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Nursing 360: Undertaking a Literature Review

What is a Literature Review?

  • A literature review is both a summary and analysis of the relevant, available research and non research on a specific topic. Knowledge gaps, or gaps in the research could not be identified without a review!
  • A review summarizes and critiques a body of literature and draws conclusions about the topic, it is not an annotated bibliography and it does not present new data but the findings from previous research.
  • Provides the reader with comprehensive background for understanding current knowledge of a topic.
  • Inspires research ideas by identifying gaps or inconsistencies and helps avoid research duplication.
  • Provides a constructive analysis.

Steps in Writing a Review

  • Choose a topic and narrow the focus
  • Topic example: pressure ulcers, what aspects are significant? Prevention? Management?
  • Set inclusion and exclusion criteria – date range, language, type of study, primary/secondary literature
  • Select and access the literature – Selkirk College Library/UVIC Library
  • Resources – Discovery, Nursing Databases, Google Scholar
  • Organize the literature – Excel, Zotero?    
  • Evaluate the quality of the literature included in the review
  • Analyze, synthesize, and disseminate findings


Evaluation Criteria to Help Synthesize Literature

The following table outlines the elements to look at and record when evaluating the literature you have retrieved. You can use a simple Excel spreadsheet to keep track of your evaluations or you can use Zotero.

Elements from: Cronin, C., Ryan F. & Coughlin, M. (2008) Undertaking a literature review: a step by step approach. British Journal of Nursing, 17(1) 38-43.


You may want to use Excel to organize your literature. The Excel file is an example of one way you can organize the criteria you have identified in order to assist with synthesis.

Synthesis Example

The following excerpt from the article Assessment and management of acute pain in older people: barriers and facilitators to nursing practice in Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing, demonstrates a synthesis of the literature by the author.

A  culture of  reluctance to  give  strong analgesia to older patients was identified; this may be reflective of  societal fears and attitudes around opioids (Rupp and Delaney 2004). Whilst older patients are more susceptible to the adverse effects of opioids, the chances of addiction and misuse are usually low (American Geriatric Society 2009). Hence such misconceptions and knowledge deficits held by some health professionals need to be addressed for optimal pain relief to be achieved (Horgas et al 2012).

Findings indicate that nurses may be limited by inadequate prescriptions for analgesia (Coker et al 2010; Brown and McCormack 2006). However Herr and Titler (2009) found that even when opioids were charted, they were often not administered by nurses. More effective collaboration between nursing and medical staff is recommended to ensure timely prescriptions as well as the safe and effective utilisation of analgesia (Herr and Titler 2009).

High nurse workloads, time pressures, staffing issues, distractions and interruptions can all  impact upon the nurse’s ability to manage pain (Campbell 2013). A potential problem with this is that nurses may be more regimented in their approach and assess patients in a routine manner (Stein-Parbury 2013). Both organisations and individual nurses should promote individualised care rather than ritualistic practice; however when time is short, this can be difficult to achieve (Campbell 2013).

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Ken Laing
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