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Physician Assistants: (PA/MPH) - Literature Review

What is a Literature Review?

What is a literature review?

A literature review is a comprehensive and up-to-date overview of published information on a subject area. Conducting a literature review demands a careful examination of a body of literature that has been published that helps answer your research question. Literature reviewed often includes scholarly articles, books, and reports.

A literature review attempts to answer the following:

  • What is known about the subject?
  • What is the chronology of knowledge about my subject?
  • Are there any gaps in the literature?
  • Is there a consensus/debate on issues?

Steps in a Literature Review : 

  1. Create a clear research question/statement
  2. Define the scope of the review 
  3. Search the literature 
  4. Track and organize references
  5. Evaluate, analyze and synthesize results of previous studies 
  6. Present your review

Remember: A literature review is NOT an annotated bibliography

1. Create a clear research question/statement

1. Create a clear research question

Once you have a clear question, it becomes easier to identify the data you need to answer that question!

2: Define the scope of the review

2: Define the scope of the review

Before you begin your search it is important to establish your eligibility criteria. A systematic search that attempts to identify all studies that would meet the eligibility criteria.  Include the following:

  • What is your inclusion criteria?
  • What is your exclusion criteria?

Aspects to consider when setting inclusion and exclusion criteria:

  • Article type (review article, commentary, original research, etc.)
  • Study population
  • Study design (observational, randomized controlled trial, single-case study, cohort study, etc.)
  • Region in which the study was conducted
  • Language in which article is written

Consider what factors make an article relevant to your research question. 

3. Search the Literature

3. Search the Literature

Use keywords and subject terms to locate literature on your topic of interest. As you read the titles and abstracts of articles, you may refine your search strategy. 

As you search, be sure to record the databases you search (you can find a list of recommended databases and additional resources on the Search page), as well as the terms you used to search, and the date(s) you conducted your search. 

4. Track and Organize References

4. Track and organize references

Keep track of your search and screening results with a reference management or systematic review tool:

5. Evaluate, analyze, and synthesize results of previous studies

5. Evaluate, analyze, and synthesize results of previous studies

Your research question will help you develop data extraction fields. Think about what information you need to answer your question. (Avoid discounting information that contradicts your research.)

6. Present Your Review

6. Present your review

Systematic Reviews

Systematic Reviews 

“A systematic review is a review of a clearly formulated question that uses systematic and explicit methods to identify, select, and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect and analyze data from the studies that are included in the review.”

Source: Moher, D., Liberati, A., Tetzlaff, J., & Altman, D. G. (2009). Preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses: the PRISMA statement. BMJ: British Medical Journal, (7716). 332. 

For a deep dive into the world of systematic reviews, see the Systematic Review Guide.

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