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Nursing: Literature Review

This library guide serves as the Martin and Gail Press Health Professions Division Library portal for the Ron and Kathy Assaf College of Nursing, directing faculty and students to the most helpful library resources and services for their academic program.

What is a Literature Review?

magnifying glassA literature review is NOT an academic research paper, an annotated bibliography, or a report on original research.
Unlike an academic research paper, the main focus of a literature review is not to develop a new argument. A literature review is an overview of a topic that shows the reader what research has been done on that subject. A literature review may build on an annotated bibliography, but it does more than just summarize each article; a literature review should compare and contrast the ideas each article contains, highlight interesting trends and inconsistencies within the research, and suggest future research that is needed on the topic.


  • A literature review is a summary and analysis of research published on a specific topic.
  • Literature reviews give a "snapshot" of individual articles and explain how each work has contributed to the field's understanding of the topic.
  • The purpose of a literature review is to trace the history of research on a particular subject, evaluate that research, and identify aspects of the topic that are in need of further study.


The information for this page is provided from Nursing Resources Research Guide of Jessup Library at Piedmont Virginia Community College with permission. 

Synthesizing the Literature

"Synthesizing the literature" means comparing themes, methods, findings, and inconsistencies within the articles you found, so that you can show how the articles relate to each other.

Synthesizing the information that you find in multiple articles can be difficult. It is important to analyze and organize the different perspectives, ideas, and methods that you encounter in your reading.

Using a synthesis matrix may help you keep track of the main ideas of each document. A synthesis matrix is a chart that you use to organize and compare your sources.

As you synthesize your research, look for these things:

  • The main purpose of each article and how it relates to your topic
  • Methods and findings discussed in the article
  • Similarities and differences among the authors
  • Inconsistencies or controversies within the research

synthesis matrix

Download a Sample Synthesis Matrix to use as you prepare to write your literature review:

Steps for Writing a Literature Review


  1. Choose a topic
  2. Review the guidelines provided for the assignment
  3. Search for relevant articles
  4. Read and evaluate the articles
  5. Synthesize the literature
  6. Summarize and discuss the articles in your writing
  7. Identify gaps in the current research on your topic

Format of a Literature Review

What does a literature review look like?

Not every literature review is the same; some literature reviews include very detailed methodologies, or sections defining terms or concepts relevant to the topic, or in-depth background history, or a paragraph discussing the challenges involved with reviewing the literature.

But most literature reviews will incorporate these key components:

lit review components


"Nurse turnover: A literature review" by Laureen J. Hayes et al. (2006) looks at research on the nurse turnover problem.

article excerpt

In this excerpt from the article, you can see how the writers compare the research of several authors on variables that influence nurse turnover rates. 


Hayes, L.J. et al. (2006). Nurse turnover: A literature review.  International Journal of Nursing Studies, 43(2006). pp. 237–263.


Also in this article, see Appendix A on page 247 for an example of a synthesis matrix used to analyze and compare the literature on nurse turnover issues.

Another Example with Single Article

Assessing Pain

Short, R. (2008). Assessing Pain...Pat Schofield. Nursing Older People, 20(4), 16-18 3p.