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Conducting a Literature Review

Abstract

Most readers will decide whether your article is relevant based on a review of this section, so make it count!

A structured abstract is broken down into these sections:

  • Background or Objective
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Conclusions 

An unstructured abstract is a paragraph that provides a general overview of the paper. Include a condensed version of each of your paper's sections as applicable:

  • Background
  • Objectives
  • Data sources
  • Study eligibility criteria
  • Participants
  • Interventions
  • Study appraisal methods
  • Synthesis methods
  • Results Limitations
  • Conclusions
  • Implications

Image breaking down the differences between structure and unstructured abstracts

Components of a Lit Review

General components of a literature review include:

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • References

Introduction

Sometimes called the "Background," this section highlights why your review is important. 
Discuss the:

  • Problem
  • Incidence
  • Impact on lives
  • Standard management
  • Other related reviews
  • What your review adds to the literature

State your review's objective in light of all of the above information. This is where you include your research question.

Methods

This section covers how you went about conducting your review.

Results

This section covers how you synthesize your data.

Study Selection
This is where you may include a flow diagram showing:

  • Number of records screened
  • Number of full-text papers assessed for eligibility
  • Number included in the review
  • Reasons for exclusion

Study Characteristics
Depending on the study, you may include a brief summary or chart of the characteristics of each included study, including the sample size, study design or other pertinent information as it relates to your research question.

Discussion

This is where you will summarize the major findings from your review.

Summary of Evidence

This section is typically divided into headings and sub-headings of themes that you identify in the evidence. Within each sub-section, summarize the study results, aiming to compare and contrast studies rather than discuss each study individually. Also, discuss the strengths and weaknessesDid the evidence:

  • Favor a treatment?
  • Clearly show that one diagnostic test is better than another?
  • Indicate that there isn't enough evidence to support a decision?

Provide results of any other analysis discussed in the Methods section.

Limitations
Describe the limitations of your included studies and your own review. Address any questions readers might have about the validity of your results.

  • Problems with data
  • Bias
  • Quality and availability of data

Conclusions
Give a general interpretation of your results and state the implications:

  • Further study
  • Knowledge gap
  • Guidelines
  • Change to current practice
  • Comparison to existing literature reviews

Funding

Be clear about the role funding played in your review.

  • What is the funding source?
  • Did the funder also supply data?
  • Is there any other way funding played a part in the review?