So you have been asked to complete a literature review, but what is a literature review? A literature review is a piece of research which aims to address a specific research question. It is a comprehensive summary and analysis of existing literature. The literature itself should be the main topic of discussion in your review. You want the results and themes to speak for themselves to avoid any bias.
The first step is to decide on a topic, here are some elements to consider when deciding upon a topic;
Once you have decided on a topic, it is a good practice to carry out an initial scoping search.
This requires you to do a quick search using LibrarySearch or Google Scholar to ensure that there is research on your topic. This is a preliminary step to your search to check what literature is available before deciding on your question.
The research question framework elements can also be used as keywords.
Here are some ideas on what makes a good keyword:
It is important to remember that databases will only ever search for the exact term you put in, so don't panic if you are not getting the results you hoped for. Think about alternative words that could be used for each keyword to build upon your search.
Build your search by thinking about about synonyms, specialist language, spellings, acronyms, abbreviations for each keyword that you have.
Inclusion & Exclusion Criteria
Your inclusion and exclusion criteria is also an important step in the literature review process. It allows you to be transparent in how you have ended up with your final articles.
Your inclusion/exclusion criteria is completely dependent on your chosen topic. Use your inclusion and exclusion criteria to select your articles, it is important not to cherry pick but to have a reason as to why you have selected that particular article.
Use the above template to plan your search strategy.
A reference management software will save you a lot of time especially when you are looking at lots of different articles.
We provide support for EndNote and Mendeley. The video below covers how to install and use Mendeley.
Consider using a research question framework. A framework will ensure that your question is specific and answerable.
There are different frameworks available depending on what type of research you are interested in.
Population - Who is the question focussed on? This could relate to staff, patients, an age group, an ethnicity etc.
Intervention - What is the question focussed on? This could be a certain type of medication, therapeutic technique etc.
Comparison/Context - This may be with our without the intervention or it may be concerned with the context for example where is the setting of your question? The hospital, ward, community etc?
Outcome - What do you hope to accomplish or improve etc.
Sample - as this is qualitative research sample is preferred over patient so that it is not generalised.
Phenomenon of Interest - reasons for behaviour, attitudes, beliefs and decisions.
Design - the form of research used.
Evaluation - the outcomes.
Research type -qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods.
All frameworks help you to be specific, but don't worry if your question doesn't fit exactly into a framework.
Once you have thought about your keywords and alternative keywords, it is time to think about how to combine them to form your search strategy. Boolean operators instruct the database how your terms should interact with one another.
Don't forget the more ORs you use the broader your search becomes, the more ANDs you use the narrower your search becomes.
One of the databases you will be using is EBSCOHost Research Databases. This is a platform which searches through multiple databases so allows for a comprehensive search. The short video below covers how to access and use EBSCO.
There are many critical appraisal tools or books you can use to assess the credibility of a research paper but these are a few we would recommend in the library. Your tutor may be able to advise you of others or some that are more suitable for your topic.
Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP)
CASP is a well-known critical appraisal website that has checklists for a wide variety of study types. You will see it frequently used by practitioners.
This is a brand-new, interactive resource that guides you through appraising a research paper, highlighting key areas you should consider when appraising evidence.
Greenhalgh, T. (2014) How to read a paper: The basics of evidence-based medicine. 5th edn. Chichester: Wiley
Greenhalgh’s book is a classic in critical appraisal. Whilst you don’t need to read this book cover-to-cover, it can be useful to refer to its specific chapters on how to assess different types of research papers. We have copies available in the library!
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