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Nursing Graduate Student Library Research Guide - RUL: Literature reviews

Information to support graduate students as they become proficient users of library resources and services

Preparing an annotated bibliography to begin

         An annotated bibliography includes article citations with paragraphs of varying length that summarize or evaluate the article's content.  Crafting the annotated bibliography will help you learn more about the subject you want to investigate.  it will also "encourage" you to read more critically.  When you're finished with your annotated bibliography, you can determine each article's contribution to the development of your ressearch question.

      Purdue's Online Writing Lab has a great section on writing annotated bibliographies with an example in APA style.  The section on quoting, paraphrasing and summarizing as well as the section on evaluating sources might be useful to you.

      Another helpful site from Diana Hacker has writing related information for students.  An example of an APA annotated bibliography is included.  Here's the link:


Literature review process

The process you follow to develop a literature review is very similar to conducting a research study.  You begin with a research problem, collect data, evaluate the data, analyze and interpret it and then prepare your work to share with others. 

Research question

  • Use concept mapping as an aid to development.
  • Make sure the question is important to you to maintain your interest.

Data collection

  • Gather appropriate articles through your searches of the Libraries’ journal article databases.    

Data evaluation

  • Note common themes emerging from your readings.
  • Identify relationships among the themes.
  • Write a brief paragraph describing the themes or categories.  You can also include the relationships among them and how they connect with your overall idea.

Analysis and interpretation

  • Continue to read to make sure all relevant authors, methodologies are included and all irrelevant items are removed. 
  • Write individual sections using annotations and point out relationships among articles.  Articles are the evidence to support your critique.  You will be more successful if you begin with the articles as the support rather than starting with the point you want to make and then drawing in the articles.


  • Merge individual sections into integrated document. 
  • Add introduction and conclusion sections.
  • Make sure all sections support your ideas and edit or revise accordingly. 

Your literature review

      A literature review identifies, summarizes and synthesizes the previously published work on your subject of interest.  It can be part of the introduction to a lab report, a research study, or an article devoted solely to the literature review.  If you began your writing with an annotated bibliography, it included a summary of each article.  In contrast, the literature review is critical; it provides an evaluation of each article and creates relationships among the articles  to focus on your research question.  Your synthesis is key in providing new interpretations of the studies, demonstrating gaps, or discussing flaws in the existing studies.  The literature review can be organized by categories or in the order of your research questions/hypotheses.

      The literature review is important to you as both a reader and as a researcher.  When you are the researcher, the literature review establishes your credibility to conduct the study.  It indicates your knowledge of the subject and how your study fits into the larger realms of your discipline.  When you are the reader, the literature review provides an overview of the subject of interest and describes current research.  This can be very helpful at the exploration stage when you are developing your ideas.  When you are near the end of your library research, the literature review in a published article might be helpful in determining how thorough you have been.  You will know if you have included all relevant studies.

       The Writing Lab at Purdue has a very helpful useful handout on writing literature reviews.  It includes two sets of questions to help you with revisions to your review.

Additional Resources

Addis, J. (2017, Jul 27, 2017). LibGuides: Writing a Literature Review: Home. Retrieved from

Cooper, H.  (2010). Research synthesis and meta-analysis.  4th ed.  (Applied Social Research Methods Series, v. 2)  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.  H62 .C5859 2010  earlier editions available also under titel Synthesizing research: a guide for literature reviews.

Coughlan, M., & Cronin, P. (2017). Doing a literature review in nursing, health and social care (2nd edition.). London: SAGE Publications Ltd.  RT81.5.C68 2017

Fink, A. (1998). Conducting research literature reviews: From paper to the Internet. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.  Q180.55.M4F56 1998

Hart, C. (1998). Doing a literature review: Releasing the social science research imagination. London: Sage Publications.  H62.H2566 1998

Hobbs, K. (2015, Dec 4, 2015). LibGuides: How to Write a Literature Review: What Is a Literature Review. Retrieved from, A. (1998). Conducting research literature reviews: From paper to the Internet. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Literature Reviews - The Writing Center. (2017). Retrieved from

Randolph, J. J. (2009). A guide to writing the dissertation literature review. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 14(13), 1-13.

Document your work

          As you work on your data collection (searching the Libraries’ databases and reading articles), documentation is vital.  By keeping your notes in one place, you can avoid anxiety and time investment in searching multiple sites where you might have put your notes.  The location you choose might be print such as a research notebook or digital.  Dropbox, Evernote, and Word or Excel have been used successfully by other students. 

          You might also consider creating an account in the database where you’re spending the most time with your searches.  This can be very helpful when you’re doing a lot of searches on related topics.  Most databases will give you the option of saving searches to your account.  Then you can rerun them or edit them if you choose.  The list of save searches will let you know where you’ve been.

          Making optimal use of the citation manager you’ve chosen can also help out.  These programs will not only store journal article citations in folders you’ve created but also permit you to add your personal notes and attach the fulltext article to the citation.  In the case of EndNote, you can annotate the fulltext article right within the citation manager and have your notes saved

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