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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Literature Reviews in Medicine and Health

Overview of types of literature reviews

Getting Started

  • What is it that you are looking for?
  • Do you need a few articles that provide an current or historical overview?
  • Do you need to do exhaustive research on a focused topic?
  • Are you wanted to see what others have done in a particluar topic area?

For in-depth literature searching:

It often helps to frame your research topic as a question; consider the who, what, when, where and how or how much.

Identify each major concept of your question. You can use these concepts to forumulate  your search strategy.

For each concept, consider the most specific terms or key words that you could use to describe that concept. Each of these strings then becomes a single search statement.

Basic Steps of a Literature Search

A literature review is a survey of current (you determine time frame) literature relating to a particular issue, problem, theory, etc. The review involves a comprehensive search of all of the known/findable scholarly literature related to the issue or topic. The written review provides a summary of this literature and can be a publication in its own right, or may be part of a larger academic research publication.

    Conduct preliminary search of the literature using broad terms related to your topic to help you:
    • identify similar research that has been published
    • broaden or refine the scope of the topic
    • bring to light new issues or questions related to the topic
    • provide models or frameworks to inform your research
    • identify experts or scholars in the field
    • provide background or context for your research
  • Refine your research question based on what you have learned

  • Conduct a comprehensive review of the literature using appropriate databases

    • Identify key concepts from the research question
    • For each concept, consider keywords or subject terms that best represent the concept
    • Craft search statements using those terms
    • Use OR to combine synonyms;
    • use AND for terms/concepts that must be represented in the results
  • Review/evaluate/analyze results

    • Glance at the title; if you think the publication may be relevant look at the abstract.
    • If the abstract indicates that the article will be important go to the full text and skim the introudction, methods and results. Structured abstract make this process easier.)
    • Save citations/full text for all potentially important literature.

Boolean Operators

AND narrows a search (more precise; fewer articles retrieved)

  • use to combine distinct concepts that must all be represented in resulting articles
    • condition/etiology AND risk factor
    • condition AND screening
    • condition AND population

OR broadens a search (more inclusive; more items retrieved)

  • use to combine synonyms or related terms for a single concept
    • condition/etiology  OR condition/prevention and control

Boolean Operators

Limits AND Filters

Most databases offer options that will refine or limit your search results.

Typical options include:

  • Date(s)
  • Language
  • Demographic Variables
    • Gender
    • Age
    • Race or Ethnicity
  • Publication or Study Type
  • Peer Review

Reviewing Results

Once you have a set of search results that are ready to browse/review, change the display format so that you see the abstracts and other details as you go. Most databases will have a way to do this.

PubMed - Change the "Display Options" Format  to Abstract  (top right of results page)

Scopus - Select "Show all abstracts" (top right of results page)

Check the box next to articles of interest and save them as you go.

PubMed - "Send to" Clipboard; the Clipboard will hold your selections for up to 8 hours.

Scopus - "Save to list"; you will be prompted to select a list or create a new one.

Use the best of your results - the "spot on" or  most relevant publications to grow your results by looking at "Cited by" literature and  "Related by" literature

PubMed - "Similar articles" and  "Cited by" link appear below the citation abstract.

Scopus -" Cited by" and "Related documents" appear on the right side of the article details.

Once you have finished searching, you can save, export or email selections as needed;