: A meta-analysis of educational feedback research (Wisniewski, Zierer & Hattie, 2020) – read here
- How Much Does Education Improve Intelligence? A Meta-Analysis (Ritchie & Tucker-Drob, 2018) – read here
- A meta-analysis of factors related to recycling (Geiger et al., 2019) – read here
- Stress management interventions for police officers and recruits (Patterson, Chung & Swan, 2014) – read here
Other Types of Reviews
- Scoping Review: This type of review is used to map the key concepts underpinning a research area and the main sources and types of evidence available. It can be undertaken as stand-alone projects in their own right, or as a precursor to a systematic review.
- Rapid Review: This type of review accelerates the systematic review process in order to produce information in a timely manner. This is achieved by simplifying or omitting stages of the systematic review process.
- Integrative Review: This review method is more inclusive than others, allowing for the simultaneous inclusion of experimental and non-experimental research. The goal is to more comprehensively understand a particular phenomenon.
- Critical Review: This is similar to a narrative review but requires a robust understanding of both the subject and the existing literature. In a critical review, the reviewer not only summarizes the existing literature, but also evaluates its strengths and weaknesses. This is common in the social sciences and humanities.
- State-of-the-Art Review: This considers the current level of advancement in a field or topic and makes recommendations for future research directions. This type of review is common in technological and scientific fields but can be applied to any discipline.
How to Write a Narrative Review (Tips for Undergrad Students)
Most undergraduate students conducting a capstone research project will be writing narrative reviews. Below is a five-step process for conducting a simple review of the literature for your project.
- Search for Relevant Literature: Use scholarly databases related to your field of study, provided by your university library, along with appropriate search terms to identify key scholarly articles that have been published on your topic.
- Evaluate and Select Sources: Filter the source list by selecting studies that are directly relevance and of sufficient quality, considering factors like credibility, objectivity, accuracy, and validity.
- Analyze and Synthesize: Review each source and summarize the main arguments in one paragraph (or more, for postgrad). Keep these summaries in a table.
- Identify Themes: With all studies summarized, group studies that share common themes, such as studies that have similar findings or methodologies.
- Write the Review: Write your review based upon the themes or subtopics you have identified. Give a thorough overview of each theme, integrating source data, and conclude with a summary of the current state of knowledge then suggestions for future research based upon your evaluation of what is lacking in the literature.
Literature reviews don’t have to be as scary as they seem. Yes, they are difficult and require a strong degree of comprehension of academic studies. But it can be feasibly done through following a structured approach to data collection and analysis. With my undergraduate research students (who tend to conduct small-scale qualitative studies), I encourage them to conduct a narrative literature review whereby they can identify key themes in the literature. Within each theme, students can critique key studies and their strengths and limitations, in order to get a lay of the land and come to a point where they can identify ways to contribute new insights to the existing academic conversation on their topic.
Ankrah, S., & Omar, A. T. (2015). Universities–industry collaboration: A systematic review. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 31(3), 387-408.
Asghari, P., Rahmani, A. M., & Javadi, H. H. S. (2019). Internet of Things applications: A systematic review. Computer Networks, 148, 241-261.
Dyrbye, L., & Shanafelt, T. (2016). A narrative review on burnout experienced by medical students and residents. Medical education, 50(1), 132-149.
Geiger, J. L., Steg, L., Van Der Werff, E., & Ünal, A. B. (2019). A meta-analysis of factors related to recycling. Journal of environmental psychology, 64, 78-97.
Martin, F., Sun, T., & Westine, C. D. (2020). A systematic review of research on online teaching and learning from 2009 to 2018. Computers & education, 159, 104009.
Mavilidi, M. F., Ruiter, M., Schmidt, M., Okely, A. D., Loyens, S., Chandler, P., & Paas, F. (2018). A narrative review of school-based physical activity for enhancing cognition and learning: The importance of relevancy and integration. Frontiers in psychology, 2079.
Patterson, G. T., Chung, I. W., & Swan, P. W. (2014). Stress management interventions for police officers and recruits: A meta-analysis. Journal of experimental criminology, 10, 487-513.
Reith, T. P. (2018). Burnout in United States healthcare professionals: a narrative review. Cureus, 10(12).
Ritchie, S. J., & Tucker-Drob, E. M. (2018). How much does education improve intelligence? A meta-analysis. Psychological science, 29(8), 1358-1369.
Roman, S., Sánchez-Siles, L. M., & Siegrist, M. (2017). The importance of food naturalness for consumers: Results of a systematic review. Trends in food science & technology, 67, 44-57.
Sáiz-Vazquez, O., Puente-Martínez, A., Ubillos-Landa, S., Pacheco-Bonrostro, J., & Santabárbara, J. (2020). Cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease risk: a meta-meta-analysis. Brain sciences, 10(6), 386.
Vermeir, P., Vandijck, D., Degroote, S., Peleman, R., Verhaeghe, R., Mortier, E., … & Vogelaers, D. (2015). Communication in healthcare: a narrative review of the literature and practical recommendations. International journal of clinical practice, 69(11), 1257-1267.
Wisniewski, B., Zierer, K., & Hattie, J. (2020). The power of feedback revisited: A meta-analysis of educational feedback research. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 3087.
Yli-Huumo, J., Ko, D., Choi, S., Park, S., & Smolander, K. (2016). Where is current research on blockchain technology?—a systematic review. PloS one, 11(10), e0163477.
Zestcott, C. A., Blair, I. V., & Stone, J. (2016). Examining the presence, consequences, and reduction of implicit bias in health care: a narrative review. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 19(4), 528-542
Chris Drew (PhD)
Website | + posts
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.
- The Impact of Social Media on Mental Health.
- The Role of Gender in Literary Works.
- The Influence of Technology on Education.
- The Significance of Race in Literature.
- The Impact of Climate Change on Literature.
- The Influence of Religion on Literature.
- The Impact of Globalization on Literature.
|REVIEW TYPE||TIMEFRAME||NO. OF REVIEWERS|
|Traditional (narrative) literature review||1 - 4 weeks||1|
|Rapid review||2 - 6 months||2|
|Scoping review||1 - 4 weeks||1 - 2|
|Systematic review||8 months to 2 years||2 or more|
In the absence of specific instructions about the length of a literature review, a general rule of thumb is that it should be proportionate to the length of your entire paper. For example, if your total paper is expected to be 15 pages long, 2-3 pages will likely suffice for the literature review.What are the 10 sources of literature review? ›
|Primary sources:||Secondary sources:|
|Transcripts||Dictionaries and encyclopaedias|
Peer reviewed journal articles. Edited academic books. Articles in professional journals. Statistical data from government websites.What are examples of literature? ›
Common literary examples of nonfiction include, the essay; travel literature and nature writing; biography, autobiography and memoir; journalism; letters; journals; history, philosophy, economics; scientific, and technical writings.What is literature review sample? ›
A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question. It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation, or research paper, in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.What are the 3 parts of literature review? ›
Just like most academic papers, literature reviews also must contain at least three basic elements: an introduction or background information section; the body of the review containing the discussion of sources; and, finally, a conclusion and/or recommendations section to end the paper.What are the 4 types of literature review? ›
Over the years, numerous types of literature reviews have emerged, but the four main types are traditional or narrative, systematic, meta-analysis and meta-synthesis.What are the 4 essential elements of a literature review? ›
- a description of the publication;
- a summary of the publication's main points;
- a discussion of gaps in research;
- an evaluation of the publication's contribution to the topic.
It helps to deconstruct the literature review into a four-part process, including: 1) Developing a Topic; 2) Searching the Literature; 3) Narrowing the Scope; and 4) Synthesizing Prior Research.How to start a literature review? ›
One common way to approach a literature review is to start out broad and then become more specific. Think of it as an inverted triangle: First briefly explain the broad issues related to your investigation; you don't need to write much about this, just demonstrate that you are aware of the breadth of your subject.How do you structure a literature review? ›
- historical development (chronological)
- pros and cons.
- methodological issues.
As a very rough rule of thumb – you may choose 8-10 significant pieces (books and/or articles) for an 8,000 word dissertation, up to 20 major pieces of work for 12-15,000 words, and so on.What are the 4 types of literature? ›
In the landscape of literature, there are four major genres: poetry, drama, fiction, and creative nonfiction.What are the 3 types of literature? ›
The three major genres are Prose, Drama, and Poetry.What are 4 literary sources? ›
Examples of literary sources include journals, letters, books, reports, documents, and other written works.What is a reliable source for literature review? ›
Scopus and Web of Science are good databases to start with for any research topic and literature review. Scopus is a large multidisciplinary database covering published material in the humanities and sciences. It also provides citation analysis of authors and subject areas.How do you list sources in a literature review? ›
Organizing Your Literature Review
This means you cite the author's name and year of publication within the text with an in-text citation. You also include the page number, if appropriate. You then include the full information of that source in a reference list at the end of your paper.
Peer-reviewed journal articles are considered the best source of information for literature reviews, though other sources are often used.
Poetry, fiction, nonfiction, drama, and prose are the five main genres of literature.What are 5 literary texts examples? ›
- contributions to collective works.
- compilations of data or other literary subject matter.
- Narrow your topic and select papers accordingly.
- Search for literature.
- Read the selected articles thoroughly and evaluate them.
- Organize the selected papers by looking for patterns and by developing subtopics.
- Develop a thesis or purpose statement.
- Write the paper.
- Review your work.
The length of a literature review varies depending on its purpose and audience. In a thesis or dissertation, the review is usually a full chapter (at least 20 pages), but for an assignment it may only be a few pages. There are several ways to organize and structure a literature review.What is an example of a literature review thesis? ›
For literature reviews, the thesis statement is the summation of the state of the literature: Example: “Research suggests that Latino youth face multiple threats to their well-being, including substance abuse, poor school functioning, and early adult role-taking.How many words should a literature review be? ›
A project that involves an element of primary research with an 8,000 to 10,000 word limit would typically contain the following elements: Introduction (800 to 1,000 words) Literature review (1,200 to 2,000 words) Methodology (1,500 to 2,000 words)What are the six stages of literature review? ›
Preface -- Introduction -- Step 1 : Select a topic -- Step 2 : Search the literature -- Step 3 : Develop the argument -- Step 4 : Survey the literature -- Step 5 : Critique the literature -- Step 6 : Write the review.What are at least 3 purposes of literature review? ›
The purpose of a literature review is to:
Provide foundation of knowledge on topic. Identify areas of prior scholarship to prevent duplication and give credit to other researchers. Identify inconstancies: gaps in research, conflicts in previous studies, open questions left from other research.
Systematic literature review can be divided into two categories: meta-analysis and meta-synthesis.What are the 9 element of literature? ›
To recap, the 9 elements of a story are main theme, characters, setting, tension, climax, resolution, plot, purpose and chronology.
When you analyze a literary text, you will deal with basic elements of literature, like plot, theme, character, point of view, and setting.What are the five 5 criteria to evaluate the literature review? ›
Accuracy, authority, objectivity, currency and coverage are the five basic criteria for evaluating information from any sources.What are the 6 parts of literature? ›
What Are The 6 Elements of Fiction? Most fiction writers and academics agree that the six elements of fiction are theme, plot, setting, characters, point of view and style.What comes first in a literature review? ›
The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review. If you are writing the literature review as part of your dissertation or thesis, reiterate your central problem or research question and give a brief summary of the scholarly context.What is the first sentence of a literature review? ›
Start by writing your thesis statement. This is an important introductory sentence that will tell your reader what the topic is and the overall perspective or argument you will be presenting. Like essays, a literature review must have an introduction, a body and a conclusion.How do you choose a research topic for a literature review? ›
- Choose a strong topic & one that interests you.
- Try a preliminary search on your topic.
- Refine your topic.
- Write it out as a statement.
evil is perhaps the most well-known literary theme. Think of just about any novel or movie—the Harry Potter series, Star Wars—and you'll likely find good vs. evil as the theme. Broadly, this theme is about how good and evil forces are, and always have been, at play in our world.What is a good thesis for a literature review? ›
Your thesis statement should contain the overarching focus for your literature review as well as the main supporting points you found in the literature. See back for example. Use an introduction, body paragraph(s), and a conclusion. Include summary, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation (if appropriate).What are common issues with literature reviews? ›
- Over-reliance on low-quality sources.
- A lack of landmark/seminal literature.
- A lack of current literature.
- Description instead of integration and synthesis.
- Irrelevant or unfocused content.
- Poor chapter structure and layout.
- Plagiarism and poor referencing.
- Brainstorm Some Research Topics. The first and probably the easiest step is to have a brainstorming session to see what topic is best for you. ...
- Select a Topic. ...
- Get Super Specific. ...
- Define Your Topic as a Question. ...
- Research Your Topic More / Create an Outline.
Choose a topic that can be reasonably addressed in the essay length that you are writing. If your topic is too broad, you will not be able to address it in a thorough or interesting manner. If your topic is too narrow, you may not have enough to write about and may have difficulty finding research resources.What are the 5 criteria for selecting the research topic? ›
The selection of a research problem is based on the key criteria of: (1) interest; (2) expertise; (3) data availability; (4) relevance and; (5) ethics.