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What is the Purpose of a Literature Review?

What is the Purpose of a Literature Review?

4-minute read

  • 23rd October 2023

If you’re writing a research paper or dissertation , then you’ll most likely need to include a comprehensive literature review . In this post, we’ll review the purpose of literature reviews, why they are so significant, and the specific elements to include in one. Literature reviews can:

1. Provide a foundation for current research.

2. Define key concepts and theories.

3. Demonstrate critical evaluation.

4. Show how research and methodologies have evolved.

5. Identify gaps in existing research.

6. Support your argument.

Keep reading to enter the exciting world of literature reviews!

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a critical summary and evaluation of the existing research (e.g., academic journal articles and books) on a specific topic. It is typically included as a separate section or chapter of a research paper or dissertation, serving as a contextual framework for a study. Literature reviews can vary in length depending on the subject and nature of the study, with most being about equal length to other sections or chapters included in the paper. Essentially, the literature review highlights previous studies in the context of your research and summarizes your insights in a structured, organized format. Next, let’s look at the overall purpose of a literature review.

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Literature reviews are considered an integral part of research across most academic subjects and fields. The primary purpose of a literature review in your study is to:

Provide a Foundation for Current Research

Since the literature review provides a comprehensive evaluation of the existing research, it serves as a solid foundation for your current study. It’s a way to contextualize your work and show how your research fits into the broader landscape of your specific area of study.  

Define Key Concepts and Theories

The literature review highlights the central theories and concepts that have arisen from previous research on your chosen topic. It gives your readers a more thorough understanding of the background of your study and why your research is particularly significant .

Demonstrate Critical Evaluation 

A comprehensive literature review shows your ability to critically analyze and evaluate a broad range of source material. And since you’re considering and acknowledging the contribution of key scholars alongside your own, it establishes your own credibility and knowledge.

Show How Research and Methodologies Have Evolved

Another purpose of literature reviews is to provide a historical perspective and demonstrate how research and methodologies have changed over time, especially as data collection methods and technology have advanced. And studying past methodologies allows you, as the researcher, to understand what did and did not work and apply that knowledge to your own research.  

Identify Gaps in Existing Research

Besides discussing current research and methodologies, the literature review should also address areas that are lacking in the existing literature. This helps further demonstrate the relevance of your own research by explaining why your study is necessary to fill the gaps.

Support Your Argument

A good literature review should provide evidence that supports your research questions and hypothesis. For example, your study may show that your research supports existing theories or builds on them in some way. Referencing previous related studies shows your work is grounded in established research and will ultimately be a contribution to the field.  

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  • How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes . Revised on September 11, 2023.

What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .

There are five key steps to writing a literature review:

  • Search for relevant literature
  • Evaluate sources
  • Identify themes, debates, and gaps
  • Outline the structure
  • Write your literature review

A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.

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Table of contents

What is the purpose of a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1 – search for relevant literature, step 2 – evaluate and select sources, step 3 – identify themes, debates, and gaps, step 4 – outline your literature review’s structure, step 5 – write your literature review, free lecture slides, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions, introduction.

  • Quick Run-through
  • Step 1 & 2

When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:

  • Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and its scholarly context
  • Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
  • Position your work in relation to other researchers and theorists
  • Show how your research addresses a gap or contributes to a debate
  • Evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.

Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.

Literature review guide

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purpose of review of related literature and studies

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Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.

  • Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
  • Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
  • Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
  • Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)

You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.

Download Word doc Download Google doc

Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .

If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research problem and questions .

Make a list of keywords

Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.

  • Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
  • Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
  • Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth

Search for relevant sources

Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:

  • Your university’s library catalogue
  • Google Scholar
  • Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
  • Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
  • EconLit (economics)
  • Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)

You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.

Make sure to read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.

You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.

For each publication, ask yourself:

  • What question or problem is the author addressing?
  • What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
  • What are the key theories, models, and methods?
  • Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
  • What are the results and conclusions of the study?
  • How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?

Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.

You can use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.

Take notes and cite your sources

As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.

It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.

To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:

  • Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
  • Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
  • Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
  • Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
  • Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?

This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.

  • Most research has focused on young women.
  • There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
  • But there is still a lack of robust research on highly visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat—this is a gap that you could address in your own research.

There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).

Chronological

The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.

Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.

If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.

For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.

Methodological

If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:

  • Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources

Theoretical

A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.

You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.

Like any other academic text , your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.

The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.

Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.

As you write, you can follow these tips:

  • Summarize and synthesize: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers — add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transition words and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts

In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.

When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !

This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.

Scribbr slides are free to use, customize, and distribute for educational purposes.

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If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

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A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .

It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.

There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:

  • To familiarize yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
  • To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
  • To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
  • To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
  • To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic

Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.

The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .

A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other  academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .

An  annotated bibliography is a list of  source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a  paper .  

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McCombes, S. (2023, September 11). How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates. Scribbr. Retrieved February 19, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/dissertation/literature-review/

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  • UConn Library
  • Literature Review: The What, Why and How-to Guide
  • Introduction

Literature Review: The What, Why and How-to Guide — Introduction

  • Getting Started
  • How to Pick a Topic
  • Strategies to Find Sources
  • Evaluating Sources & Lit. Reviews
  • Tips for Writing Literature Reviews
  • Writing Literature Review: Useful Sites
  • Citation Resources
  • Other Academic Writings

What are Literature Reviews?

So, what is a literature review? "A literature review is an account of what has been published on a topic by accredited scholars and researchers. In writing the literature review, your purpose is to convey to your reader what knowledge and ideas have been established on a topic, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. As a piece of writing, the literature review must be defined by a guiding concept (e.g., your research objective, the problem or issue you are discussing, or your argumentative thesis). It is not just a descriptive list of the material available, or a set of summaries." Taylor, D.  The literature review: A few tips on conducting it . University of Toronto Health Sciences Writing Centre.

Goals of Literature Reviews

What are the goals of creating a Literature Review?  A literature could be written to accomplish different aims:

  • To develop a theory or evaluate an existing theory
  • To summarize the historical or existing state of a research topic
  • Identify a problem in a field of research 

Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1997). Writing narrative literature reviews .  Review of General Psychology , 1 (3), 311-320.

What kinds of sources require a Literature Review?

  • A research paper assigned in a course
  • A thesis or dissertation
  • A grant proposal
  • An article intended for publication in a journal

All these instances require you to collect what has been written about your research topic so that you can demonstrate how your own research sheds new light on the topic.

Types of Literature Reviews

What kinds of literature reviews are written?

Narrative review: The purpose of this type of review is to describe the current state of the research on a specific topic/research and to offer a critical analysis of the literature reviewed. Studies are grouped by research/theoretical categories, and themes and trends, strengths and weakness, and gaps are identified. The review ends with a conclusion section which summarizes the findings regarding the state of the research of the specific study, the gaps identify and if applicable, explains how the author's research will address gaps identify in the review and expand the knowledge on the topic reviewed.

  • Example : Predictors and Outcomes of U.S. Quality Maternity Leave: A Review and Conceptual Framework:  10.1177/08948453211037398  

Systematic review : "The authors of a systematic review use a specific procedure to search the research literature, select the studies to include in their review, and critically evaluate the studies they find." (p. 139). Nelson, L. K. (2013). Research in Communication Sciences and Disorders . Plural Publishing.

  • Example : The effect of leave policies on increasing fertility: a systematic review:  10.1057/s41599-022-01270-w

Meta-analysis : "Meta-analysis is a method of reviewing research findings in a quantitative fashion by transforming the data from individual studies into what is called an effect size and then pooling and analyzing this information. The basic goal in meta-analysis is to explain why different outcomes have occurred in different studies." (p. 197). Roberts, M. C., & Ilardi, S. S. (2003). Handbook of Research Methods in Clinical Psychology . Blackwell Publishing.

  • Example : Employment Instability and Fertility in Europe: A Meta-Analysis:  10.1215/00703370-9164737

Meta-synthesis : "Qualitative meta-synthesis is a type of qualitative study that uses as data the findings from other qualitative studies linked by the same or related topic." (p.312). Zimmer, L. (2006). Qualitative meta-synthesis: A question of dialoguing with texts .  Journal of Advanced Nursing , 53 (3), 311-318.

  • Example : Women’s perspectives on career successes and barriers: A qualitative meta-synthesis:  10.1177/05390184221113735

Literature Reviews in the Health Sciences

  • UConn Health subject guide on systematic reviews Explanation of the different review types used in health sciences literature as well as tools to help you find the right review type
  • << Previous: Getting Started
  • Next: How to Pick a Topic >>
  • Last Updated: Sep 21, 2022 2:16 PM
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Conducting a literature review: why do a literature review, why do a literature review.

  • How To Find "The Literature"
  • Found it -- Now What?

Besides the obvious reason for students -- because it is assigned! -- a literature review helps you explore the research that has come before you, to see how your research question has (or has not) already been addressed.

You identify:

  • core research in the field
  • experts in the subject area
  • methodology you may want to use (or avoid)
  • gaps in knowledge -- or where your research would fit in

It Also Helps You:

  • Publish and share your findings
  • Justify requests for grants and other funding
  • Identify best practices to inform practice
  • Set wider context for a program evaluation
  • Compile information to support community organizing

Great brief overview, from NCSU

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  • What is a literature review?
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  • Define your research question
  • Determine inclusion and exclusion criteria
  • Choose databases and search
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What is a Literature Review?

A literature or narrative review is a comprehensive review and analysis of the published literature on a specific topic or research question. The literature that is reviewed contains: books, articles, academic articles, conference proceedings, association papers, and dissertations. It contains the most pertinent studies and points to important past and current research and practices. It provides background and context, and shows how your research will contribute to the field. 

A literature review should: 

  • Provide a comprehensive and updated review of the literature;
  • Explain why this review has taken place;
  • Articulate a position or hypothesis;
  • Acknowledge and account for conflicting and corroborating points of view

From  S age Research Methods

Purpose of a Literature Review

A literature review can be written as an introduction to a study to:

  • Demonstrate how a study fills a gap in research
  • Compare a study with other research that's been done

Or it can be a separate work (a research article on its own) which:

  • Organizes or describes a topic
  • Describes variables within a particular issue/problem

Limitations of a Literature Review

Some of the limitations of a literature review are:

  • It's a snapshot in time. Unlike other reviews, this one has beginning, a middle and an end. There may be future developments that could make your work less relevant.
  • It may be too focused. Some niche studies may miss the bigger picture.
  • It can be difficult to be comprehensive. There is no way to make sure all the literature on a topic was considered.
  • It is easy to be biased if you stick to top tier journals. There may be other places where people are publishing exemplary research. Look to open access publications and conferences to reflect a more inclusive collection. Also, make sure to include opposing views (and not just supporting evidence).

Source: Grant, Maria J., and Andrew Booth. “A Typology of Reviews: An Analysis of 14 Review Types and Associated Methodologies.” Health Information & Libraries Journal, vol. 26, no. 2, June 2009, pp. 91–108. Wiley Online Library, doi:10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x.

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For help in other subject areas, please see the guide to library specialists by subject .

Periodically, UT Libraries runs a workshop covering the basics and library support for literature reviews. While we try to offer these once per academic year, we find providing the recording to be helpful to community members who have missed the session. Following is the most recent recording of the workshop, Conducting a Literature Review. To view the recording, a UT login is required.

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  • Last Updated: Oct 26, 2022 2:49 PM
  • URL: https://guides.lib.utexas.edu/literaturereviews

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A literature review surveys prior research published in books, scholarly articles, and any other sources relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory, and by so doing, provides a description, summary, and critical evaluation of these works in relation to the research problem being investigated. Literature reviews are designed to provide an overview of sources you have used in researching a particular topic and to demonstrate to your readers how your research fits within existing scholarship about the topic.

Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . Fourth edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2014.

Importance of a Good Literature Review

A literature review may consist of simply a summary of key sources, but in the social sciences, a literature review usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis, often within specific conceptual categories . A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information in a way that informs how you are planning to investigate a research problem. The analytical features of a literature review might:

  • Give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations,
  • Trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates,
  • Depending on the situation, evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant research, or
  • Usually in the conclusion of a literature review, identify where gaps exist in how a problem has been researched to date.

Given this, the purpose of a literature review is to:

  • Place each work in the context of its contribution to understanding the research problem being studied.
  • Describe the relationship of each work to the others under consideration.
  • Identify new ways to interpret prior research.
  • Reveal any gaps that exist in the literature.
  • Resolve conflicts amongst seemingly contradictory previous studies.
  • Identify areas of prior scholarship to prevent duplication of effort.
  • Point the way in fulfilling a need for additional research.
  • Locate your own research within the context of existing literature [very important].

Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Jesson, Jill. Doing Your Literature Review: Traditional and Systematic Techniques . Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2011; Knopf, Jeffrey W. "Doing a Literature Review." PS: Political Science and Politics 39 (January 2006): 127-132; Ridley, Diana. The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students . 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2012.

Types of Literature Reviews

It is important to think of knowledge in a given field as consisting of three layers. First, there are the primary studies that researchers conduct and publish. Second are the reviews of those studies that summarize and offer new interpretations built from and often extending beyond the primary studies. Third, there are the perceptions, conclusions, opinion, and interpretations that are shared informally among scholars that become part of the body of epistemological traditions within the field.

In composing a literature review, it is important to note that it is often this third layer of knowledge that is cited as "true" even though it often has only a loose relationship to the primary studies and secondary literature reviews. Given this, while literature reviews are designed to provide an overview and synthesis of pertinent sources you have explored, there are a number of approaches you could adopt depending upon the type of analysis underpinning your study.

Argumentative Review This form examines literature selectively in order to support or refute an argument, deeply embedded assumption, or philosophical problem already established in the literature. The purpose is to develop a body of literature that establishes a contrarian viewpoint. Given the value-laden nature of some social science research [e.g., educational reform; immigration control], argumentative approaches to analyzing the literature can be a legitimate and important form of discourse. However, note that they can also introduce problems of bias when they are used to make summary claims of the sort found in systematic reviews [see below].

Integrative Review Considered a form of research that reviews, critiques, and synthesizes representative literature on a topic in an integrated way such that new frameworks and perspectives on the topic are generated. The body of literature includes all studies that address related or identical hypotheses or research problems. A well-done integrative review meets the same standards as primary research in regard to clarity, rigor, and replication. This is the most common form of review in the social sciences.

Historical Review Few things rest in isolation from historical precedent. Historical literature reviews focus on examining research throughout a period of time, often starting with the first time an issue, concept, theory, phenomena emerged in the literature, then tracing its evolution within the scholarship of a discipline. The purpose is to place research in a historical context to show familiarity with state-of-the-art developments and to identify the likely directions for future research.

Methodological Review A review does not always focus on what someone said [findings], but how they came about saying what they say [method of analysis]. Reviewing methods of analysis provides a framework of understanding at different levels [i.e. those of theory, substantive fields, research approaches, and data collection and analysis techniques], how researchers draw upon a wide variety of knowledge ranging from the conceptual level to practical documents for use in fieldwork in the areas of ontological and epistemological consideration, quantitative and qualitative integration, sampling, interviewing, data collection, and data analysis. This approach helps highlight ethical issues which you should be aware of and consider as you go through your own study.

Systematic Review This form consists of an overview of existing evidence pertinent to a clearly formulated research question, which uses pre-specified and standardized methods to identify and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect, report, and analyze data from the studies that are included in the review. The goal is to deliberately document, critically evaluate, and summarize scientifically all of the research about a clearly defined research problem . Typically it focuses on a very specific empirical question, often posed in a cause-and-effect form, such as "To what extent does A contribute to B?" This type of literature review is primarily applied to examining prior research studies in clinical medicine and allied health fields, but it is increasingly being used in the social sciences.

Theoretical Review The purpose of this form is to examine the corpus of theory that has accumulated in regard to an issue, concept, theory, phenomena. The theoretical literature review helps to establish what theories already exist, the relationships between them, to what degree the existing theories have been investigated, and to develop new hypotheses to be tested. Often this form is used to help establish a lack of appropriate theories or reveal that current theories are inadequate for explaining new or emerging research problems. The unit of analysis can focus on a theoretical concept or a whole theory or framework.

NOTE : Most often the literature review will incorporate some combination of types. For example, a review that examines literature supporting or refuting an argument, assumption, or philosophical problem related to the research problem will also need to include writing supported by sources that establish the history of these arguments in the literature.

Baumeister, Roy F. and Mark R. Leary. "Writing Narrative Literature Reviews."  Review of General Psychology 1 (September 1997): 311-320; Mark R. Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Kennedy, Mary M. "Defining a Literature." Educational Researcher 36 (April 2007): 139-147; Petticrew, Mark and Helen Roberts. Systematic Reviews in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide . Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2006; Torracro, Richard. "Writing Integrative Literature Reviews: Guidelines and Examples." Human Resource Development Review 4 (September 2005): 356-367; Rocco, Tonette S. and Maria S. Plakhotnik. "Literature Reviews, Conceptual Frameworks, and Theoretical Frameworks: Terms, Functions, and Distinctions." Human Ressource Development Review 8 (March 2008): 120-130; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016.

Structure and Writing Style

I.  Thinking About Your Literature Review

The structure of a literature review should include the following in support of understanding the research problem :

  • An overview of the subject, issue, or theory under consideration, along with the objectives of the literature review,
  • Division of works under review into themes or categories [e.g. works that support a particular position, those against, and those offering alternative approaches entirely],
  • An explanation of how each work is similar to and how it varies from the others,
  • Conclusions as to which pieces are best considered in their argument, are most convincing of their opinions, and make the greatest contribution to the understanding and development of their area of research.

The critical evaluation of each work should consider :

  • Provenance -- what are the author's credentials? Are the author's arguments supported by evidence [e.g. primary historical material, case studies, narratives, statistics, recent scientific findings]?
  • Methodology -- were the techniques used to identify, gather, and analyze the data appropriate to addressing the research problem? Was the sample size appropriate? Were the results effectively interpreted and reported?
  • Objectivity -- is the author's perspective even-handed or prejudicial? Is contrary data considered or is certain pertinent information ignored to prove the author's point?
  • Persuasiveness -- which of the author's theses are most convincing or least convincing?
  • Validity -- are the author's arguments and conclusions convincing? Does the work ultimately contribute in any significant way to an understanding of the subject?

II.  Development of the Literature Review

Four Basic Stages of Writing 1.  Problem formulation -- which topic or field is being examined and what are its component issues? 2.  Literature search -- finding materials relevant to the subject being explored. 3.  Data evaluation -- determining which literature makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the topic. 4.  Analysis and interpretation -- discussing the findings and conclusions of pertinent literature.

Consider the following issues before writing the literature review: Clarify If your assignment is not specific about what form your literature review should take, seek clarification from your professor by asking these questions: 1.  Roughly how many sources would be appropriate to include? 2.  What types of sources should I review (books, journal articles, websites; scholarly versus popular sources)? 3.  Should I summarize, synthesize, or critique sources by discussing a common theme or issue? 4.  Should I evaluate the sources in any way beyond evaluating how they relate to understanding the research problem? 5.  Should I provide subheadings and other background information, such as definitions and/or a history? Find Models Use the exercise of reviewing the literature to examine how authors in your discipline or area of interest have composed their literature review sections. Read them to get a sense of the types of themes you might want to look for in your own research or to identify ways to organize your final review. The bibliography or reference section of sources you've already read, such as required readings in the course syllabus, are also excellent entry points into your own research. Narrow the Topic The narrower your topic, the easier it will be to limit the number of sources you need to read in order to obtain a good survey of relevant resources. Your professor will probably not expect you to read everything that's available about the topic, but you'll make the act of reviewing easier if you first limit scope of the research problem. A good strategy is to begin by searching the USC Libraries Catalog for recent books about the topic and review the table of contents for chapters that focuses on specific issues. You can also review the indexes of books to find references to specific issues that can serve as the focus of your research. For example, a book surveying the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may include a chapter on the role Egypt has played in mediating the conflict, or look in the index for the pages where Egypt is mentioned in the text. Consider Whether Your Sources are Current Some disciplines require that you use information that is as current as possible. This is particularly true in disciplines in medicine and the sciences where research conducted becomes obsolete very quickly as new discoveries are made. However, when writing a review in the social sciences, a survey of the history of the literature may be required. In other words, a complete understanding the research problem requires you to deliberately examine how knowledge and perspectives have changed over time. Sort through other current bibliographies or literature reviews in the field to get a sense of what your discipline expects. You can also use this method to explore what is considered by scholars to be a "hot topic" and what is not.

III.  Ways to Organize Your Literature Review

Chronology of Events If your review follows the chronological method, you could write about the materials according to when they were published. This approach should only be followed if a clear path of research building on previous research can be identified and that these trends follow a clear chronological order of development. For example, a literature review that focuses on continuing research about the emergence of German economic power after the fall of the Soviet Union. By Publication Order your sources by publication chronology, then, only if the order demonstrates a more important trend. For instance, you could order a review of literature on environmental studies of brown fields if the progression revealed, for example, a change in the soil collection practices of the researchers who wrote and/or conducted the studies. Thematic [“conceptual categories”] A thematic literature review is the most common approach to summarizing prior research in the social and behavioral sciences. Thematic reviews are organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time, although the progression of time may still be incorporated into a thematic review. For example, a review of the Internet’s impact on American presidential politics could focus on the development of online political satire. While the study focuses on one topic, the Internet’s impact on American presidential politics, it would still be organized chronologically reflecting technological developments in media. The difference in this example between a "chronological" and a "thematic" approach is what is emphasized the most: themes related to the role of the Internet in presidential politics. Note that more authentic thematic reviews tend to break away from chronological order. A review organized in this manner would shift between time periods within each section according to the point being made. Methodological A methodological approach focuses on the methods utilized by the researcher. For the Internet in American presidential politics project, one methodological approach would be to look at cultural differences between the portrayal of American presidents on American, British, and French websites. Or the review might focus on the fundraising impact of the Internet on a particular political party. A methodological scope will influence either the types of documents in the review or the way in which these documents are discussed.

Other Sections of Your Literature Review Once you've decided on the organizational method for your literature review, the sections you need to include in the paper should be easy to figure out because they arise from your organizational strategy. In other words, a chronological review would have subsections for each vital time period; a thematic review would have subtopics based upon factors that relate to the theme or issue. However, sometimes you may need to add additional sections that are necessary for your study, but do not fit in the organizational strategy of the body. What other sections you include in the body is up to you. However, only include what is necessary for the reader to locate your study within the larger scholarship about the research problem.

Here are examples of other sections, usually in the form of a single paragraph, you may need to include depending on the type of review you write:

  • Current Situation : Information necessary to understand the current topic or focus of the literature review.
  • Sources Used : Describes the methods and resources [e.g., databases] you used to identify the literature you reviewed.
  • History : The chronological progression of the field, the research literature, or an idea that is necessary to understand the literature review, if the body of the literature review is not already a chronology.
  • Selection Methods : Criteria you used to select (and perhaps exclude) sources in your literature review. For instance, you might explain that your review includes only peer-reviewed [i.e., scholarly] sources.
  • Standards : Description of the way in which you present your information.
  • Questions for Further Research : What questions about the field has the review sparked? How will you further your research as a result of the review?

IV.  Writing Your Literature Review

Once you've settled on how to organize your literature review, you're ready to write each section. When writing your review, keep in mind these issues.

Use Evidence A literature review section is, in this sense, just like any other academic research paper. Your interpretation of the available sources must be backed up with evidence [citations] that demonstrates that what you are saying is valid. Be Selective Select only the most important points in each source to highlight in the review. The type of information you choose to mention should relate directly to the research problem, whether it is thematic, methodological, or chronological. Related items that provide additional information, but that are not key to understanding the research problem, can be included in a list of further readings . Use Quotes Sparingly Some short quotes are appropriate if you want to emphasize a point, or if what an author stated cannot be easily paraphrased. Sometimes you may need to quote certain terminology that was coined by the author, is not common knowledge, or taken directly from the study. Do not use extensive quotes as a substitute for using your own words in reviewing the literature. Summarize and Synthesize Remember to summarize and synthesize your sources within each thematic paragraph as well as throughout the review. Recapitulate important features of a research study, but then synthesize it by rephrasing the study's significance and relating it to your own work and the work of others. Keep Your Own Voice While the literature review presents others' ideas, your voice [the writer's] should remain front and center. For example, weave references to other sources into what you are writing but maintain your own voice by starting and ending the paragraph with your own ideas and wording. Use Caution When Paraphrasing When paraphrasing a source that is not your own, be sure to represent the author's information or opinions accurately and in your own words. Even when paraphrasing an author’s work, you still must provide a citation to that work.

V.  Common Mistakes to Avoid

These are the most common mistakes made in reviewing social science research literature.

  • Sources in your literature review do not clearly relate to the research problem;
  • You do not take sufficient time to define and identify the most relevant sources to use in the literature review related to the research problem;
  • Relies exclusively on secondary analytical sources rather than including relevant primary research studies or data;
  • Uncritically accepts another researcher's findings and interpretations as valid, rather than examining critically all aspects of the research design and analysis;
  • Does not describe the search procedures that were used in identifying the literature to review;
  • Reports isolated statistical results rather than synthesizing them in chi-squared or meta-analytic methods; and,
  • Only includes research that validates assumptions and does not consider contrary findings and alternative interpretations found in the literature.

Cook, Kathleen E. and Elise Murowchick. “Do Literature Review Skills Transfer from One Course to Another?” Psychology Learning and Teaching 13 (March 2014): 3-11; Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Jesson, Jill. Doing Your Literature Review: Traditional and Systematic Techniques . London: SAGE, 2011; Literature Review Handout. Online Writing Center. Liberty University; Literature Reviews. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J. and Rebecca Frels. Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review: A Multimodal and Cultural Approach . Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2016; Ridley, Diana. The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students . 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2012; Randolph, Justus J. “A Guide to Writing the Dissertation Literature Review." Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation. vol. 14, June 2009; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016; Taylor, Dena. The Literature Review: A Few Tips On Conducting It. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Writing a Literature Review. Academic Skills Centre. University of Canberra.

Writing Tip

Break Out of Your Disciplinary Box!

Thinking interdisciplinarily about a research problem can be a rewarding exercise in applying new ideas, theories, or concepts to an old problem. For example, what might cultural anthropologists say about the continuing conflict in the Middle East? In what ways might geographers view the need for better distribution of social service agencies in large cities than how social workers might study the issue? You don’t want to substitute a thorough review of core research literature in your discipline for studies conducted in other fields of study. However, particularly in the social sciences, thinking about research problems from multiple vectors is a key strategy for finding new solutions to a problem or gaining a new perspective. Consult with a librarian about identifying research databases in other disciplines; almost every field of study has at least one comprehensive database devoted to indexing its research literature.

Frodeman, Robert. The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity . New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Another Writing Tip

Don't Just Review for Content!

While conducting a review of the literature, maximize the time you devote to writing this part of your paper by thinking broadly about what you should be looking for and evaluating. Review not just what scholars are saying, but how are they saying it. Some questions to ask:

  • How are they organizing their ideas?
  • What methods have they used to study the problem?
  • What theories have been used to explain, predict, or understand their research problem?
  • What sources have they cited to support their conclusions?
  • How have they used non-textual elements [e.g., charts, graphs, figures, etc.] to illustrate key points?

When you begin to write your literature review section, you'll be glad you dug deeper into how the research was designed and constructed because it establishes a means for developing more substantial analysis and interpretation of the research problem.

Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1 998.

Yet Another Writing Tip

When Do I Know I Can Stop Looking and Move On?

Here are several strategies you can utilize to assess whether you've thoroughly reviewed the literature:

  • Look for repeating patterns in the research findings . If the same thing is being said, just by different people, then this likely demonstrates that the research problem has hit a conceptual dead end. At this point consider: Does your study extend current research?  Does it forge a new path? Or, does is merely add more of the same thing being said?
  • Look at sources the authors cite to in their work . If you begin to see the same researchers cited again and again, then this is often an indication that no new ideas have been generated to address the research problem.
  • Search Google Scholar to identify who has subsequently cited leading scholars already identified in your literature review [see next sub-tab]. This is called citation tracking and there are a number of sources that can help you identify who has cited whom, particularly scholars from outside of your discipline. Here again, if the same authors are being cited again and again, this may indicate no new literature has been written on the topic.

Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J. and Rebecca Frels. Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review: A Multimodal and Cultural Approach . Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2016; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016.

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Literature Reviews

  • Getting started

What is a literature review?

Why conduct a literature review, stages of a literature review, lit reviews: an overview (video), check out these books.

  • Types of reviews
  • 1. Define your research question
  • 2. Plan your search
  • 3. Search the literature
  • 4. Organize your results
  • 5. Synthesize your findings
  • 6. Write the review
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  • Need to write a systematic review? This link opens in a new window

purpose of review of related literature and studies

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purpose of review of related literature and studies

Definition: A literature review is a systematic examination and synthesis of existing scholarly research on a specific topic or subject.

Purpose: It serves to provide a comprehensive overview of the current state of knowledge within a particular field.

Analysis: Involves critically evaluating and summarizing key findings, methodologies, and debates found in academic literature.

Identifying Gaps: Aims to pinpoint areas where there is a lack of research or unresolved questions, highlighting opportunities for further investigation.

Contextualization: Enables researchers to understand how their work fits into the broader academic conversation and contributes to the existing body of knowledge.

purpose of review of related literature and studies

tl;dr  A literature review critically examines and synthesizes existing scholarly research and publications on a specific topic to provide a comprehensive understanding of the current state of knowledge in the field.

What is a literature review NOT?

❌ An annotated bibliography

❌ Original research

❌ A summary

❌ Something to be conducted at the end of your research

❌ An opinion piece

❌ A chronological compilation of studies

The reason for conducting a literature review is to:

purpose of review of related literature and studies

Literature Reviews: An Overview for Graduate Students

While this 9-minute video from NCSU is geared toward graduate students, it is useful for anyone conducting a literature review.

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Writing the literature review: A practical guide

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Writing literature reviews: A guide for students of the social and behavioral sciences

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Literature review

A general guide on how to conduct and write a literature review.

Please check course or programme information and materials provided by teaching staff , including your project supervisor, for subject-specific guidance.

What is a literature review?

A literature review is a piece of academic writing demonstrating knowledge and understanding of the academic literature on a specific topic placed in context.  A literature review also includes a critical evaluation of the material; this is why it is called a literature review rather than a literature report. It is a process of reviewing the literature, as well as a form of writing.

To illustrate the difference between reporting and reviewing, think about television or film review articles.  These articles include content such as a brief synopsis or the key points of the film or programme plus the critic’s own evaluation.  Similarly the two main objectives of a literature review are firstly the content covering existing research, theories and evidence, and secondly your own critical evaluation and discussion of this content. 

Usually a literature review forms a section or part of a dissertation, research project or long essay.  However, it can also be set and assessed as a standalone piece of work.

What is the purpose of a literature review?

…your task is to build an argument, not a library. Rudestam, K.E. and Newton, R.R. (1992) Surviving your dissertation: A comprehensive guide to content and process. California: Sage, p49.

In a larger piece of written work, such as a dissertation or project, a literature review is usually one of the first tasks carried out after deciding on a topic.  Reading combined with critical analysis can help to refine a topic and frame research questions.  Conducting a literature review establishes your familiarity with and understanding of current research in a particular field before carrying out a new investigation.  After doing a literature review, you should know what research has already been done and be able to identify what is unknown within your topic.

When doing and writing a literature review, it is good practice to:

  • summarise and analyse previous research and theories;
  • identify areas of controversy and contested claims;
  • highlight any gaps that may exist in research to date.

Conducting a literature review

Focusing on different aspects of your literature review can be useful to help plan, develop, refine and write it.  You can use and adapt the prompt questions in our worksheet below at different points in the process of researching and writing your review.  These are suggestions to get you thinking and writing.

Developing and refining your literature review (pdf)

Developing and refining your literature review (Word)

Developing and refining your literature review (Word rtf)

Writing a literature review has a lot in common with other assignment tasks.  There is advice on our other pages about thinking critically, reading strategies and academic writing.  Our literature review top tips suggest some specific things you can do to help you submit a successful review.

Literature review top tips (pdf)

Literature review top tips (Word rtf)

Our reading page includes strategies and advice on using books and articles and a notes record sheet grid you can use.

Reading at university

The Academic writing page suggests ways to organise and structure information from a range of sources and how you can develop your argument as you read and write.

Academic writing

The Critical thinking page has advice on how to be a more critical researcher and a form you can use to help you think and break down the stages of developing your argument.

Critical thinking

As with other forms of academic writing, your literature review needs to demonstrate good academic practice by following the Code of Student Conduct and acknowledging the work of others through citing and referencing your sources.  

Good academic practice

As with any writing task, you will need to review, edit and rewrite sections of your literature review.  The Editing and proofreading page includes tips on how to do this and strategies for standing back and thinking about your structure and checking the flow of your argument.

Editing and proofreading

Guidance on literature searching from the University Library

The Academic Support Librarians have developed LibSmart I and II, Learn courses to help you develop and enhance your digital research skills and capabilities; from getting started with the Library to managing data for your dissertation.

Searching using the library’s DiscoverEd tool: DiscoverEd

Finding resources in your subject: Subject guides

The Academic Support Librarians also provide one-to-one appointments to help you develop your research strategies.

1 to 1 support for literature searching and systematic reviews

Advice to help you optimise use of Google Scholar, Google Books and Google for your research and study: Using Google

Managing and curating your references

A referencing management tool can help you to collect and organise and your source material to produce a bibliography or reference list. 

Referencing and reference management

Information Services provide access to Cite them right online which is a guide to the main referencing systems and tells you how to reference just about any source (EASE log-in may be required).

Cite them right

Published study guides

There are a number of scholarship skills books and guides available which can help with writing a literature review.  Our Resource List of study skills guides includes sections on Referencing, Dissertation and project writing and Literature reviews.

Study skills guides

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Literature Review: Purpose of a Literature Review

  • Literature Review
  • Purpose of a Literature Review
  • Work in Progress
  • Compiling & Writing
  • Books, Articles, & Web Pages
  • Types of Literature Reviews
  • Departmental Differences
  • Citation Styles & Plagiarism
  • Know the Difference! Systematic Review vs. Literature Review

The purpose of a literature review is to:

  • Provide a foundation of knowledge on a topic
  • Identify areas of prior scholarship to prevent duplication and give credit to other researchers
  • Identify inconstancies: gaps in research, conflicts in previous studies, open questions left from other research
  • Identify the need for additional research (justifying your research)
  • Identify the relationship of works in the context of their contribution to the topic and other works
  • Place your own research within the context of existing literature, making a case for why further study is needed.

Videos & Tutorials

VIDEO: What is the role of a literature review in research? What's it mean to "review" the literature? Get the big picture of what to expect as part of the process. This video is published under a Creative Commons 3.0 BY-NC-SA US license. License, credits, and contact information can be found here: https://www.lib.ncsu.edu/tutorials/litreview/

Elements in a Literature Review

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Chapter 1: Introduction

Learning objectives.

At the conclusion of this chapter, you will be able to:

  • Identify the purpose of the literature review in  the research process
  • Distinguish between different types of literature reviews

1.1 What is a Literature Review?

Pick up nearly any book on research methods and you will find a description of a literature review.  At a basic level, the term implies a survey of factual or nonfiction books, articles, and other documents published on a particular subject.  Definitions may be similar across the disciplines, with new types and definitions continuing to emerge.  Generally speaking, a literature review is a:

  • “comprehensive background of the literature within the interested topic area…” ( O’Gorman & MacIntosh, 2015, p. 31 ).
  • “critical component of the research process that provides an in-depth analysis of recently published research findings in specifically identified areas of interest.” ( House, 2018, p. 109 ).
  • “written document that presents a logically argued case founded on a comprehensive understanding of the current state of knowledge about a topic of study” ( Machi & McEvoy,  2012, p. 4 ).

As a foundation for knowledge advancement in every discipline, it is an important element of any research project.  At the graduate or doctoral level, the literature review is an essential feature of thesis and dissertation, as well as grant proposal writing.  That is to say, “A substantive, thorough, sophisticated literature review is a precondition for doing substantive, thorough, sophisticated research…A researcher cannot perform significant research without first understanding the literature in the field.” ( Boote & Beile, 2005, p. 3 ).  It is by this means, that a researcher demonstrates familiarity with a body of knowledge and thereby establishes credibility with a reader.  An advanced-level literature review shows how prior research is linked to a new project, summarizing and synthesizing what is known while identifying gaps in the knowledge base, facilitating theory development, closing areas where enough research already exists, and uncovering areas where more research is needed. ( Webster & Watson, 2002, p. xiii )

A graduate-level literature review is a compilation of the most significant previously published research on your topic. Unlike an annotated bibliography or a research paper you may have written as an undergraduate, your literature review will outline, evaluate and synthesize relevant research and relate those sources to your own thesis or research question. It is much more than a summary of all the related literature.

It is a type of writing that demonstrate the importance of your research by defining the main ideas and the relationship between them. A good literature review lays the foundation for the importance of your stated problem and research question.

Literature reviews:

  • define a concept
  • map the research terrain or scope
  • systemize relationships between concepts
  • identify gaps in the literature ( Rocco & Plathotnik, 2009, p. 128 )

The purpose of a literature review is to demonstrate that your research question  is meaningful. Additionally, you may review the literature of different disciplines to find deeper meaning and understanding of your topic. It is especially important to consider other disciplines when you do not find much on your topic in one discipline. You will need to search the cognate literature before claiming there is “little previous research” on your topic.

Well developed literature reviews involve numerous steps and activities. The literature review is an iterative process because you will do at least two of them: a preliminary search to learn what has been published in your area and whether there is sufficient support in the literature for moving ahead with your subject. After this first exploration, you will conduct a deeper dive into the literature to learn everything you can about the topic and its related issues.

Literature Review Tutorial

A video titled "Literature Reviews: An overview for graduate students." Video here: https://www.lib.ncsu.edu/tutorials/litreview/. Transcript available here: https://siskel.lib.ncsu.edu/RIS/instruction/litreview/litreview.txt

1.2 Literature Review Basics

An effective literature review must:

  • Methodologically analyze and synthesize quality literature on a topic
  • Provide a firm foundation to a topic or research area
  • Provide a firm foundation for the selection of a research methodology
  • Demonstrate that the proposed research contributes something new to the overall body of knowledge of advances the research field’s knowledge base. ( Levy & Ellis, 2006 ).

All literature reviews, whether they are qualitative, quantitative or both, will at some point:

  • Introduce the topic and define its key terms
  • Establish the importance of the topic
  • Provide an overview of the amount of available literature and its types (for example: theoretical, statistical, speculative)
  • Identify gaps in the literature
  • Point out consistent finding across studies
  • Arrive at a synthesis that organizes what is known about a topic
  • Discusses possible implications and directions for future research

1.3 Types of Literature Reviews

There are many different types of literature reviews, however there are some shared characteristics or features.  Remember a comprehensive literature review is, at its most fundamental level, an original work based on an extensive critical examination and synthesis of the relevant literature on a topic. As a study of the research on a particular topic, it is arranged by key themes or findings, which may lead up to or link to the  research question.  In some cases, the research question will drive the type of literature review that is undertaken.

The following section includes brief descriptions of the terms used to describe different literature review types with examples of each.   The included citations are open access, Creative Commons licensed or copyright-restricted.

1.3.1 Types of Review

1.3.1.1 conceptual.

Guided by an understanding of basic issues rather than a research methodology. You are looking for key factors, concepts or variables and the presumed relationship between them. The goal of the conceptual literature review is to categorize and describe concepts relevant to your study or topic and outline a relationship between them. You will include relevant theory and empirical research.

Examples of a Conceptual Review:

  • Education : The formality of learning science in everyday life: A conceptual literature review. ( Dohn, 2010 ).
  • Education : Are we asking the right questions? A conceptual review of the educational development literature in higher education. ( Amundsen & Wilson, 2012 ).

Figure 1.1 shows a diagram of possible topics and subtopics related to the use of information systems in education. In this example, constructivist theory is a concept that might influence the use of information systems in education. A related but separate concept the researcher might want to explore are the different perspectives of students and teachers regarding the use of information systems in education.

1.3.1.2 Empirical

An empirical literature review collects, creates, arranges, and analyzes numeric data reflecting the frequency of themes, topics, authors and/or methods found in existing literature. Empirical literature reviews present their summaries in quantifiable terms using descriptive and inferential statistics.

Examples of an Empirical Review:

  • Nursing : False-positive findings in Cochrane meta-analyses with and without application of trial sequential analysis: An empirical review. ( Imberger, Thorlund, Gluud, & Wettersley, 2016 ).
  • Education : Impediments of e-learning adoption in higher learning institutions of Tanzania: An empirical review ( Mwakyusa & Mwalyagile, 2016 ).

1.3.1.3 Exploratory

Unlike a synoptic literature review, the purpose here is to provide a broad approach to the topic area. The aim is breadth rather than depth and to get a general feel for the size of the topic area. A graduate student might do an exploratory review of the literature before beginning a synoptic, or more comprehensive one.

Examples of an Exploratory Review:

  • Education : University research management: An exploratory literature review. ( Schuetzenmeister, 2010 ).
  • Education : An exploratory review of design principles in constructivist gaming learning environments. ( Rosario & Widmeyer, 2009 ).

purpose of review of related literature and studies

1.3.1.4 Focused

A type of literature review limited to a single aspect of previous research, such as methodology. A focused literature review generally will describe the implications of choosing a particular element of past research, such as methodology in terms of data collection, analysis and interpretation.

Examples of a Focused Review:

  • Nursing : Clinical inertia in the management of type 2 diabetes mellitus: A focused literature review. ( Khunti, Davies, & Khunti, 2015 ).
  • Education : Language awareness: Genre awareness-a focused review of the literature. ( Stainton, 1992 ).

1.3.1.5 Integrative

Critiques past research and draws overall conclusions from the body of literature at a specified point in time. Reviews, critiques, and synthesizes representative literature on a topic in an integrated way. Most integrative reviews are intended to address mature topics or  emerging topics. May require the author to adopt a guiding theory, a set of competing models, or a point of view about a topic.  For more description of integrative reviews, see Whittemore & Knafl (2005).

Examples of an Integrative Review:

  • Nursing : Interprofessional teamwork and collaboration between community health workers and healthcare teams: An integrative review. ( Franklin,  Bernhardt, Lopez, Long-Middleton, & Davis, 2015 ).
  • Education : Exploring the gap between teacher certification and permanent employment in Ontario: An integrative literature review. ( Brock & Ryan, 2016 ).

1.3.1.6 Meta-analysis

A subset of a  systematic review, that takes findings from several studies on the same subject and analyzes them using standardized statistical procedures to pool together data. Integrates findings from a large body of quantitative findings to enhance understanding, draw conclusions, and detect patterns and relationships. Gather data from many different, independent studies that look at the same research question and assess similar outcome measures. Data is combined and re-analyzed, providing a greater statistical power than any single study alone. It’s important to note that not every systematic review includes a meta-analysis but a meta-analysis can’t exist without a systematic review of the literature.

Examples of a Meta-Analysis:

  • Education : Efficacy of the cooperative learning method on mathematics achievement and attitude: A meta-analysis research. ( Capar & Tarim, 2015 ).
  • Nursing : A meta-analysis of the effects of non-traditional teaching methods on the critical thinking abilities of nursing students. ( Lee, Lee, Gong, Bae, & Choi, 2016 ).
  • Education : Gender differences in student attitudes toward science: A meta-analysis of the literature from 1970 to 1991. ( Weinburgh, 1995 ).

1.3.1.7 Narrative/Traditional

An overview of research on a particular topic that critiques and summarizes a body of literature. Typically broad in focus. Relevant past research is selected and synthesized into a coherent discussion. Methodologies, findings and limits of the existing body of knowledge are discussed in narrative form. Sometimes also referred to as a traditional literature review. Requires a sufficiently focused research question. The process may be subject to bias that supports the researcher’s own work.

Examples of a Narrative/Traditional Review:

  • Nursing : Family carers providing support to a person dying in the home setting: A narrative literature review. ( Morris, King, Turner, & Payne, 2015 ).
  • Education : Adventure education and Outward Bound: Out-of-class experiences that make a lasting difference. ( Hattie, Marsh, Neill, & Richards, 1997 ).
  • Education : Good quality discussion is necessary but not sufficient in asynchronous tuition: A brief narrative review of the literature. ( Fear & Erikson-Brown, 2014 ).
  • Nursing : Outcomes of physician job satisfaction: A narrative review, implications, and directions for future research. ( Williams & Skinner, 2003 ).

1.3.1.8 Realist

Aspecific type of literature review that is theory-driven and interpretative and is intended to explain the outcomes of a complex intervention program(s).

Examples of a Realist Review:

  • Nursing : Lean thinking in healthcare: A realist review of the literature. ( Mazzacato, Savage, Brommels, 2010 ).
  • Education : Unravelling quality culture in higher education: A realist review. ( Bendermacher, Egbrink, Wolfhagen, & Dolmans, 2017 ).

1.3.1.9 Scoping

Tend to be non-systematic and focus on breadth of coverage conducted on a topic rather than depth. Utilize a wide range of materials; may not evaluate the quality of the studies as much as count the number. One means of understanding existing literature. Aims to identify nature and extent of research; preliminary assessment of size and scope of available research on topic. May include research in progress.

Examples of a Scoping Review:

  • Nursing : Organizational interventions improving access to community-based primary health care for vulnerable populations: A scoping review. ( Khanassov, Pluye, Descoteaux, Haggerty,  Russell, Gunn, & Levesque, 2016 ).
  • Education : Interdisciplinary doctoral research supervision: A scoping review. ( Vanstone, Hibbert, Kinsella, McKenzie, Pitman, & Lingard, 2013 ).
  • Nursing : A scoping review of the literature on the abolition of user fees in health care services in Africa. ( Ridde, & Morestin, 2011 ).

1.3.1.10 Synoptic

Unlike an exploratory review, the purpose is to provide a concise but accurate overview of all material that appears to be relevant to a chosen topic. Both content and methodological material is included. The review should aim to be both descriptive and evaluative. Summarizes previous studies while also showing how the body of literature could be extended and improved in terms of content and method by identifying gaps.

Examples of a Synoptic Review:

  • Education : Theoretical framework for educational assessment: A synoptic review. ( Ghaicha, 2016 ).
  • Education : School effects research: A synoptic review of past efforts and some suggestions for the future. ( Cuttance, 1981 ).

1.3.1.11 Systematic Review

A rigorous review that follows a strict methodology designed with a presupposed selection of literature reviewed.  Undertaken to clarify the state of existing research, the evidence, and possible implications that can be drawn from that.  Using comprehensive and exhaustive searching of the published and unpublished literature, searching various databases, reports, and grey literature.  Transparent and reproducible in reporting details of time frame, search and methods to minimize bias.  Must include a team of at least 2-3 and includes the critical appraisal of the literature.  For more description of systematic reviews, including links to protocols, checklists, workflow processes, and structure see “ A Young Researcher’s Guide to a Systematic Review “.

Examples of a Systematic Review:

  • Education : The potentials of using cloud computing in schools: A systematic literature review ( Hartmann, Braae, Pedersen, & Khalid, 2017 )
  • Nursing : Is butter back? A systematic review and meta-analysis of butter consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and total mortality. ( Pimpin, Wu, Haskelberg, Del Gobbo, & Mozaffarian, 2016 ).
  • Education : The use of research to improve professional practice: a systematic review of the literature. ( Hemsley-Brown & Sharp, 2003 ).
  • Nursing : Using computers to self-manage type 2 diabetes. ( Pal, Eastwood, Michie, Farmer, Barnard, Peacock, Wood, Inniss, & Murray, 2013 ).

1.3.1.12 Umbrella/Overview of Reviews

Compiles evidence from multiple systematic reviews into one document. Focuses on broad condition or problem for which there are competing interventions and highlights reviews that address those interventions and their effects. Often used in recommendations for practice.

Examples of an Umbrella/Overview Review:

  • Education : Reflective practice in healthcare education: An umbrella review. ( Fragknos, 2016 ).
  • Nursing : Systematic reviews of psychosocial interventions for autism: an umbrella review. ( Seida, Ospina, Karkhaneh, Hartling, Smith, & Clark, 2009 ).

For a brief discussion see “ Not all literature reviews are the same ” (Thomson, 2013).

1.4 Why do a Literature Review?

The purpose of the literature review is the same regardless of the topic or research method. It tests your own research question against what is already known about the subject.

1.4.1 First – It’s part of the whole. Omission of a literature review chapter or section in a graduate-level project represents a serious void or absence of critical element in the research process.

The outcome of your review is expected to demonstrate that you:

  • can systematically explore the research in your topic area
  • can read and critically analyze the literature in your discipline and then use it appropriately to advance your own work
  • have sufficient knowledge in the topic to undertake further investigation

1.4.2 Second – It’s good for you!

  • You improve your skills as a researcher
  • You become familiar with the discourse of your discipline and learn how to be a scholar in your field
  • You learn through writing your ideas and finding your voice in your subject area
  • You define, redefine and clarify your research question for yourself in the process

1.4.3 Third – It’s good for your reader. Your reader expects you to have done the hard work of gathering, evaluating and synthesizes the literature.  When you do a literature review you:

  • Set the context for the topic and present its significance
  • Identify what’s important to know about your topic – including individual material, prior research, publications, organizations and authors.
  • Demonstrate relationships among prior research
  • Establish limitations of existing knowledge
  • Analyze trends in the topic’s treatment and gaps in the literature

1.4.4 Why do a literature review?

  • To locate gaps in the literature of your discipline
  • To avoid reinventing the wheel
  • To carry on where others have already been
  • To identify other people working in the same field
  • To increase your breadth of knowledge in your subject area
  • To find the seminal works in your field
  • To provide intellectual context for your own work
  • To acknowledge opposing viewpoints
  • To put your work in perspective
  • To demonstrate you can discover and retrieve previous work in the area

1.5 Common Literature Review Errors

Graduate-level literature reviews are more than a summary of the publications you find on a topic.  As you have seen in this brief introduction, literature reviews are a very specific type of research, analysis, and writing.  We will explore these topics more in the next chapters.  Some things to keep in mind as you begin your own research and writing are ways to avoid the most common errors seen in the first attempt at a literature review.  For a quick review of some of the pitfalls and challenges a new researcher faces when he/she begins work, see “ Get Ready: Academic Writing, General Pitfalls and (oh yes) Getting Started! ”.

As you begin your own graduate-level literature review, try to avoid these common mistakes:

  • Accepts another researcher’s finding as valid without evaluating methodology and data
  • Contrary findings and alternative interpretations are not considered or mentioned
  • Findings are not clearly related to one’s own study, or findings are too general
  • Insufficient time allowed to define best search strategies and writing
  • Isolated statistical results are simply reported rather than synthesizing the results
  • Problems with selecting and using most relevant keywords, subject headings and descriptors
  • Relies too heavily on secondary sources
  • Search methods are not recorded or reported for transparency
  • Summarizes rather than synthesizes articles

In conclusion, the purpose of a literature review is three-fold:

  • to survey the current state of knowledge or evidence in the area of inquiry,
  • to identify key authors, articles, theories, and findings in that area, and
  • to identify gaps in knowledge in that research area.

A literature review is commonly done today using computerized keyword searches in online databases, often working with a trained librarian or information expert. Keywords can be combined using the Boolean operators, “and”, “or” and sometimes “not”  to narrow down or expand the search results. Once a list of articles is generated from the keyword and subject heading search, the researcher must then manually browse through each title and abstract, to determine the suitability of that article before a full-text article is obtained for the research question.

Literature reviews should be reasonably complete, and not restricted to a few journals, a few years, or a specific methodology or research design. Reviewed articles may be summarized in the form of tables, and can be further structured using organizing frameworks such as a concept matrix.

A well-conducted literature review should indicate whether the initial research questions have already been addressed in the literature, whether there are newer or more interesting research questions available, and whether the original research questions should be modified or changed in light of findings of the literature review.

The review can also provide some intuitions or potential answers to the questions of interest and/or help identify theories that have previously been used to address similar questions and may provide evidence to inform policy or decision-making. ( Bhattacherjee, 2012 ).

purpose of review of related literature and studies

Read Abstract 1.  Refer to Types of Literature Reviews.  What type of literature review do you think this study is and why?  See the Answer Key for the correct response.

Nursing : To describe evidence of international literature on the safe care of the hospitalised child after the World Alliance for Patient Safety and list contributions of the general theoretical framework of patient safety for paediatric nursing.

An integrative literature review between 2004 and 2015 using the databases PubMed, Cumulative Index of Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), Scopus, Web of Science and Wiley Online Library, and the descriptors Safety or Patient safety, Hospitalised child, Paediatric nursing, and Nursing care.

Thirty-two articles were analysed, most of which were from North American, with a descriptive approach. The quality of the recorded information in the medical records, the use of checklists, and the training of health workers contribute to safe care in paediatric nursing and improve the medication process and partnerships with parents.

General information available on patient safety should be incorporated in paediatric nursing care. ( Wegner, Silva, Peres, Bandeira, Frantz, Botene, & Predebon, 2017 ).

Read Abstract 2.  Refer to Types of Literature Reviews.  What type of lit review do you think this study is and why?  See the Answer Key for the correct response.

Education : The focus of this paper centers around timing associated with early childhood education programs and interventions using meta-analytic methods. At any given assessment age, a child’s current age equals starting age, plus duration of program, plus years since program ended. Variability in assessment ages across the studies should enable everyone to identify the separate effects of all three time-related components. The project is a meta-analysis of evaluation studies of early childhood education programs conducted in the United States and its territories between 1960 and 2007. The population of interest is children enrolled in early childhood education programs between the ages of 0 and 5 and their control-group counterparts. Since the data come from a meta-analysis, the population for this study is drawn from many different studies with diverse samples. Given the preliminary nature of their analysis, the authors cannot offer conclusions at this point. ( Duncan, Leak, Li, Magnuson, Schindler, & Yoshikawa, 2011 ).

Test Yourself

See Answer Key for the correct responses.

The purpose of a graduate-level literature review is to summarize in as many words as possible everything that is known about my topic.

A literature review is significant because in the process of doing one, the researcher learns to read and critically assess the literature of a discipline and then uses it appropriately to advance his/her own research.

Read the following abstract and choose the correct type of literature review it represents.

Nursing: E-cigarette use has become increasingly popular, especially among the young. Its long-term influence upon health is unknown. Aim of this review has been to present the current state of knowledge about the impact of e-cigarette use on health, with an emphasis on Central and Eastern Europe. During the preparation of this narrative review, the literature on e-cigarettes available within the network PubMed was retrieved and examined. In the final review, 64 research papers were included. We specifically assessed the construction and operation of the e-cigarette as well as the chemical composition of the e-liquid; the impact that vapor arising from the use of e-cigarette explored in experimental models in vitro; and short-term effects of use of e-cigarettes on users’ health. Among the substances inhaled by the e-smoker, there are several harmful products, such as: formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, acroleine, propanal, nicotine, acetone, o-methyl-benzaldehyde, carcinogenic nitrosamines. Results from experimental animal studies indicate the negative impact of e-cigarette exposure on test models, such as ascytotoxicity, oxidative stress, inflammation, airway hyper reactivity, airway remodeling, mucin production, apoptosis, and emphysematous changes. The short-term impact of e-cigarettes on human health has been studied mostly in experimental setting. Available evidence shows that the use of e-cigarettes may result in acute lung function responses (e.g., increase in impedance, peripheral airway flow resistance) and induce oxidative stress. Based on the current available evidence, e-cigarette use is associated with harmful biologic responses, although it may be less harmful than traditional cigarettes. (J ankowski, Brożek, Lawson, Skoczyński, & Zejda, 2017 ).

  • Meta-analysis
  • Exploratory

Education: In this review, Mary Vorsino writes that she is interested in keeping the potential influences of women pragmatists of Dewey’s day in mind while presenting modern feminist re readings of Dewey. She wishes to construct a narrowly-focused and succinct literature review of thinkers who have donned a feminist lens to analyze Dewey’s approaches to education, learning, and democracy and to employ Dewey’s works in theorizing on gender and education and on gender in society. This article first explores Dewey as both an ally and a problematic figure in feminist literature and then investigates the broader sphere of feminist pragmatism and two central themes within it: (1) valuing diversity, and diverse experiences; and (2) problematizing fixed truths. ( Vorsino, 2015 ).

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Lau F, Kuziemsky C, editors. Handbook of eHealth Evaluation: An Evidence-based Approach [Internet]. Victoria (BC): University of Victoria; 2017 Feb 27.

Cover of Handbook of eHealth Evaluation: An Evidence-based Approach

Handbook of eHealth Evaluation: An Evidence-based Approach [Internet].

Chapter 9 methods for literature reviews.

Guy Paré and Spyros Kitsiou .

9.1. Introduction

Literature reviews play a critical role in scholarship because science remains, first and foremost, a cumulative endeavour ( vom Brocke et al., 2009 ). As in any academic discipline, rigorous knowledge syntheses are becoming indispensable in keeping up with an exponentially growing eHealth literature, assisting practitioners, academics, and graduate students in finding, evaluating, and synthesizing the contents of many empirical and conceptual papers. Among other methods, literature reviews are essential for: (a) identifying what has been written on a subject or topic; (b) determining the extent to which a specific research area reveals any interpretable trends or patterns; (c) aggregating empirical findings related to a narrow research question to support evidence-based practice; (d) generating new frameworks and theories; and (e) identifying topics or questions requiring more investigation ( Paré, Trudel, Jaana, & Kitsiou, 2015 ).

Literature reviews can take two major forms. The most prevalent one is the “literature review” or “background” section within a journal paper or a chapter in a graduate thesis. This section synthesizes the extant literature and usually identifies the gaps in knowledge that the empirical study addresses ( Sylvester, Tate, & Johnstone, 2013 ). It may also provide a theoretical foundation for the proposed study, substantiate the presence of the research problem, justify the research as one that contributes something new to the cumulated knowledge, or validate the methods and approaches for the proposed study ( Hart, 1998 ; Levy & Ellis, 2006 ).

The second form of literature review, which is the focus of this chapter, constitutes an original and valuable work of research in and of itself ( Paré et al., 2015 ). Rather than providing a base for a researcher’s own work, it creates a solid starting point for all members of the community interested in a particular area or topic ( Mulrow, 1987 ). The so-called “review article” is a journal-length paper which has an overarching purpose to synthesize the literature in a field, without collecting or analyzing any primary data ( Green, Johnson, & Adams, 2006 ).

When appropriately conducted, review articles represent powerful information sources for practitioners looking for state-of-the art evidence to guide their decision-making and work practices ( Paré et al., 2015 ). Further, high-quality reviews become frequently cited pieces of work which researchers seek out as a first clear outline of the literature when undertaking empirical studies ( Cooper, 1988 ; Rowe, 2014 ). Scholars who track and gauge the impact of articles have found that review papers are cited and downloaded more often than any other type of published article ( Cronin, Ryan, & Coughlan, 2008 ; Montori, Wilczynski, Morgan, Haynes, & Hedges, 2003 ; Patsopoulos, Analatos, & Ioannidis, 2005 ). The reason for their popularity may be the fact that reading the review enables one to have an overview, if not a detailed knowledge of the area in question, as well as references to the most useful primary sources ( Cronin et al., 2008 ). Although they are not easy to conduct, the commitment to complete a review article provides a tremendous service to one’s academic community ( Paré et al., 2015 ; Petticrew & Roberts, 2006 ). Most, if not all, peer-reviewed journals in the fields of medical informatics publish review articles of some type.

The main objectives of this chapter are fourfold: (a) to provide an overview of the major steps and activities involved in conducting a stand-alone literature review; (b) to describe and contrast the different types of review articles that can contribute to the eHealth knowledge base; (c) to illustrate each review type with one or two examples from the eHealth literature; and (d) to provide a series of recommendations for prospective authors of review articles in this domain.

9.2. Overview of the Literature Review Process and Steps

As explained in Templier and Paré (2015) , there are six generic steps involved in conducting a review article:

  • formulating the research question(s) and objective(s),
  • searching the extant literature,
  • screening for inclusion,
  • assessing the quality of primary studies,
  • extracting data, and
  • analyzing data.

Although these steps are presented here in sequential order, one must keep in mind that the review process can be iterative and that many activities can be initiated during the planning stage and later refined during subsequent phases ( Finfgeld-Connett & Johnson, 2013 ; Kitchenham & Charters, 2007 ).

Formulating the research question(s) and objective(s): As a first step, members of the review team must appropriately justify the need for the review itself ( Petticrew & Roberts, 2006 ), identify the review’s main objective(s) ( Okoli & Schabram, 2010 ), and define the concepts or variables at the heart of their synthesis ( Cooper & Hedges, 2009 ; Webster & Watson, 2002 ). Importantly, they also need to articulate the research question(s) they propose to investigate ( Kitchenham & Charters, 2007 ). In this regard, we concur with Jesson, Matheson, and Lacey (2011) that clearly articulated research questions are key ingredients that guide the entire review methodology; they underscore the type of information that is needed, inform the search for and selection of relevant literature, and guide or orient the subsequent analysis. Searching the extant literature: The next step consists of searching the literature and making decisions about the suitability of material to be considered in the review ( Cooper, 1988 ). There exist three main coverage strategies. First, exhaustive coverage means an effort is made to be as comprehensive as possible in order to ensure that all relevant studies, published and unpublished, are included in the review and, thus, conclusions are based on this all-inclusive knowledge base. The second type of coverage consists of presenting materials that are representative of most other works in a given field or area. Often authors who adopt this strategy will search for relevant articles in a small number of top-tier journals in a field ( Paré et al., 2015 ). In the third strategy, the review team concentrates on prior works that have been central or pivotal to a particular topic. This may include empirical studies or conceptual papers that initiated a line of investigation, changed how problems or questions were framed, introduced new methods or concepts, or engendered important debate ( Cooper, 1988 ). Screening for inclusion: The following step consists of evaluating the applicability of the material identified in the preceding step ( Levy & Ellis, 2006 ; vom Brocke et al., 2009 ). Once a group of potential studies has been identified, members of the review team must screen them to determine their relevance ( Petticrew & Roberts, 2006 ). A set of predetermined rules provides a basis for including or excluding certain studies. This exercise requires a significant investment on the part of researchers, who must ensure enhanced objectivity and avoid biases or mistakes. As discussed later in this chapter, for certain types of reviews there must be at least two independent reviewers involved in the screening process and a procedure to resolve disagreements must also be in place ( Liberati et al., 2009 ; Shea et al., 2009 ). Assessing the quality of primary studies: In addition to screening material for inclusion, members of the review team may need to assess the scientific quality of the selected studies, that is, appraise the rigour of the research design and methods. Such formal assessment, which is usually conducted independently by at least two coders, helps members of the review team refine which studies to include in the final sample, determine whether or not the differences in quality may affect their conclusions, or guide how they analyze the data and interpret the findings ( Petticrew & Roberts, 2006 ). Ascribing quality scores to each primary study or considering through domain-based evaluations which study components have or have not been designed and executed appropriately makes it possible to reflect on the extent to which the selected study addresses possible biases and maximizes validity ( Shea et al., 2009 ). Extracting data: The following step involves gathering or extracting applicable information from each primary study included in the sample and deciding what is relevant to the problem of interest ( Cooper & Hedges, 2009 ). Indeed, the type of data that should be recorded mainly depends on the initial research questions ( Okoli & Schabram, 2010 ). However, important information may also be gathered about how, when, where and by whom the primary study was conducted, the research design and methods, or qualitative/quantitative results ( Cooper & Hedges, 2009 ). Analyzing and synthesizing data : As a final step, members of the review team must collate, summarize, aggregate, organize, and compare the evidence extracted from the included studies. The extracted data must be presented in a meaningful way that suggests a new contribution to the extant literature ( Jesson et al., 2011 ). Webster and Watson (2002) warn researchers that literature reviews should be much more than lists of papers and should provide a coherent lens to make sense of extant knowledge on a given topic. There exist several methods and techniques for synthesizing quantitative (e.g., frequency analysis, meta-analysis) and qualitative (e.g., grounded theory, narrative analysis, meta-ethnography) evidence ( Dixon-Woods, Agarwal, Jones, Young, & Sutton, 2005 ; Thomas & Harden, 2008 ).

9.3. Types of Review Articles and Brief Illustrations

EHealth researchers have at their disposal a number of approaches and methods for making sense out of existing literature, all with the purpose of casting current research findings into historical contexts or explaining contradictions that might exist among a set of primary research studies conducted on a particular topic. Our classification scheme is largely inspired from Paré and colleagues’ (2015) typology. Below we present and illustrate those review types that we feel are central to the growth and development of the eHealth domain.

9.3.1. Narrative Reviews

The narrative review is the “traditional” way of reviewing the extant literature and is skewed towards a qualitative interpretation of prior knowledge ( Sylvester et al., 2013 ). Put simply, a narrative review attempts to summarize or synthesize what has been written on a particular topic but does not seek generalization or cumulative knowledge from what is reviewed ( Davies, 2000 ; Green et al., 2006 ). Instead, the review team often undertakes the task of accumulating and synthesizing the literature to demonstrate the value of a particular point of view ( Baumeister & Leary, 1997 ). As such, reviewers may selectively ignore or limit the attention paid to certain studies in order to make a point. In this rather unsystematic approach, the selection of information from primary articles is subjective, lacks explicit criteria for inclusion and can lead to biased interpretations or inferences ( Green et al., 2006 ). There are several narrative reviews in the particular eHealth domain, as in all fields, which follow such an unstructured approach ( Silva et al., 2015 ; Paul et al., 2015 ).

Despite these criticisms, this type of review can be very useful in gathering together a volume of literature in a specific subject area and synthesizing it. As mentioned above, its primary purpose is to provide the reader with a comprehensive background for understanding current knowledge and highlighting the significance of new research ( Cronin et al., 2008 ). Faculty like to use narrative reviews in the classroom because they are often more up to date than textbooks, provide a single source for students to reference, and expose students to peer-reviewed literature ( Green et al., 2006 ). For researchers, narrative reviews can inspire research ideas by identifying gaps or inconsistencies in a body of knowledge, thus helping researchers to determine research questions or formulate hypotheses. Importantly, narrative reviews can also be used as educational articles to bring practitioners up to date with certain topics of issues ( Green et al., 2006 ).

Recently, there have been several efforts to introduce more rigour in narrative reviews that will elucidate common pitfalls and bring changes into their publication standards. Information systems researchers, among others, have contributed to advancing knowledge on how to structure a “traditional” review. For instance, Levy and Ellis (2006) proposed a generic framework for conducting such reviews. Their model follows the systematic data processing approach comprised of three steps, namely: (a) literature search and screening; (b) data extraction and analysis; and (c) writing the literature review. They provide detailed and very helpful instructions on how to conduct each step of the review process. As another methodological contribution, vom Brocke et al. (2009) offered a series of guidelines for conducting literature reviews, with a particular focus on how to search and extract the relevant body of knowledge. Last, Bandara, Miskon, and Fielt (2011) proposed a structured, predefined and tool-supported method to identify primary studies within a feasible scope, extract relevant content from identified articles, synthesize and analyze the findings, and effectively write and present the results of the literature review. We highly recommend that prospective authors of narrative reviews consult these useful sources before embarking on their work.

Darlow and Wen (2015) provide a good example of a highly structured narrative review in the eHealth field. These authors synthesized published articles that describe the development process of mobile health ( m-health ) interventions for patients’ cancer care self-management. As in most narrative reviews, the scope of the research questions being investigated is broad: (a) how development of these systems are carried out; (b) which methods are used to investigate these systems; and (c) what conclusions can be drawn as a result of the development of these systems. To provide clear answers to these questions, a literature search was conducted on six electronic databases and Google Scholar . The search was performed using several terms and free text words, combining them in an appropriate manner. Four inclusion and three exclusion criteria were utilized during the screening process. Both authors independently reviewed each of the identified articles to determine eligibility and extract study information. A flow diagram shows the number of studies identified, screened, and included or excluded at each stage of study selection. In terms of contributions, this review provides a series of practical recommendations for m-health intervention development.

9.3.2. Descriptive or Mapping Reviews

The primary goal of a descriptive review is to determine the extent to which a body of knowledge in a particular research topic reveals any interpretable pattern or trend with respect to pre-existing propositions, theories, methodologies or findings ( King & He, 2005 ; Paré et al., 2015 ). In contrast with narrative reviews, descriptive reviews follow a systematic and transparent procedure, including searching, screening and classifying studies ( Petersen, Vakkalanka, & Kuzniarz, 2015 ). Indeed, structured search methods are used to form a representative sample of a larger group of published works ( Paré et al., 2015 ). Further, authors of descriptive reviews extract from each study certain characteristics of interest, such as publication year, research methods, data collection techniques, and direction or strength of research outcomes (e.g., positive, negative, or non-significant) in the form of frequency analysis to produce quantitative results ( Sylvester et al., 2013 ). In essence, each study included in a descriptive review is treated as the unit of analysis and the published literature as a whole provides a database from which the authors attempt to identify any interpretable trends or draw overall conclusions about the merits of existing conceptualizations, propositions, methods or findings ( Paré et al., 2015 ). In doing so, a descriptive review may claim that its findings represent the state of the art in a particular domain ( King & He, 2005 ).

In the fields of health sciences and medical informatics, reviews that focus on examining the range, nature and evolution of a topic area are described by Anderson, Allen, Peckham, and Goodwin (2008) as mapping reviews . Like descriptive reviews, the research questions are generic and usually relate to publication patterns and trends. There is no preconceived plan to systematically review all of the literature although this can be done. Instead, researchers often present studies that are representative of most works published in a particular area and they consider a specific time frame to be mapped.

An example of this approach in the eHealth domain is offered by DeShazo, Lavallie, and Wolf (2009). The purpose of this descriptive or mapping review was to characterize publication trends in the medical informatics literature over a 20-year period (1987 to 2006). To achieve this ambitious objective, the authors performed a bibliometric analysis of medical informatics citations indexed in medline using publication trends, journal frequencies, impact factors, Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) term frequencies, and characteristics of citations. Findings revealed that there were over 77,000 medical informatics articles published during the covered period in numerous journals and that the average annual growth rate was 12%. The MeSH term analysis also suggested a strong interdisciplinary trend. Finally, average impact scores increased over time with two notable growth periods. Overall, patterns in research outputs that seem to characterize the historic trends and current components of the field of medical informatics suggest it may be a maturing discipline (DeShazo et al., 2009).

9.3.3. Scoping Reviews

Scoping reviews attempt to provide an initial indication of the potential size and nature of the extant literature on an emergent topic (Arksey & O’Malley, 2005; Daudt, van Mossel, & Scott, 2013 ; Levac, Colquhoun, & O’Brien, 2010). A scoping review may be conducted to examine the extent, range and nature of research activities in a particular area, determine the value of undertaking a full systematic review (discussed next), or identify research gaps in the extant literature ( Paré et al., 2015 ). In line with their main objective, scoping reviews usually conclude with the presentation of a detailed research agenda for future works along with potential implications for both practice and research.

Unlike narrative and descriptive reviews, the whole point of scoping the field is to be as comprehensive as possible, including grey literature (Arksey & O’Malley, 2005). Inclusion and exclusion criteria must be established to help researchers eliminate studies that are not aligned with the research questions. It is also recommended that at least two independent coders review abstracts yielded from the search strategy and then the full articles for study selection ( Daudt et al., 2013 ). The synthesized evidence from content or thematic analysis is relatively easy to present in tabular form (Arksey & O’Malley, 2005; Thomas & Harden, 2008 ).

One of the most highly cited scoping reviews in the eHealth domain was published by Archer, Fevrier-Thomas, Lokker, McKibbon, and Straus (2011) . These authors reviewed the existing literature on personal health record ( phr ) systems including design, functionality, implementation, applications, outcomes, and benefits. Seven databases were searched from 1985 to March 2010. Several search terms relating to phr s were used during this process. Two authors independently screened titles and abstracts to determine inclusion status. A second screen of full-text articles, again by two independent members of the research team, ensured that the studies described phr s. All in all, 130 articles met the criteria and their data were extracted manually into a database. The authors concluded that although there is a large amount of survey, observational, cohort/panel, and anecdotal evidence of phr benefits and satisfaction for patients, more research is needed to evaluate the results of phr implementations. Their in-depth analysis of the literature signalled that there is little solid evidence from randomized controlled trials or other studies through the use of phr s. Hence, they suggested that more research is needed that addresses the current lack of understanding of optimal functionality and usability of these systems, and how they can play a beneficial role in supporting patient self-management ( Archer et al., 2011 ).

9.3.4. Forms of Aggregative Reviews

Healthcare providers, practitioners, and policy-makers are nowadays overwhelmed with large volumes of information, including research-based evidence from numerous clinical trials and evaluation studies, assessing the effectiveness of health information technologies and interventions ( Ammenwerth & de Keizer, 2004 ; Deshazo et al., 2009 ). It is unrealistic to expect that all these disparate actors will have the time, skills, and necessary resources to identify the available evidence in the area of their expertise and consider it when making decisions. Systematic reviews that involve the rigorous application of scientific strategies aimed at limiting subjectivity and bias (i.e., systematic and random errors) can respond to this challenge.

Systematic reviews attempt to aggregate, appraise, and synthesize in a single source all empirical evidence that meet a set of previously specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a clearly formulated and often narrow research question on a particular topic of interest to support evidence-based practice ( Liberati et al., 2009 ). They adhere closely to explicit scientific principles ( Liberati et al., 2009 ) and rigorous methodological guidelines (Higgins & Green, 2008) aimed at reducing random and systematic errors that can lead to deviations from the truth in results or inferences. The use of explicit methods allows systematic reviews to aggregate a large body of research evidence, assess whether effects or relationships are in the same direction and of the same general magnitude, explain possible inconsistencies between study results, and determine the strength of the overall evidence for every outcome of interest based on the quality of included studies and the general consistency among them ( Cook, Mulrow, & Haynes, 1997 ). The main procedures of a systematic review involve:

  • Formulating a review question and developing a search strategy based on explicit inclusion criteria for the identification of eligible studies (usually described in the context of a detailed review protocol).
  • Searching for eligible studies using multiple databases and information sources, including grey literature sources, without any language restrictions.
  • Selecting studies, extracting data, and assessing risk of bias in a duplicate manner using two independent reviewers to avoid random or systematic errors in the process.
  • Analyzing data using quantitative or qualitative methods.
  • Presenting results in summary of findings tables.
  • Interpreting results and drawing conclusions.

Many systematic reviews, but not all, use statistical methods to combine the results of independent studies into a single quantitative estimate or summary effect size. Known as meta-analyses , these reviews use specific data extraction and statistical techniques (e.g., network, frequentist, or Bayesian meta-analyses) to calculate from each study by outcome of interest an effect size along with a confidence interval that reflects the degree of uncertainty behind the point estimate of effect ( Borenstein, Hedges, Higgins, & Rothstein, 2009 ; Deeks, Higgins, & Altman, 2008 ). Subsequently, they use fixed or random-effects analysis models to combine the results of the included studies, assess statistical heterogeneity, and calculate a weighted average of the effect estimates from the different studies, taking into account their sample sizes. The summary effect size is a value that reflects the average magnitude of the intervention effect for a particular outcome of interest or, more generally, the strength of a relationship between two variables across all studies included in the systematic review. By statistically combining data from multiple studies, meta-analyses can create more precise and reliable estimates of intervention effects than those derived from individual studies alone, when these are examined independently as discrete sources of information.

The review by Gurol-Urganci, de Jongh, Vodopivec-Jamsek, Atun, and Car (2013) on the effects of mobile phone messaging reminders for attendance at healthcare appointments is an illustrative example of a high-quality systematic review with meta-analysis. Missed appointments are a major cause of inefficiency in healthcare delivery with substantial monetary costs to health systems. These authors sought to assess whether mobile phone-based appointment reminders delivered through Short Message Service ( sms ) or Multimedia Messaging Service ( mms ) are effective in improving rates of patient attendance and reducing overall costs. To this end, they conducted a comprehensive search on multiple databases using highly sensitive search strategies without language or publication-type restrictions to identify all rct s that are eligible for inclusion. In order to minimize the risk of omitting eligible studies not captured by the original search, they supplemented all electronic searches with manual screening of trial registers and references contained in the included studies. Study selection, data extraction, and risk of bias assessments were performed inde­­pen­dently by two coders using standardized methods to ensure consistency and to eliminate potential errors. Findings from eight rct s involving 6,615 participants were pooled into meta-analyses to calculate the magnitude of effects that mobile text message reminders have on the rate of attendance at healthcare appointments compared to no reminders and phone call reminders.

Meta-analyses are regarded as powerful tools for deriving meaningful conclusions. However, there are situations in which it is neither reasonable nor appropriate to pool studies together using meta-analytic methods simply because there is extensive clinical heterogeneity between the included studies or variation in measurement tools, comparisons, or outcomes of interest. In these cases, systematic reviews can use qualitative synthesis methods such as vote counting, content analysis, classification schemes and tabulations, as an alternative approach to narratively synthesize the results of the independent studies included in the review. This form of review is known as qualitative systematic review.

A rigorous example of one such review in the eHealth domain is presented by Mickan, Atherton, Roberts, Heneghan, and Tilson (2014) on the use of handheld computers by healthcare professionals and their impact on access to information and clinical decision-making. In line with the methodological guide­lines for systematic reviews, these authors: (a) developed and registered with prospero ( www.crd.york.ac.uk/ prospero / ) an a priori review protocol; (b) conducted comprehensive searches for eligible studies using multiple databases and other supplementary strategies (e.g., forward searches); and (c) subsequently carried out study selection, data extraction, and risk of bias assessments in a duplicate manner to eliminate potential errors in the review process. Heterogeneity between the included studies in terms of reported outcomes and measures precluded the use of meta-analytic methods. To this end, the authors resorted to using narrative analysis and synthesis to describe the effectiveness of handheld computers on accessing information for clinical knowledge, adherence to safety and clinical quality guidelines, and diagnostic decision-making.

In recent years, the number of systematic reviews in the field of health informatics has increased considerably. Systematic reviews with discordant findings can cause great confusion and make it difficult for decision-makers to interpret the review-level evidence ( Moher, 2013 ). Therefore, there is a growing need for appraisal and synthesis of prior systematic reviews to ensure that decision-making is constantly informed by the best available accumulated evidence. Umbrella reviews , also known as overviews of systematic reviews, are tertiary types of evidence synthesis that aim to accomplish this; that is, they aim to compare and contrast findings from multiple systematic reviews and meta-analyses ( Becker & Oxman, 2008 ). Umbrella reviews generally adhere to the same principles and rigorous methodological guidelines used in systematic reviews. However, the unit of analysis in umbrella reviews is the systematic review rather than the primary study ( Becker & Oxman, 2008 ). Unlike systematic reviews that have a narrow focus of inquiry, umbrella reviews focus on broader research topics for which there are several potential interventions ( Smith, Devane, Begley, & Clarke, 2011 ). A recent umbrella review on the effects of home telemonitoring interventions for patients with heart failure critically appraised, compared, and synthesized evidence from 15 systematic reviews to investigate which types of home telemonitoring technologies and forms of interventions are more effective in reducing mortality and hospital admissions ( Kitsiou, Paré, & Jaana, 2015 ).

9.3.5. Realist Reviews

Realist reviews are theory-driven interpretative reviews developed to inform, enhance, or supplement conventional systematic reviews by making sense of heterogeneous evidence about complex interventions applied in diverse contexts in a way that informs policy decision-making ( Greenhalgh, Wong, Westhorp, & Pawson, 2011 ). They originated from criticisms of positivist systematic reviews which centre on their “simplistic” underlying assumptions ( Oates, 2011 ). As explained above, systematic reviews seek to identify causation. Such logic is appropriate for fields like medicine and education where findings of randomized controlled trials can be aggregated to see whether a new treatment or intervention does improve outcomes. However, many argue that it is not possible to establish such direct causal links between interventions and outcomes in fields such as social policy, management, and information systems where for any intervention there is unlikely to be a regular or consistent outcome ( Oates, 2011 ; Pawson, 2006 ; Rousseau, Manning, & Denyer, 2008 ).

To circumvent these limitations, Pawson, Greenhalgh, Harvey, and Walshe (2005) have proposed a new approach for synthesizing knowledge that seeks to unpack the mechanism of how “complex interventions” work in particular contexts. The basic research question — what works? — which is usually associated with systematic reviews changes to: what is it about this intervention that works, for whom, in what circumstances, in what respects and why? Realist reviews have no particular preference for either quantitative or qualitative evidence. As a theory-building approach, a realist review usually starts by articulating likely underlying mechanisms and then scrutinizes available evidence to find out whether and where these mechanisms are applicable ( Shepperd et al., 2009 ). Primary studies found in the extant literature are viewed as case studies which can test and modify the initial theories ( Rousseau et al., 2008 ).

The main objective pursued in the realist review conducted by Otte-Trojel, de Bont, Rundall, and van de Klundert (2014) was to examine how patient portals contribute to health service delivery and patient outcomes. The specific goals were to investigate how outcomes are produced and, most importantly, how variations in outcomes can be explained. The research team started with an exploratory review of background documents and research studies to identify ways in which patient portals may contribute to health service delivery and patient outcomes. The authors identified six main ways which represent “educated guesses” to be tested against the data in the evaluation studies. These studies were identified through a formal and systematic search in four databases between 2003 and 2013. Two members of the research team selected the articles using a pre-established list of inclusion and exclusion criteria and following a two-step procedure. The authors then extracted data from the selected articles and created several tables, one for each outcome category. They organized information to bring forward those mechanisms where patient portals contribute to outcomes and the variation in outcomes across different contexts.

9.3.6. Critical Reviews

Lastly, critical reviews aim to provide a critical evaluation and interpretive analysis of existing literature on a particular topic of interest to reveal strengths, weaknesses, contradictions, controversies, inconsistencies, and/or other important issues with respect to theories, hypotheses, research methods or results ( Baumeister & Leary, 1997 ; Kirkevold, 1997 ). Unlike other review types, critical reviews attempt to take a reflective account of the research that has been done in a particular area of interest, and assess its credibility by using appraisal instruments or critical interpretive methods. In this way, critical reviews attempt to constructively inform other scholars about the weaknesses of prior research and strengthen knowledge development by giving focus and direction to studies for further improvement ( Kirkevold, 1997 ).

Kitsiou, Paré, and Jaana (2013) provide an example of a critical review that assessed the methodological quality of prior systematic reviews of home telemonitoring studies for chronic patients. The authors conducted a comprehensive search on multiple databases to identify eligible reviews and subsequently used a validated instrument to conduct an in-depth quality appraisal. Results indicate that the majority of systematic reviews in this particular area suffer from important methodological flaws and biases that impair their internal validity and limit their usefulness for clinical and decision-making purposes. To this end, they provide a number of recommendations to strengthen knowledge development towards improving the design and execution of future reviews on home telemonitoring.

9.4. Summary

Table 9.1 outlines the main types of literature reviews that were described in the previous sub-sections and summarizes the main characteristics that distinguish one review type from another. It also includes key references to methodological guidelines and useful sources that can be used by eHealth scholars and researchers for planning and developing reviews.

Table 9.1. Typology of Literature Reviews (adapted from Paré et al., 2015).

Typology of Literature Reviews (adapted from Paré et al., 2015).

As shown in Table 9.1 , each review type addresses different kinds of research questions or objectives, which subsequently define and dictate the methods and approaches that need to be used to achieve the overarching goal(s) of the review. For example, in the case of narrative reviews, there is greater flexibility in searching and synthesizing articles ( Green et al., 2006 ). Researchers are often relatively free to use a diversity of approaches to search, identify, and select relevant scientific articles, describe their operational characteristics, present how the individual studies fit together, and formulate conclusions. On the other hand, systematic reviews are characterized by their high level of systematicity, rigour, and use of explicit methods, based on an “a priori” review plan that aims to minimize bias in the analysis and synthesis process (Higgins & Green, 2008). Some reviews are exploratory in nature (e.g., scoping/mapping reviews), whereas others may be conducted to discover patterns (e.g., descriptive reviews) or involve a synthesis approach that may include the critical analysis of prior research ( Paré et al., 2015 ). Hence, in order to select the most appropriate type of review, it is critical to know before embarking on a review project, why the research synthesis is conducted and what type of methods are best aligned with the pursued goals.

9.5. Concluding Remarks

In light of the increased use of evidence-based practice and research generating stronger evidence ( Grady et al., 2011 ; Lyden et al., 2013 ), review articles have become essential tools for summarizing, synthesizing, integrating or critically appraising prior knowledge in the eHealth field. As mentioned earlier, when rigorously conducted review articles represent powerful information sources for eHealth scholars and practitioners looking for state-of-the-art evidence. The typology of literature reviews we used herein will allow eHealth researchers, graduate students and practitioners to gain a better understanding of the similarities and differences between review types.

We must stress that this classification scheme does not privilege any specific type of review as being of higher quality than another ( Paré et al., 2015 ). As explained above, each type of review has its own strengths and limitations. Having said that, we realize that the methodological rigour of any review — be it qualitative, quantitative or mixed — is a critical aspect that should be considered seriously by prospective authors. In the present context, the notion of rigour refers to the reliability and validity of the review process described in section 9.2. For one thing, reliability is related to the reproducibility of the review process and steps, which is facilitated by a comprehensive documentation of the literature search process, extraction, coding and analysis performed in the review. Whether the search is comprehensive or not, whether it involves a methodical approach for data extraction and synthesis or not, it is important that the review documents in an explicit and transparent manner the steps and approach that were used in the process of its development. Next, validity characterizes the degree to which the review process was conducted appropriately. It goes beyond documentation and reflects decisions related to the selection of the sources, the search terms used, the period of time covered, the articles selected in the search, and the application of backward and forward searches ( vom Brocke et al., 2009 ). In short, the rigour of any review article is reflected by the explicitness of its methods (i.e., transparency) and the soundness of the approach used. We refer those interested in the concepts of rigour and quality to the work of Templier and Paré (2015) which offers a detailed set of methodological guidelines for conducting and evaluating various types of review articles.

To conclude, our main objective in this chapter was to demystify the various types of literature reviews that are central to the continuous development of the eHealth field. It is our hope that our descriptive account will serve as a valuable source for those conducting, evaluating or using reviews in this important and growing domain.

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  • Cite this Page Paré G, Kitsiou S. Chapter 9 Methods for Literature Reviews. In: Lau F, Kuziemsky C, editors. Handbook of eHealth Evaluation: An Evidence-based Approach [Internet]. Victoria (BC): University of Victoria; 2017 Feb 27.
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  • Introduction
  • Overview of the Literature Review Process and Steps
  • Types of Review Articles and Brief Illustrations
  • Concluding Remarks

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Literature Review

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The purpose of a literature review is to collect relevant, timely research on your chosen topic, and synthesize it into a cohesive summary of existing knowledge in the field. This then prepares you for making your own argument on that topic, or for conducting your own original research.

Depending on your field of study, literature reviews can take different forms. Some disciplines require that you synthesize your sources topically, organizing your paragraphs according to how your different sources discuss similar topics. Other disciplines require that you discuss each source in individual paragraphs, covering various aspects in that single article, chapter, or book.

Within your review of a given source, you can cover many different aspects, including (if a research study) the purpose, scope, methods, results, any discussion points, limitations, and implications for future research. Make sure you know which model your professor expects you to follow when writing your own literature reviews.

Tip : Literature reviews may or may not be a graded component of your class or major assignment, but even if it is not, it is a good idea to draft one so that you know the current conversations taking place on your chosen topic. It can better prepare you to write your own, unique argument.

Benefits of Literature Reviews

  • Literature reviews allow you to gain familiarity with the current knowledge in your chosen field, as well as the boundaries and limitations of that field.
  • Literature reviews also help you to gain an understanding of the theory(ies) driving the field, allowing you to place your research question into context.
  • Literature reviews provide an opportunity for you to see and even evaluate successful and unsuccessful assessment and research methods in your field.
  • Literature reviews prevent you from duplicating the same information as others writing in your field, allowing you to find your own, unique approach to your topic.
  • Literature reviews give you familiarity with the knowledge in your field, giving you the chance to analyze the significance of your additional research.

Choosing Your Sources

When selecting your sources to compile your literature review, make sure you follow these guidelines to ensure you are working with the strongest, most appropriate sources possible.

Topically Relevant

Find sources within the scope of your topic

Appropriately Aged

Find sources that are not too old for your assignment

Find sources whose authors have authority on your topic

Appropriately “Published”

Find sources that meet your instructor’s guidelines (academic, professional, print, etc.)

Tip:  Treat your professors and librarians as experts you can turn to for advice on how to locate sources. They are a valuable asset to you, so take advantage of them!

Organizing Your Literature Review

Synthesizing topically.

Some assignments require discussing your sources together, in paragraphs organized according to shared topics between them.

For example, in a literature review covering current conversations on Alison Bechdel’s  Fun Home , authors may discuss various topics including:

  • her graphic style
  • her allusions to various literary texts
  • her story’s implications regarding LGBT experiences in 20 th  century America.

In this case, you would cluster your sources on these three topics. One paragraph would cover how the sources you collected dealt with Bechdel’s graphic style. Another, her allusions. A third, her implications.

Each of these paragraphs would discuss how the sources you found treated these topics in connection to one another. Basically, you compare and contrast how your sources discuss similar issues and points.

To determine these shared topics, examine aspects including:

  • Definition of terms
  • Common ground
  • Issues that divide
  • Rhetorical context

Summarizing Individually

Depending on the assignment, your professor may prefer that you discuss each source in your literature review individually (in their own, separate paragraphs or sections). Your professor may give you specific guidelines as far as what to cover in these paragraphs/sections.

If, for instance, your sources are all primary research studies, here are some aspects to consider covering:

  • Participants
  • Limitations
  • Implications
  • Significance

Each section of your literature review, in this case, will identify all of these elements for each individual article.

You may or may not need to separate your information into multiple paragraphs for each source. If you do, using proper headings in the appropriate citation style (APA, MLA, etc.) will help keep you organized.

If you are writing a literature review as part of a larger assignment, you generally do not need an introduction and/or conclusion, because it is embedded within the context of your larger paper.

If, however, your literature review is a standalone assignment, it is a good idea to include some sort of introduction and conclusion to provide your reader with context regarding your topic, purpose, and any relevant implications or further questions. Make sure you know what your professor is expecting for your literature review’s content.

Typically, a literature review concludes with a full bibliography of your included sources. Make sure you use the style guide required by your professor for this assignment.

Literature reviews as independent studies: guidelines for academic practice

  • Original Paper
  • Open access
  • Published: 14 October 2022
  • Volume 16 , pages 2577–2595, ( 2022 )

Cite this article

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  • Sascha Kraus   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-4886-7482 1 , 2 ,
  • Matthias Breier 3 ,
  • Weng Marc Lim 4 , 8 , 22 ,
  • Marina Dabić 5 , 6 ,
  • Satish Kumar 7 , 8 ,
  • Dominik Kanbach 9 , 10 ,
  • Debmalya Mukherjee 11 ,
  • Vincenzo Corvello 12 ,
  • Juan Piñeiro-Chousa 13 ,
  • Eric Liguori 14 ,
  • Daniel Palacios-Marqués 15 ,
  • Francesco Schiavone 16 , 17 ,
  • Alberto Ferraris 18 , 21 ,
  • Cristina Fernandes 19 , 20 &
  • João J. Ferreira 19  

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Review articles or literature reviews are a critical part of scientific research. While numerous guides on literature reviews exist, these are often limited to the philosophy of review procedures, protocols, and nomenclatures, triggering non-parsimonious reporting and confusion due to overlapping similarities. To address the aforementioned limitations, we adopt a pragmatic approach to demystify and shape the academic practice of conducting literature reviews. We concentrate on the types, focuses, considerations, methods, and contributions of literature reviews as independent, standalone studies. As such, our article serves as an overview that scholars can rely upon to navigate the fundamental elements of literature reviews as standalone and independent studies, without getting entangled in the complexities of review procedures, protocols, and nomenclatures.

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1 Introduction

A literature review – or a review article – is “a study that analyzes and synthesizes an existing body of literature by identifying, challenging, and advancing the building blocks of a theory through an examination of a body (or several bodies) of prior work (Post et al. 2020 , p. 352). Literature reviews as standalone pieces of work may allow researchers to enhance their understanding of prior work in their field, enabling them to more easily identify gaps in the body of literature and potential avenues for future research. More importantly, review articles may challenge established assumptions and norms of a given field or topic, recognize critical problems and factual errors, and stimulate future scientific conversations around that topic. Literature reviews Footnote 1 come in many different formats and purposes:

Some review articles conduct a critical evaluation of the literature, whereas others elect to adopt a more exploratory and descriptive approach.

Some reviews examine data, methodologies, and findings, whereas others look at constructs, themes, and theories.

Some reviews provide summaries by holistically synthesizing the existing research on a topic, whereas others adopt an integrative approach by assessing related and interdisciplinary work.

The number of review articles published as independent or standalone studies has been increasing over time. According to Scopus (i.e., search database ), reviews (i.e., document type ) were first published in journals (i.e., source type ) as independent studies in 1945, and they subsequently appeared in three digits yearly from the late 1980s to the late 1990s, four digits yearly from the early 2000s to the late 2010s, and five digits in the year 2021 (Fig.  1 ). This increase is indicative that reviewers and editors in business and management research alike see value and purpose in review articles to such a level that they are now commonly accepted as independent, standalone studies. This development is also reflected in the fact that some academic journals exclusively publish review articles (e.g., the Academy of Management Annals , or the  International Journal of Management Reviews ), and journals publishing in various fields often have special issues dedicated to literature reviews on certain topic areas (e.g., the Journal of Management and the Journal of International Business Studies ).

figure 1

Full-year publication trend of review articles on Scopus (1945–2021)

One of the most important prerequisites of a high-quality review article is that the work follows an established methodology, systematically selects and analyzes articles, and periodically covers the field to identify latest developments (Snyder 2019 ). Additionally, it needs to be reproducible, well-evidenced, and transparent, resulting in a sample inclusive of all relevant and appropriate studies (Gusenbauer and Haddaway 2020; Hansen et al. 2021 ). This observation is in line with Palmatier et al. ( 2018 ), who state that review articles provide an important synthesis of findings and perspectives in a given body of knowledge. Snyder ( 2019 ) also reaffirmed this rationale, pointing out that review articles have the power to answer research questions beyond that which can be achieved in a single study. Ultimately, readers of review articles stand to gain a one-stop, state-of-the-art synthesis (Lim et al. 2022a ; Popli et al. 2022) that encapsulates critical insights through the process of re-interpreting, re-organizing, and re-connecting a body knowledge (Fan et al. 2022 ).

There are many reasons to conduct review articles. Kraus et al. ( 2020 ) explicitly mention the benefits of conducting systematic reviews by declaring that they often represent the first step in the context of larger research projects, such as doctoral dissertations. When carrying out work of this kind, it is important that a holistic overview of the current state of literature is achieved and embedded into a proper synthesis. This allows researchers to pinpoint relevant research gaps and adequately fit future conceptual or empirical studies into the state of the academic discussion (Kraus et al., 2021 ). A review article as an independent or standalone study is a viable option for any academic – especially young scholars, such as doctoral candidates – who wishes to delve into a specific topic for which a (recent) review article is not available.

The process of conducting a review article can be challenging, especially for novice scholars (Boell and Cecez-Kecmanovic 2015 ). Therefore, it is not surprising that numerous guides have been written in an attempt to improve the quality of review studies and support emerging scholars in their endeavors to have their work published. These guides for conducting review articles span a variety of academic fields, such as engineering education (Borrego et al. 2014 ), health sciences (Cajal et al. 2020 ), psychology (Laher and Hassem 2020 ), supply chain management (Durach et al. 2017 ), or business and entrepreneurship (Kraus et al. 2020 ; Tranfield et al. 2003 ) – the latter were among the first scholars to recognize the need to educate business/management scholars on the roles of review studies in assembling, ascertaining, and assessing the intellectual territory of a specific knowledge domain. Furthermore, they shed light on the stages (i.e., planning the review, conducting the review, reporting, and dissemination) and phases (i.e., identifying the need for a review, preparation of a proposal for a review, development of a review protocol, identification of research, selection of studies, study quality assessment, data extraction and monitoring progress, data synthesis, the report and recommendations, and getting evidence into practice) of conducting a systematic review. Other scholars have either adapted and/or developed new procedures (Kraus et al. 2020 ; Snyder 2019 ) or established review protocols such as the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) flow diagram (Moher et al. 2015 ). The latter provides a checklist that improves transparency and reproducibility, thus reducing questionable research practices. The declarative and procedural knowledge of a checklist allows users to derive value from (and, in some cases, produce) methodological literature reviews.

Two distinct and critical gaps or issues provide impetus for our article. First, while the endeavors of the named scholars are undoubtedly valuable contributions, they often encourage other scholars to explain the methodology of their review studies in a non-parsimonious way ( 1st issue ). This can become problematic if this information distracts and deprives scholars from providing richer review findings, particularly in instances in which publication outlets impose a strict page and/or word limit. More often than not, the early parts (i.e., stages/phases, such as needs, aims, and scope) of these procedures or protocols are explained in the introduction, but they tend to be reiterated in the methodology section due to the prescription of these procedures or protocols. Other parts of these procedures or protocols could also be reported more parsimoniously, for example, by filtering out documents, given that scientific databases (such as Scopus or Web of Science ) have since been upgraded to allow scholars to select and implement filtering criteria when conducting a search (i.e., criterion-by-criterion filtering may no longer be necessary). More often than not, the procedures or protocols of review studies can be signposted (e.g., bracket labeling) and disclosed in a sharp and succinct manner while maintaining transparency and replicability.

Other guides have been written to introduce review nomenclatures (i.e., names/naming) and their equivalent philosophical underpinnings. Palmatier et al. ( 2018 ) introduced three clearly but broadly defined nomenclatures of literature reviews as independent studies: domain-based reviews, theory-based reviews, and method-based reviews. However, such review nomenclatures can be confusing due to their overlapping similarities ( 2nd issue ). For example, Lim et al. ( 2022a ) highlighted their observation that the review nomenclatures associated with domain-based reviews could also be used for theory-based and method-based reviews.

The two aforementioned issues – i.e., the lack of a parsimonious understanding and the reporting of the review methodology , and the confusion emerging from review nomenclatures – are inarguably the unintended outcomes of diving into an advanced (i.e., higher level) understanding of literature review procedures, protocols, and nomenclatures from a philosophical perspective (i.e., underpinnings) without a foundational (i.e., basic level) understanding of the fundamental (i.e., core) elements of literature reviews from a pragmatic perspective. Our article aims to shed light on these issues and hopes to provide clarity for future scholarly endeavors.

Having a foundational understanding of literature reviews as independent studies is (i) necessary when addressing the aforementioned issues; (ii) important in reconciling and scaffolding our understanding, and (iii) relevant and timely due to the proliferation of literature reviews as independent studies. To contribute a solution toward addressing this gap , we aim to demystify review articles as independent studies from a pragmatic standpoint (i.e., practicality). To do so, we deliberately (i) move away from review procedures, protocols, and nomenclatures, and (ii) invest our attention in developing a parsimonious, scaffolded understanding of the fundamental elements (i.e., types, focuses, considerations, methods, and contributions) of review articles as independent studies.

Three contributions distinguish our article. It is worth noting that pragmatic guides (i.e., foundational knowledge), such as the present one, are not at odds with extant philosophical guides (i.e., advanced knowledge), but rather they complement them. Having a foundational knowledge of the fundamental elements of literature reviews as independent studies is valuable , as it can help scholars to (i) gain a good grasp of the fundamental elements of literature reviews as independent studies ( 1st contribution ), and (ii) mindfully adopt or adapt existing review procedures, protocols, and nomenclatures to better suit the circumstances of their reviews (e.g., choosing and developing a well-defined review nomenclature, and choosing and reporting on review considerations and steps more parsimoniously) ( 2nd contribution ). Therefore, this pragmatic guide serves as (iii) a foundational article (i.e., preparatory understanding) for literature reviews as independent studies ( 3rd contribution ). Following this, extant guides using a philosophical approach (i.e., advanced understanding) could be relied upon to make informed review decisions (e.g., adoption, adaptation) in response to the conventions of extant review procedures, protocols, and nomenclatures (Fig.  2 ).

figure 2

Foundational and advanced understanding of literature reviews as independent studies

2 Fundamental elements of literature reviews as independent studies

A foundational understanding of literature reviews as independent studies can be acquired through the appreciation of five fundamental elements – i.e., types, focuses, considerations, methods, and contributions – which are illustrated in Fig.  3 and summarized in the following sections.

figure 3

Fundamental elements of literature reviews as independent studies

There are two types of literature reviews as independent studies: systematic literature reviews ( SLRs ) and non-systematic literature reviews ( non-SLRs ). It is important to recognize that SLRs and non-SLRs are not review nomenclatures (i.e., names/naming) but rather review types (i.e., classifications).

In particular, SLRs are reviews carried out in a systematic way using an adopted or adapted procedure or protocol to guide data curation and analysis, thus enabling transparent disclosure and replicability (Lim et al. 2022a ; Kraus et al. 2020 ). Therefore, any review nomenclature guided by a systematic methodology is essentially an SLR. The origin of this type of literature review can be traced back to the evidence-based medicine movement in the early 1990s, with the objective being to overcome the issue of inconclusive findings in studies for medical treatments (Boell and Cecez-Kecmanovic 2015 ).

In contrast, non-SLRs are reviews conducted without any systematic procedure or protocol; instead, they weave together relevant literature based on the critical evaluations and (subjective) choices of the author(s) through a process of discovery and critique (e.g., pointing out contradictions and questioning assertions or beliefs); they are shaped by the exposure, expertise, and experience (i.e., the “3Es” in judgement calls) of the author(s). Therefore, non-SLRs are essentially critical reviews of the literature (Lim and Weissmann 2021 ).

2.2 Focuses

Unlike Palmatier et al. ( 2018 ) who considered domain-based reviews, theory-based reviews, and method-based reviews as review nomenclatures, we consider domain , theory , and method as three substantive focuses that can take center stage in literature reviews as independent studies. This is in line with our attempt to move away from review nomenclatures when providing a foundational understanding of literature reviews as independent studies.

A review that is domain-focused can examine: (i) a  concept (e.g., customer engagement; Lim et al. 2022b ; digital transformation; Kraus et al. 2021 ; home sharing; Lim et al. 2021 ; sharing economy; Lim 2020 ), (ii) a context (e.g., India; Mukherjee et al. 2022a ), (iii) a discipline (e.g., entrepreneurship; Ferreira et al. 2015 ; international business; Ghauri et al. 2021 ), (iv) a field (e.g., family business; Lahiri et al. 2020 ; Rovelli et al. 2021 ; female entrepreneurship; Ojong et al. 2021 ), or (v) an outlet (e.g., Journal of Business Research ; Donthu et al. 2020 ; Management International Review ; Mukherjee et al. 2021 ; Review of Managerial Science ; Mas-Tur et al. 2020 ), which typically offer broad, overarching insights.

Domain-focused hybrids , such as the between-domain hybrid (e.g., concept-discipline hybrid, such as digital transformation in business and management; Kraus et al. 2022 ; religion in business and entrepreneurship; Kumar et al. 2022a ; personality traits in entrepreneurship; Salmony and Kanbach 2022 ; and policy implications in HR and OB research; Aguinis et al., 2022 ) and the within-domain hybrid (e.g., the concept-concept hybrid, such as customer engagement and social media; Lim and Rasul 2022 ; and global business and organizational excellence; Lim 2022 ; and the discipline-discipline hybrid, such as neuromarketing; Lim 2018 ) are also common as they can provide finer-grained insights.

A review that is theory-focused can explore a standalone theory (e.g., theory of planned behavior; Duan and Jiang 2008 ), as well as a theory in conjunction with a domain , such as the concept-theory hybrid (e.g., behavioral control and theory of planned behavior; Lim and Weissmann 2021 ) and the theory-discipline hybrid (e.g., theory of planned behavior in hospitality, leisure, and tourism; Ulker-Demirel and Ciftci 2020 ), or a theory in conjunction with a method (e.g., theory of planned behavior and structural equation modeling).

A review that is method-focused can investigate a standalone method (e.g., structural equation modeling; Deng et al. 2018 ) or a method in conjunction with a domain , such as the method-discipline hybrid (e.g., fsQCA in business and management; Kumar et al. 2022b ).

2.3 Planning the review, critical considerations, and data collection

The considerations required for literature reviews as independent studies depend on their type: SLRs or non-SLRs.

For non-SLRs, scholars often rely on the 3Es (i.e., exposure, expertise, and experience) to provide a critical review of the literature. Scholars who embark on non-SLRs should be well versed with the literature they are dealing with. They should know the state of the literature (e.g., debatable, underexplored, and well-established knowledge areas) and how it needs to be deciphered (e.g., tenets and issues) and approached (e.g., reconciliation proposals and new pathways) to advance theory and practice. In this regard, non-SLRs follow a deductive reasoning approach, whereby scholars initially develop a set of coverage areas for reviewing a domain, theory, or method and subsequently draw on relevant literature to shed light and support scholarly contentions in each area.

For SLRs, scholars often rely on a set of criteria to provide a well-scoped (i.e., breadth and depth), structured (i.e., organized aspects), integrated (i.e., synthesized evidence) and interpreted/narrated (i.e., describing what has happened, how and why) systematic review of the literature. Footnote 2 In this regard, SLRs follow an inductive reasoning approach, whereby a set of criteria is established and implemented to develop a corpus of scholarly documents that scholars can review. They can then deliver a state-of-the-art overview, as well as a future agenda for a domain, theory, or method. Such criteria are often listed in philosophical guides on SLR procedures (e.g., Kraus et al. 2020 ; Snyder 2019 ) and protocols (e.g., PRISMA), and they may be adopted/adapted with justifications Footnote 3 . Based on their commonalities they can be summarized as follows:

Search database (e.g., “Scopus” and/or “Web of Science”) can be defined based on justified evidence (e.g., by the two being the largest scientific databases of scholarly articles that can provide on-demand bibliographic data or records; Pranckutė 2021 ). To avoid biased outcomes due to the scope covered by the selected database, researchers could utilize two or more different databases (Dabić et al. 2021 ).

Search keywords may be developed by reading scholarly documents and subsequently brainstorming with experts. The expanding number of databases, journals, periodicals, automated approaches, and semi-automated procedures that use text mining and machine learning can offer researchers the ability to source new, relevant research and forecast the citations of influential studies. This enables them to determine further relevant articles.

Boolean operators (e.g., AND, OR) should be strategically used in developing the  string   of search keywords (e.g., “engagement” AND “customer” OR “consumer” OR “business”). Furthermore, the correct and precise application of quotation marks is important but is very frequently sidestepped, resulting in incorrect selection processes and differentiated results.

Search period (e.g., between a specified period [e.g., 2000 to 2020] or up to the latest full year at the time or writing [e.g., up to 2021]) can be defined based on the justified scope of study (e.g., contemporary evolution versus historical trajectory).

Search field (e.g., “article title, abstract, keywords”) can be defined based on justified assumptions (e.g., it is assumed that the focus of relevant documents will be mentioned in the article title, abstract, and/or keywords).

Subject area (e.g., “business, management, and accounting”) can be defined based on justified principles (e.g., the focus of the review is on the marketing discipline, which is located under the “business, management, and accounting” subject area in Scopus).

Publication stage (e.g., “final”) can be defined based on justified grounds (e.g., enabling greater accuracy in replication).

Document type (e.g., “article” and/or “review”), which reflects the type of scientific/practical contributions (e.g., empirical, synthesis, thought), can be defined based on justified rationales (e.g., articles selected because they are peer-reviewed; editorials not selected because they are not peer-reviewed).

Source type (e.g., “journal”) can be defined based on justified reasons (e.g., journals selected because they publish finalized work; conference proceedings not selected because they are work in progress, and in business/management, they are usually not being considered as full-fledged “publications”).

Language (e.g., “English”) can be determined based on justified limitations (e.g., nowadays, there are not many reasons to use another language besides the academic lingua franca English). Different spellings should also be considered, as the literature may contain both American and British spelling variants (e.g., organization and organisation). Truncation and wildcards in searches are recommended to capture both sets of spellings. It is important to note that each database varies in its symbology.

Quality filtering (e.g., “A*” and “A” or “4*”, “4”, and “3”) can be defined based on justified motivations (e.g., the goal is to unpack the most originally and rigorously produced knowledge, which is the hallmark of premier journals, such as those ranked “A*” and “A” by the Australian Business Deans Council [ABDC] Journal Quality List [JQL] and rated “4*”, “4”, and “3” by the Chartered Association of Business Schools [CABS] Academic Journal Guide [AJG]).

Document relevance (i.e., within the focus of the review) can be defined based on justified judgement (e.g., for a review focusing on customer engagement, articles that mention customer engagement as a passing remark without actually investigating it would be excluded).

Others: Screening process should be accomplished by beginning with the deduction of duplicate results from other databases, tracked using abstract screening to exclude unfitting studies, and ending with the full-text screening of the remaining documents.

Others: Exclusion-inclusion criteria interpretation of the abstracts/articles is obligatory when deciding whether or not the articles dealt with the matter. This step could involve removing a huge percentage of initially recognized articles.

Others: Codebook building pertains to the development of a codebook of the main descriptors within a specific field. An inductive approach can be followed and, in this case, descriptors are not established beforehand. Instead, they are established through the analysis of the articles’ content. This procedure is made up of several stages: (i) the extraction of important content from titles, abstracts, and keywords; (ii) the classification of this content to form a reduced list of the core descriptors; and (iii) revising the codebook in iterations and combining similar categories, thus developing a short list of descriptors (López-Duarte et al. 2016 , p. 512; Dabić et al. 2015 ; Vlacic et al. 2021 ).

2.4 Methods

Various methods are used to analyze the pertinent literature. Often, scholars choose a method for corpus analysis before corpus curation. Knowing the analytical technique beforehand is useful, as it allows researchers to acquire and prepare the right data in the right format. This typically occurs when scholars have decided upon and justified pursuing a specific review nomenclature upfront (e.g., bibliometric reviews) based on the problem at hand (e.g., broad domain [outlet] with a large corpus [thousands of articles], such as a premier journal that has been publishing for decades) (Donthu et al. 2021 ). However, this may not be applicable in instances where (i) scholars do not curate a corpus of articles (non-SLRs), and (ii) scholars only know the size of the corpus of articles once that corpus is curated (SLRs). Therefore, scholars may wish to decide on a method of analyzing the literature depending on (i) whether they rely on a corpus of articles (i.e., yes or no), and (ii) the size of the corpus of articles that they rely on to review the literature (i.e., n  = 0 to ∞).

When analytical techniques (e.g., bibliometric analysis, critical analysis, meta-analysis) are decoupled from review nomenclatures (e.g., bibliometric reviews, critical reviews, meta-analytical reviews), we uncover a toolbox of the following methods for use when analyzing the literature:

Bibliometric analysis measures the literature and processes data by using algorithm, arithmetic, and statistics to analyze, explore, organize, and investigate large amounts of data. This enables scholars to identify and recognize potential “hidden patterns” that could help them during the literature review process. Bibliometrics allows scholars to objectively analyze a large corpus of articles (e.g., high hundreds or more) using quantitative techniques (Donthu et al. 2021 ). There are two overarching categories for bibliometric analysis: performance analysis and science mapping. Performance analysis enables scholars to assess the productivity (publication) and impact (citation) of the literature relating to a domain, method, or theory using various quantitative metrics (e.g., average citations per publication or year, h -index, g -index, i -index). Science mapping grants scholars the ability to map the literature in that domain, method, or theory based on bibliographic data (e.g., bibliographic coupling generates thematic clusters based on similarities in shared bibliographic data [e.g., references] among citing articles; co-citation analysis generates thematic clusters based on commonly cited articles; co-occurrence analysis generates thematic clusters based on bibliographic data [e.g., keywords] that commonly appear together; PageRank analysis generates thematic clusters based on articles that are commonly cited in highly cited articles; and topic modeling generates thematic clusters based on the natural language processing of bibliographic data [e.g., article title, abstract, and keywords]). Footnote 4 Given the advancement in algorithms and technology, reviews using bibliometric analysis are considered to be smart (Kraus et al. 2021 ) and technologically-empowered (Kumar et al. 2022b ) SLRs, in which a review has harnessed the benefits of (i) the machine learning of the bibliographic data of scholarly research from technologically-empowered scientific databases, and (ii) big data analytics involving various science mapping techniques (Kumar et al. 2022c ).

Content analysis allows scholars to analyze a small to medium corpus of articles (i.e., tens to low hundreds) using quantitative and qualitative techniques. From a quantitative perspective , scholars can objectively carry out a content analysis by quantifying a specific unit of analysis . A useful method of doing so involves adopting, adapting, or developing an organizing framework . For example, Lim et al. ( 2021 ) employed an organizing (ADO-TCM) framework to quantify content in academic literature based on: (i) the categories of knowledge; (ii) the relationships between antecedents, decisions, and outcomes; and (iii) the theories, contexts, and methods used to develop the understanding for (i) and (ii). The rapid evolution of software for content analysis allows scholars to carry out complex elaborations on the corpus of analyzed articles, so much so that the most recent software enables the semi-automatic development of an organizing framework (Ammirato et al. 2022 ). From a qualitative perspective , scholars can conduct a content analysis or, more specifically, a thematic analysis , by subjectively organizing the content into themes. For example, Creevey et al. ( 2022 ) reviewed the literature on social media and luxury, providing insights on five core themes (i.e., luxury brand strategy, luxury brand social media communications, luxury consumer attitudes and perceptions, engagement, and the influence of social media on brand performance-related outcomes) generated through a content (thematic) analysis. Systematic approaches for inductive concept development through qualitative research are similarly applied in literature reviews in an attempt to reduce the subjectivity of derived themes. Following the principles of the approach by Gioia et al. ( 2012 ), Korherr and Kanbach ( 2021 ) develop a taxonomy of human-related capabilities in big data analytics. Building on a sample of 75 studies for the literature review, 33 first-order concepts are identified. These are categorized into 15 second-order themes and are finally merged into five aggregate dimensions. Using the same procedure, Leemann and Kanbach ( 2022 ) identify 240 idiosyncratic dynamic capabilities in a sample of 34 studies for their literature review. They then categorize these into 19 dynamic sub-capabilities. The advancement of technology also makes it possible to conduct content analysis using computer assisted qualitative data analysis (CAQDA) software (e.g., ATLAS.ti, Nvivo, Quirkos) (Lim et al. 2022a ).

Critical analysis allows scholars to subjectively use their 3Es (i.e., exposure, expertise, and experience) to provide a critical evaluation of academic literature. This analysis is typically used in non-SLRs, and can be deployed in tandem with other analyses, such as bibliometric analysis and content analysis in SLRs, which are used to discuss consensual, contradictory, and underexplored areas of the literature. For SLRs, scholars are encouraged to engage in critical evaluations of the literature so that they can truly contribute to advancing theory and practice (Baker et al. 2022 ; Lim et al. 2022a ; Mukherjee et al. 2022b ).

Meta-analysis allows scholars to objectively establish a quantitative estimate of commonly studied relationships in the literature (Grewal et al. 2018 ). This analysis is typically employed in SLRs intending to reconcile a myriad of relationships (Lim et al. 2022a ). The relationships established are often made up of conflicting evidence (e.g., a positive or significant effect in one study, but a negative or non-significant effect in another study). However, through meta-analysis, scholars are able to identify potential factors (e.g., contexts or sociodemographic information) that may have led to the conflict.

Others: Multiple correspondence analysis helps to map the field, assessing the associations between qualitative content within a matrix of variables and cases. Homogeneity Analysis by Means of Alternating Least Squares ( HOMALS ) is also considered useful in allowing researchers to map out the intellectual structure of a variety of research fields (Gonzalez-Loureiro et al. 2015 ; Gonzalez-Louriero 2021; Obradović et al. 2021 ). HOMALS can be performed in R or used along with a matrix through SPSS software. In summary, the overall objective of this analysis is to discover a low dimensional representation of the original high dimensional space (i.e., the matrix of descriptors and articles). To measure the goodness of fit, a loss function is used. This function is used minimally, and the HOMALS algorithm is applied to the least squares loss functions in SPSS. This analysis provides a proximity map, in which articles and descriptors are shown in low-dimensional spaces (typically on two axes). Keywords are paired and each couple that appears together in a large number of articles is shown to be closer on the map and vice-versa.

When conducting a literature review, software solutions allow researchers to cover a broad range of variables, from built-in functions of statistical software packages to software orientated towards meta-analyses, and from commercial to open-source solutions. Personal preference plays a huge role, but the decision as to which software will be the most useful is entirely dependent on how complex the methods and the dataset are. Of all the commercial software providers, we have found the built-in functions of (i) R and VOSviewer most useful in performing bibliometric analysis (Aria and Cuccurullo 2017 ; R Core Team 2021 ; Van Eck and Waltman 2014 ) and (ii) Stata most useful in performing meta-analytical tasks.

Many different analytical tools have been used. These include simple document counting, citation analysis, word frequency analysis, cluster analysis, co-word analysis, and cooperation analysis (Daim et al. 2006 ). Software has also been produced for bibliometric analysis, such as the Thomson Data Analyzer (TDA), which Thomson Reuters created, and CiteSpace developed by Chen ( 2013 ). VOSviewer helps us to construct and visualize bibliometric networks, which can include articles, journals, authors, countries, and institutions, among others (Van Eck and Waltman 2014 ). These can be organized based on citations, co-citations, bibliographic coupling, or co-authorship relations. In addition, VOSviewer provides text mining functions, which can be used to facilitate a better understanding of co-occurrence networks with regards to the key terms taken from a body of scientific literature (Donthu et al. 2021 ; Wong 2018 ). Other frequently used tools include for bibliometric analysis include Bibliometrix/Biblioshiny in R, CitNetExplorer, and Gephi, among others.

2.5 Contributions

Well-conducted literature reviews may make multiple contributions to the literature as standalone, independent studies.

Generally, there are three primary contributions of literature reviews as independent studies: (i) to provide an overview of current knowledge in the domain, method, or theory, (ii) to provide an evaluation of knowledge progression in the domain, method, or theory, including the establishment of key knowledge, conflicting or inconclusive findings, and emerging and underexplored areas, and (iii) to provide a proposal for potential pathways for advancing knowledge in the domain, method, or theory (Lim et al. 2022a , p. 487). Developing theory through literature reviews can take many forms, including organizing and categorizing the literature, problematizing the literature, identifying and exposing contradictions, developing analogies and metaphors, and setting out new narratives and conceptualizations (Breslin and Gatrell 2020 ). Taken collectively, these contributions offer crystalized, evidence-based insights that both ‘mine’ and ‘prospect’ the literature, highlighting extant gaps and how they can be resolved (e.g., flags paradoxes or theoretical tensions, explaining why something has not been done, what the challenges are, and how these challenges can be overcome). These contributions can be derived through successful bibliometric analysis, content analysis, critical analysis, and meta-analysis.

Additionally, the deployment of specific methods can bring in further added value. For example, a performance analysis in a bibliometric analysis can contribute to: (i) objectively assessing and reporting research productivity and impact ; (ii) ascertaining reach for coverage claims ; (iii) identifying social dominance and hidden biases ; (iv) detecting anomalies ; and (v) evaluating ( equitable ) relative performance ; whereas science mapping in bibliometric analysis can contribute to: (i) objectively discovering thematic clusters of knowledge ; (ii) clarifying nomological networks ; (iii) mapping social patterns ; (iv) tracking evolutionary nuances ; and (v) recognizing knowledge gaps (Mukherjee et al. 2022b , p. 105).

3 Conclusion

Independent literature reviews will continue to be written as a result of their necessity, importance, relevance, and urgency when it comes to advancing knowledge (Lim et al. 2022a ; Mukherjee et al. 2022b ), and this can be seen in the increasing number of reviews being published over the last several years. Literature reviews advance academic discussion. Journal publications on various topics and subject areas are becoming more frequent sites for publication. This trend will only heighten the need for literature reviews. This article offers directions and control points that address the needs of three different stakeholder groups: producers (i.e., potential authors), evaluators (i.e., journal editors and reviewers), and users (i.e., new researchers looking to learn more about a particular methodological issue, and those teaching the next generation of scholars). Future producers will derive value from this article’s teachings on the different fundamental elements and methodological nuances of literature reviews. Procedural knowledge (i.e., using control points to assist in decision-making during the manuscript preparation phase) will also be of use. Evaluators will be able to make use of the procedural and declarative knowledge evident in control points as well. As previously outlined, the need to cultivate novelty within research on business and management practices is vital. Scholars must also be supported to choose not only safe mining approaches; they should also be encouraged to attempt more challenging and risky ventures. It is important to note that abstracts often seem to offer a lot of potential, stating that authors intend to make large conceptual contributions, broadening the horizons of the field.

Our article offers important insights also for practitioners. Noteworthily, our framework can support corporate managers in decomposing and better understanding literature reviews as ad-hoc and independent studies about specific topics that matter for their organization. For instance, practitioners can understand more easily what are the emerging trends within their domain of interest and make corporate decisions in line with such trends.

This article arises from an intentional decoupling from philosophy, in favor of adopting a more pragmatic approach. This approach can assist us in clarifying the fundamental elements of literature reviews as independent studies. Five fundamental elements must be considered: types, focuses, considerations, methods, and contributions. These elements offer a useful frame for scholars starting to work on a literature review. Overview articles (guides) such as ours are thus invaluable, as they equip scholars with a solid foundational understanding of the integral elements of a literature review. Scholars can then put these teachings into practice, armed with a better understanding of the philosophy that underpins the procedures, protocols, and nomenclatures of literature reviews as independent studies.

Data availability

Our manuscript has no associate data.

Our focus here is on standalone literature reviews in contrast with literature reviews that form the theoretical foundation for a research article.

Scoping reviews, structured reviews, integrative reviews, and interpretive/narrative reviews are commonly found in review nomenclature. However, the philosophy of these review nomenclatures essentially reflects what constitutes a good SLR. That is to say, a good SLR should be well scoped, structured, integrated, and interpreted/narrated. This observation reaffirms our position and the value of moving away from review nomenclatures to gain a foundational understanding of literature reviews as independent studies.

Given that many of these considerations can be implemented simultaneously in contemporary versions of scientific databases, scholars may choose to consolidate them into a single (or a few) step(s), where appropriate, so that they can be reported more parsimoniously. For a parsimonious but transparent and replicable exemplar, see Lim ( 2022 ).

Where keywords are present (e.g., author keywords or keywords derived from machine learning [e.g., natural language processing]), it is assumed that each keyword represents a specific meaning (e.g., topic [concept, context], method), and that a collection of keywords grouped under the same cluster represents a specific theme.

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Kraus, S., Breier, M., Lim, W.M. et al. Literature reviews as independent studies: guidelines for academic practice. Rev Manag Sci 16 , 2577–2595 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11846-022-00588-8

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Review of Related Literature: Format, Example, & How to Make RRL

A review of related literature is a separate paper or a part of an article that collects and synthesizes discussion on a topic. Its purpose is to show the current state of research on the issue and highlight gaps in existing knowledge. A literature review can be included in a research paper or scholarly article, typically following the introduction and before the research methods section.

The picture provides introductory definition of a review of related literature.

This article will clarify the definition, significance, and structure of a review of related literature. You’ll also learn how to organize your literature review and discover ideas for an RRL in different subjects.

🔤 What Is RRL?

  • ❗ Significance of Literature Review
  • 🔎 How to Search for Literature
  • 🧩 Literature Review Structure
  • 📋 Format of RRL — APA, MLA, & Others
  • ✍️ How to Write an RRL
  • 📚 Examples of RRL

🔗 References

A review of related literature (RRL) is a part of the research report that examines significant studies, theories, and concepts published in scholarly sources on a particular topic. An RRL includes 3 main components:

  • A short overview and critique of the previous research.
  • Similarities and differences between past studies and the current one.
  • An explanation of the theoretical frameworks underpinning the research.

❗ Significance of Review of Related Literature

Although the goal of a review of related literature differs depending on the discipline and its intended use, its significance cannot be overstated. Here are some examples of how a review might be beneficial:

  • It helps determine knowledge gaps .
  • It saves from duplicating research that has already been conducted.
  • It provides an overview of various research areas within the discipline.
  • It demonstrates the researcher’s familiarity with the topic.

🔎 How to Perform a Literature Search

Including a description of your search strategy in the literature review section can significantly increase your grade. You can search sources with the following steps:

🧩 Literature Review Structure Example

The majority of literature reviews follow a standard introduction-body-conclusion structure. Let’s look at the RRL structure in detail.

This image shows the literature review structure.

Introduction of Review of Related Literature: Sample

An introduction should clarify the study topic and the depth of the information to be delivered. It should also explain the types of sources used. If your lit. review is part of a larger research proposal or project, you can combine its introductory paragraph with the introduction of your paper.

Here is a sample introduction to an RRL about cyberbullying:

Bullying has troubled people since the beginning of time. However, with modern technological advancements, especially social media, bullying has evolved into cyberbullying. As a result, nowadays, teenagers and adults cannot flee their bullies, which makes them feel lonely and helpless. This literature review will examine recent studies on cyberbullying.

Sample Review of Related Literature Thesis

A thesis statement should include the central idea of your literature review and the primary supporting elements you discovered in the literature. Thesis statements are typically put at the end of the introductory paragraph.

Look at a sample thesis of a review of related literature:

This literature review shows that scholars have recently covered the issues of bullies’ motivation, the impact of bullying on victims and aggressors, common cyberbullying techniques, and victims’ coping strategies. However, there is still no agreement on the best practices to address cyberbullying.

Literature Review Body Paragraph Example

The main body of a literature review should provide an overview of the existing research on the issue. Body paragraphs should not just summarize each source but analyze them. You can organize your paragraphs with these 3 elements:

  • Claim . Start with a topic sentence linked to your literature review purpose.
  • Evidence . Cite relevant information from your chosen sources.
  • Discussion . Explain how the cited data supports your claim.

Here’s a literature review body paragraph example:

Scholars have examined the link between the aggressor and the victim. Beran et al. (2007) state that students bullied online often become cyberbullies themselves. Faucher et al. (2014) confirm this with their findings: they discovered that male and female students began engaging in cyberbullying after being subject to bullying. Hence, one can conclude that being a victim of bullying increases one’s likelihood of becoming a cyberbully.

Review of Related Literature: Conclusion

A conclusion presents a general consensus on the topic. Depending on your literature review purpose, it might include the following:

  • Introduction to further research . If you write a literature review as part of a larger research project, you can present your research question in your conclusion .
  • Overview of theories . You can summarize critical theories and concepts to help your reader understand the topic better.
  • Discussion of the gap . If you identified a research gap in the reviewed literature, your conclusion could explain why that gap is significant.

Check out a conclusion example that discusses a research gap:

There is extensive research into bullies’ motivation, the consequences of bullying for victims and aggressors, strategies for bullying, and coping with it. Yet, scholars still have not reached a consensus on what to consider the best practices to combat cyberbullying. This question is of great importance because of the significant adverse effects of cyberbullying on victims and bullies.

📋 Format of RRL — APA, MLA, & Others

In this section, we will discuss how to format an RRL according to the most common citation styles: APA, Chicago, MLA, and Harvard.

Writing a literature review using the APA7 style requires the following text formatting:

  • When using APA in-text citations , include the author’s last name and the year of publication in parentheses.
  • For direct quotations , you must also add the page number. If you use sources without page numbers, such as websites or e-books, include a paragraph number instead.
  • When referring to the author’s name in a sentence , you do not need to repeat it at the end of the sentence. Instead, include the year of publication inside the parentheses after their name.
  • The reference list should be included at the end of your literature review. It is always alphabetized by the last name of the author (from A to Z), and the lines are indented one-half inch from the left margin of your paper. Do not forget to invert authors’ names (the last name should come first) and include the full titles of journals instead of their abbreviations. If you use an online source, add its URL.

The RRL format in the Chicago style is as follows:

  • Author-date . You place your citations in brackets within the text, indicating the name of the author and the year of publication.
  • Notes and bibliography . You place your citations in numbered footnotes or endnotes to connect the citation back to the source in the bibliography.
  • The reference list, or bibliography , in Chicago style, is at the end of a literature review. The sources are arranged alphabetically and single-spaced. Each bibliography entry begins with the author’s name and the source’s title, followed by publication information, such as the city of publication, the publisher, and the year of publication.

Writing a literature review using the MLA style requires the following text formatting:

  • In the MLA format, you can cite a source in the text by indicating the author’s last name and the page number in parentheses at the end of the citation. If the cited information takes several pages, you need to include all the page numbers.
  • The reference list in MLA style is titled “ Works Cited .” In this section, all sources used in the paper should be listed in alphabetical order. Each entry should contain the author, title of the source, title of the journal or a larger volume, other contributors, version, number, publisher, and publication date.

The Harvard style requires you to use the following text formatting for your RRL:

  • In-text citations in the Harvard style include the author’s last name and the year of publication. If you are using a direct quote in your literature review, you need to add the page number as well.
  • Arrange your list of references alphabetically. Each entry should contain the author’s last name, their initials, the year of publication, the title of the source, and other publication information, like the journal title and issue number or the publisher.

✍️ How to Write Review of Related Literature – Sample

Literature reviews can be organized in many ways depending on what you want to achieve with them. In this section, we will look at 3 examples of how you can write your RRL.

This image shows the organizational patterns of a literature review.

Thematic Literature Review

A thematic literature review is arranged around central themes or issues discussed in the sources. If you have identified some recurring themes in the literature, you can divide your RRL into sections that address various aspects of the topic. For example, if you examine studies on e-learning, you can distinguish such themes as the cost-effectiveness of online learning, the technologies used, and its effectiveness compared to traditional education.

Chronological Literature Review

A chronological literature review is a way to track the development of the topic over time. If you use this method, avoid merely listing and summarizing sources in chronological order. Instead, try to analyze the trends, turning moments, and critical debates that have shaped the field’s path. Also, you can give your interpretation of how and why specific advances occurred.

Methodological Literature Review

A methodological literature review differs from the preceding ones in that it usually doesn’t focus on the sources’ content. Instead, it is concerned with the research methods . So, if your references come from several disciplines or fields employing various research techniques, you can compare the findings and conclusions of different methodologies, for instance:

  • empirical vs. theoretical studies;
  • qualitative vs. quantitative research.

📚 Examples of Review of Related Literature and Studies

We have prepared a short example of RRL on climate change for you to see how everything works in practice!

Climate change is one of the most important issues nowadays. Based on a variety of facts, it is now clearer than ever that humans are altering the Earth's climate. The atmosphere and oceans have warmed, causing sea level rise, a significant loss of Arctic ice, and other climate-related changes. This literature review provides a thorough summary of research on climate change, focusing on climate change fingerprints and evidence of human influence on the Earth's climate system.

Physical Mechanisms and Evidence of Human Influence

Scientists are convinced that climate change is directly influenced by the emission of greenhouse gases. They have carefully analyzed various climate data and evidence, concluding that the majority of the observed global warming over the past 50 years cannot be explained by natural factors alone. Instead, there is compelling evidence pointing to a significant contribution of human activities, primarily the emission of greenhouse gases (Walker, 2014). For example, based on simple physics calculations, doubled carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere can lead to a global temperature increase of approximately 1 degree Celsius. (Elderfield, 2022). In order to determine the human influence on climate, scientists still have to analyze a lot of natural changes that affect temperature, precipitation, and other components of climate on timeframes ranging from days to decades and beyond.

Fingerprinting Climate Change

Fingerprinting climate change is a useful tool to identify the causes of global warming because different factors leave unique marks on climate records. This is evident when scientists look beyond overall temperature changes and examine how warming is distributed geographically and over time (Watson, 2022). By investigating these climate patterns, scientists can obtain a more complex understanding of the connections between natural climate variability and climate variability caused by human activity.

Modeling Climate Change and Feedback

To accurately predict the consequences of feedback mechanisms, the rate of warming, and regional climate change, scientists can employ sophisticated mathematical models of the atmosphere, ocean, land, and ice (the cryosphere). These models are grounded in well-established physical laws and incorporate the latest scientific understanding of climate-related processes (Shuckburgh, 2013). Although different climate models produce slightly varying projections for future warming, they all will agree that feedback mechanisms play a significant role in amplifying the initial warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions. (Meehl, 2019).

In conclusion, the literature on global warming indicates that there are well-understood physical processes that link variations in greenhouse gas concentrations to climate change. In addition, it covers the scientific proof that the rates of these gases in the atmosphere have increased and continue to rise fast. According to the sources, the majority of this recent change is almost definitely caused by greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activities. Citizens and governments can alter their energy production methods and consumption patterns to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and, thus, the magnitude of climate change. By acting now, society can prevent the worst consequences of climate change and build a more resilient and sustainable future for generations to come.

Have you ever struggled with finding the topic for an RRL in different subjects? Read the following paragraphs to get some ideas!

Nursing Literature Review Example

Many topics in the nursing field require research. For example, you can write a review of literature related to dengue fever . Give a general overview of dengue virus infections, including its clinical symptoms, diagnosis, prevention, and therapy.

Another good idea is to review related literature and studies about teenage pregnancy . This review can describe the effectiveness of specific programs for adolescent mothers and their children and summarize recommendations for preventing early pregnancy.

📝 Check out some more valuable examples below:

  • Hospital Readmissions: Literature Review .
  • Literature Review: Lower Sepsis Mortality Rates .
  • Breast Cancer: Literature Review .
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases: Literature Review .
  • PICO for Pressure Ulcers: Literature Review .
  • COVID-19 Spread Prevention: Literature Review .
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: Literature Review .
  • Hypertension Treatment Adherence: Literature Review .
  • Neonatal Sepsis Prevention: Literature Review .
  • Healthcare-Associated Infections: Literature Review .
  • Understaffing in Nursing: Literature Review .

Psychology Literature Review Example

If you look for an RRL topic in psychology , you can write a review of related literature about stress . Summarize scientific evidence about stress stages, side effects, types, or reduction strategies. Or you can write a review of related literature about computer game addiction . In this case, you may concentrate on the neural mechanisms underlying the internet gaming disorder, compare it to other addictions, or evaluate treatment strategies.

A review of related literature about cyberbullying is another interesting option. You can highlight the impact of cyberbullying on undergraduate students’ academic, social, and emotional development.

📝 Look at the examples that we have prepared for you to come up with some more ideas:

  • Mindfulness in Counseling: A Literature Review .
  • Team-Building Across Cultures: Literature Review .
  • Anxiety and Decision Making: Literature Review .
  • Literature Review on Depression .
  • Literature Review on Narcissism .
  • Effects of Depression Among Adolescents .
  • Causes and Effects of Anxiety in Children .

Literature Review — Sociology Example

Sociological research poses critical questions about social structures and phenomena. For example, you can write a review of related literature about child labor , exploring cultural beliefs and social norms that normalize the exploitation of children. Or you can create a review of related literature about social media . It can investigate the impact of social media on relationships between adolescents or the role of social networks on immigrants’ acculturation .

📝 You can find some more ideas below!

  • Single Mothers’ Experiences of Relationships with Their Adolescent Sons .
  • Teachers and Students’ Gender-Based Interactions .
  • Gender Identity: Biological Perspective and Social Cognitive Theory .
  • Gender: Culturally-Prescribed Role or Biological Sex .
  • The Influence of Opioid Misuse on Academic Achievement of Veteran Students .
  • The Importance of Ethics in Research .
  • The Role of Family and Social Network Support in Mental Health .

Education Literature Review Example

For your education studies , you can write a review of related literature about academic performance to determine factors that affect student achievement and highlight research gaps. One more idea is to create a review of related literature on study habits , considering their role in the student’s life and academic outcomes.

You can also evaluate a computerized grading system in a review of related literature to single out its advantages and barriers to implementation. Or you can complete a review of related literature on instructional materials to identify their most common types and effects on student achievement.

📝 Find some inspiration in the examples below:

  • Literature Review on Online Learning Challenges From COVID-19 .
  • Education, Leadership, and Management: Literature Review .
  • Literature Review: Standardized Testing Bias .
  • Bullying of Disabled Children in School .
  • Interventions and Letter & Sound Recognition: A Literature Review .
  • Social-Emotional Skills Program for Preschoolers .
  • Effectiveness of Educational Leadership Management Skills .

Business Research Literature Review

If you’re a business student, you can focus on customer satisfaction in your review of related literature. Discuss specific customer satisfaction features and how it is affected by service quality and prices. You can also create a theoretical literature review about consumer buying behavior to evaluate theories that have significantly contributed to understanding how consumers make purchasing decisions.

📝 Look at the examples to get more exciting ideas:

  • Leadership and Communication: Literature Review .
  • Human Resource Development: Literature Review .
  • Project Management. Literature Review .
  • Strategic HRM: A Literature Review .
  • Customer Relationship Management: Literature Review .
  • Literature Review on International Financial Reporting Standards .
  • Cultures of Management: Literature Review .

To conclude, a review of related literature is a significant genre of scholarly works that can be applied in various disciplines and for multiple goals. The sources examined in an RRL provide theoretical frameworks for future studies and help create original research questions and hypotheses.

When you finish your outstanding literature review, don’t forget to check whether it sounds logical and coherent. Our text-to-speech tool can help you with that!

  • Literature Reviews | University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Writing a Literature Review | Purdue Online Writing Lab
  • Learn How to Write a Review of Literature | University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • The Literature Review: A Few Tips on Conducting It | University of Toronto
  • Writing a Literature Review | UC San Diego
  • Conduct a Literature Review | The University of Arizona
  • Methods for Literature Reviews | National Library of Medicine
  • Literature Reviews: 5. Write the Review | Georgia State University

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Need, Importance and 5 Sources of Review of Related Literature in Educational Research

Back to: Introduction to Educational Research Methodology

Educational research means the organized collection and examination of the data related to education. It is a scientific study that examines the learning and teaching methods for better understanding of the education system. It is an observation and investigation in the field of education. Research is done in search of new knowledge or to use the existing knowledge in a better way. It helps to acquire useful knowledge and solve the challenges faced in education. Research tries to get a better understanding of education. 

Literature review means the overview of the works published previously on a subject matter. It is the summary of the work done by other authors on a topic. Literature review will help a researcher in understanding how to carry on the research and what needs to be covered. 

Need of Reviewing Related Literature 

i. Avoid repetition and duplication of the study.

ii. Find out the gaps in research.

iii. Identify the additional research needed to be done.

iv. Gain extensive knowledge on a particular topic. 

v. Help understand what has already been covered about a topic and the findings need to be done for future research. 

Importance of Review of Related Literature

i. Help researchers to understand their topic of interest in-depth. 

ii. Help to identify the gaps uncovered by previous authors on a topic and collect relevant data.

iii. Get an understanding of how to carry on the research. 

Five Sources to Review Related Literature 

Scholarly journal articles.

Journal articles are an important source of literature review. It helps to understand how to carry out the research and the findings to be done.

Government websites

To collect statistical data, government websites can be very beneficial as it can provide a lot of information. Government websites are another important source of literature review. 

Academic books 

Academic books consist of works written by several authors. It contains original work which will be very helpful in literature review. 

Conference pages

Conference and seminar reports are also an important source of literature review to understand the thoughts of authors and works previously published in a field of study. 

Libraries contain numerous books and works on a topic by different authors. Plenty of information and facts can be obtained from this source of literature review. 

  • Systematic review
  • Open access
  • Published: 12 February 2024

Exploring the role of professional identity in the implementation of clinical decision support systems—a narrative review

  • Sophia Ackerhans   ORCID: orcid.org/0009-0005-9269-6854 1 ,
  • Thomas Huynh 1 ,
  • Carsten Kaiser 1 &
  • Carsten Schultz 1  

Implementation Science volume  19 , Article number:  11 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

516 Accesses

3 Altmetric

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Clinical decision support systems (CDSSs) have the potential to improve quality of care, patient safety, and efficiency because of their ability to perform medical tasks in a more data-driven, evidence-based, and semi-autonomous way. However, CDSSs may also affect the professional identity of health professionals. Some professionals might experience these systems as a threat to their professional identity, as CDSSs could partially substitute clinical competencies, autonomy, or control over the care process. Other professionals may experience an empowerment of the role in the medical system. The purpose of this study is to uncover the role of professional identity in CDSS implementation and to identify core human, technological, and organizational factors that may determine the effect of CDSSs on professional identity.

We conducted a systematic literature review and included peer-reviewed empirical studies from two electronic databases (PubMed, Web of Science) that reported on key factors to CDSS implementation and were published between 2010 and 2023. Our explorative, inductive thematic analysis assessed the antecedents of professional identity-related mechanisms from the perspective of different health care professionals (i.e., physicians, residents, nurse practitioners, pharmacists).

One hundred thirty-one qualitative, quantitative, or mixed-method studies from over 60 journals were included in this review. The thematic analysis found three dimensions of professional identity-related mechanisms that influence CDSS implementation success: perceived threat or enhancement of professional control and autonomy, perceived threat or enhancement of professional skills and expertise, and perceived loss or gain of control over patient relationships. At the technological level, the most common issues were the system’s ability to fit into existing clinical workflows and organizational structures, and its ability to meet user needs. At the organizational level, time pressure and tension, as well as internal communication and involvement of end users were most frequently reported. At the human level, individual attitudes and emotional responses, as well as familiarity with the system, most often influenced the CDSS implementation. Our results show that professional identity-related mechanisms are driven by these factors and influence CDSS implementation success. The perception of the change of professional identity is influenced by the user’s professional status and expertise and is improved over the course of implementation.

This review highlights the need for health care managers to evaluate perceived professional identity threats to health care professionals across all implementation phases when introducing a CDSS and to consider their varying manifestations among different health care professionals. Moreover, it highlights the importance of innovation and change management approaches, such as involving health professionals in the design and implementation process to mitigate threat perceptions. We provide future areas of research for the evaluation of the professional identity construct within health care.

Peer Review reports

Contributions to the literature

We provide a comprehensive literature review and narrative synthesis of the role of professional identity in CDSS implementation among diverse health care professionals and identify human, technological, and organizational determinants that influence professional identity and implementation.

The review shows that a perceived threat to professional identity plays a significant role in explaining failures of CDSS implementation. As such, our study highlights the need to recognize significant challenges related to professional identity in the implementation of CDSS and similar technologies. A better understanding and awareness of individual barriers to CDSS implementation among health professionals can promote the diffusion of such data-driven tools in health care.

This narrative synthesis maps, interconnects, and reinterprets existing empirical research and provides a foundation for further research to explore the complex interrelationships and influences of perceived professional identity-related mechanisms among health care professionals in the context of CDSS implementations.

Health care organizations increasingly implement clinical decision support systems (CDSSs) due to rising treatment costs and health care professional staff shortages [ 1 , 2 ]. CDSSs provide passive and active referential information, computer-based order sets, reminders, alerts, and patient-specific data to health care professionals at the point of care by matching patient characteristics to a computerized knowledge base [ 1 , 3 , 4 ]. These systems complement existing electronic health record (EHR) systems [ 5 ] and support various functional areas of medical care, such as preventative health, diagnosis, therapy, and medication [ 6 , 7 ]. Research has shown that CDSSs can improve patient safety and quality of care [ 8 , 9 , 10 ] by preventing medication errors and enhancing decision-making quality [ 11 ]. However, despite their potential benefits, their successful implementation into the clinical workflow remains low [ 1 , 12 ]. To facilitate CDSS acceptance and minimize user resistance, it is crucial to understand the factors affecting implementation success and identify the sources of resistance among the users [ 1 , 13 , 14 ].

In the health care innovation management and implementation science literature, a range of theoretical approaches have been used to examine the implementation and diffusion of health care information technologies. Technology acceptance theories focus on key determinants of individual technology adoption, such as ease of use , perceived usefulness or performance expectancy of the technology itself [ 15 , 16 , 17 ]. Organizational theories emphasize the importance of moving beyond an exclusive focus on the acceptance of technology by individuals. Instead, they advocate for examining behaviors and decisions with a focus on organizational structures and processes, cultural and professional norms, and social and political factors such as policies, laws, and regulations [ 18 , 19 ]. Other studies analyze the implementation of new technologies in health care from a behavioral theory perspective [ 20 ] and propose frameworks to explain how and why resistances emerge among users, which may have cognitive, affective, social, or environmental origins [ 13 , 21 , 22 ]. For example, the Theoretical Domains Framework has been applied to the behavior of health care professionals and serve as the basis for studies identifying influences on the implementation of new medical technologies, processes, or guidelines [ 21 , 23 ]. Other, more holistic, implementation frameworks, such as the Nonadoption, Abandonment, Scale-up, Spread and Sustainability framework , identify determinants as part of a complex system to facilitate CDSS implementation efforts across health care settings [ 13 ].

However, these theoretical approaches do not sufficiently take into account the unique organizational and social system in hospitals, which is characterized by strong hierarchies and the socialization of physicians into isolated structures and processes, making CDSS implementation particularly difficult [ 5 , 24 , 25 ]. Health care professionals are considered to have an entrenched professional identity characterized by the acquisition of a high level of expertise and knowledge over a long period of time, as well as by their decision-making authority and autonomy in clinical interventions. Defined roles and structures of different professional groups in medical organizations help to manage the multitude of tasks under high time pressure [ 26 ]. In addition, heath care professionals bear a high degree of responsibility in terms of ensuring medical quality and patient well-being [ 27 ]. Changing their professional identity is particularly difficult as they work in organizational contexts with high levels of inertia and long-lived core values based on established practices and routines [ 27 ]. This resilience of health care professionals’ identity makes it particularly difficult to implement new technologies into everyday medical practice [ 28 ].

By integrating existing evidence into an individual physician’s decision-making processes, CDSSs carry the disruptive potential to undermine existing, highly formalized clinical knowledge and expertise and professional decision-making autonomy [ 5 , 24 , 29 , 30 ]. Research has shown that health professionals may perceive new technologies, such as CDSSs, as a threat to their professional identity and draw potential consequences for themselves and their professional community, such as the change of established organizational hierarchies, loss of control, power, status, and prestige [ 31 , 32 , 33 ]. Nevertheless, other studies have shown that health professionals view CDSSs as tools that increase their autonomy over clinical decisions and improve their relationship with patients [ 34 , 35 ]. In addition, these consequences may vary widely by country, professional status, and medical setting. As a result, the use and efficacy of CDSSs differ around the world [ 24 ]. We therefore suggest that a better understanding of the identity-undermining or identity-enhancing consequences of CDSSs is needed. Despite growing academic interest, there is surprisingly scant research on the role of perceived identity threats and enhancements across different professional hierarchies during CDSS implementation and how they relate to other human, technological, and organizational influencing factors [ 5 , 36 , 37 ].

Therefore, the purpose of this narrative review is to analyze the state of knowledge on the individual, technological, and organizational circumstances that lead various health professionals to perceive CDSSs as a threat or enhancement of their professional identity. In doing so, this study takes an exploratory approach and determines human , organizational , and technological factors for the successful implementation of CDSSs. Our study extends the current knowledge of CDSS implementation by deconstructing professional identity related mechanisms and identifying the antecedents of these perceived threats and enhancements. It addresses calls for research to explore identity theory and social evaluations in the context of new system implementation [ 5 , 38 , 39 ] by aiming to answer the following research questions: What are the human, technological, and organizational factors that lead different health care professionals to perceive a CDSS as a threat or an enhancement of their professional identity? And, how do perceptions of threat and enhancement of professional identity influence CDSS implementation?

This study is designed to guide medical practice, health IT providers, and health policy in their understanding of the mechanisms that lead to conflicts between health professionals’ identity and CDSS implementation. It is intended to identify practices that may support the implementation and long-term use of CDSSs. By narratively merging insights and underlying concepts from existing literature on innovation management, implementation science, and identity theory with the findings of the empirical studies included in this review, we aim to provide a comprehensive framework that can effectively guide further research on the implementation of CDSSs.

Understanding professional identity

Following recent literature, professional identity refers to an individual’s self-perception and experiences as a member of a profession and plays a central role in how professionals interpret and act in their work situations [ 25 , 37 , 40 , 41 , 42 ]. It is closely tied to a sense of belonging to a professional group and the identification with the roles and responsibilities associated with that occupation. Professionals typically adhere to a set of ethical principles and values that are integral to their professional identity and guide their behavior and decision-making. They are expected to have specialized knowledge and expertise in their field. In return, they are granted a high degree of self-efficacy, autonomy, and ability to act in carrying out these tasks [ 25 , 43 ]. In addition, professionals make active use of their identities in order to define and change situations. Self-continuity and self-esteem encourages these professionals to align their standards of identification with the perceptions of others and themselves [ 44 ]. Many professions have formal organizations or associations that promote and regulate their shared professional identity [ 45 ]. Membership in these associations, adherence to their standards and to a shared culture within their field, including common rituals, practices, and traditions, may reinforce their professional identity [ 33 , 36 , 45 ].

Studies in the field of health care innovation management and implementation science reported a number of professional identity conflicts that shape individual behavioral responses to change and innovation [ 5 , 24 , 33 , 36 , 45 , 46 ]. The first set of conflicts relates to individual factors and expectations, such as their personality traits, cognitive style, demographics, and education. For example, user perception of a new technology can be influenced by professional self-efficacy, which can be described as perceived feeling of competence, control and ability to perform [ 47 ]. Studies have shown that innovations with a negative impact on individual’s sense of efficacy tend to be perceived as threatening, resulting in a lower likelihood of successful implementation. Users who do not believe in their ability to use the new system felt uncomfortable and unconfident in the workplace and were more likely to resist the new system [ 48 , 49 ].

The second set of studies relates professional identity to sense-making, which involves the active process of acquiring knowledge and comprehending change based on existing professional identities as frames of references [ 50 ]. For example, Jensen and Aanestad [ 51 ] showed that health care professionals endorsed the implementation of an EHR system only if it was perceived to be congruent with their own role and the physician’s practice, rather than focusing on functional improvements that the system could have provided. Bernardi and Exworthy [ 52 ] found that health care professionals with hybrid roles, bearing both clinical and managerial responsibilities, use their social position to convince health care professionals to adopt medical technologies only when they address the concerns of health care professionals.

The final set of studies address struggles related to a disruption of structures and processes that lead to the reorganization of the health professions [ 53 , 54 ] and the introduction of new professional logics [ 55 ]. These can result in threat perceptions from the perspective of health professionals regarding their competence, autonomy, and control over clinical decisions and outcomes. Accordingly, the perception of new systems not only influences their use or non-use, but implies a dynamic interaction with the professional identity of the users [ 56 ]. CDSSs may be perceived as deskilling or as a skill enhancement by reducing or empowering the responsibilities of users and thereby as compromising or enhancing the professional role, autonomy and status.

Taking the classical theoretical frameworks for the evaluation of health information systems [ 57 ] and this understanding of professional identity as a starting point, our narrative review identifies, reinterprets, and interconnects the key factors to CDSS implementation related to threats or enhancement of health professionals’ identity in different health care settings.

We conducted a comprehensive search of the Web of Science and PubMed databases to identify peer-reviewed studies on CDSS implementations published between January 2010 and September 2023. An initial review of the literature, including previous related literature reviews, yielded the key terms to be used in designing the search strings [ 1 , 49 ]. We searched for English articles whose titles, abstracts, or keywords contained at least one of the search terms, such as “clinical decision support system,” “computer physician order entry,” “electronic prescribing,” or “expert system.” To ensure that the identified studies relate to CDSS implementation, usage, or adoption from the perspective of health care organizations and health care professionals, we included, for example, the words “hospital,” “clinic,” “medical,” and “health.” The final search strings are provided in Table S 1 (Additional file 1). We obtained a total of 6212 articles. From this initial list, we removed 1461 duplicates, 6 non-retrievable studies, and 1 non-English articles. This left us with a total of 4744 articles for the screening of the titles, abstracts, and full texts. Three authors independently reviewed these articles to identify empirical papers which met the following inclusion criteria: (a) evaluated a CDSS as a study object, (b) examined facilitating factors or barriers impacting either CDSS adoption, use or implementation, (c) were examined from the perspective of health care professionals or medical facilities, and (d) represented an empirical study. We identified 220 studies that met our inclusion criteria. The three authors independently assessed the methodological quality of these 220 selected studies using the Mixed Methods Appraisal tool (MMAT), version 2018 [ 58 ]. The MMAT can be used for the qualitative evaluation of five different study designs, i.e., qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. It is a qualitative scale that evaluates the aim of a study, its adequacy to the research question, the methodology used, the study design, participant recruitment, data collection, data analysis, presentation of findings, and the discussion and conclusion sections of the article [ 59 ]. One hundred thirty-one studies were included in the review after excluding studies based on the MMAT criteria, primarily due to a lack of a defined research question or a mismatch between the research question and the data collected [ 58 ]. Any disagreement about the inclusion of a publication between was resolved through internal discussion. Figure  1 summarizes our complete screening process.

figure 1

Overview of article screening process

The studies included in the review were then subject to a qualitative content analysis procedure [ 60 , 61 ] using MAXQDA, version 2020. For data analysis, we initially followed the principle of “open coding” [ 62 ]. We divided the studies equally among the three authors, and through an initial, first-order exploratory analysis, we identified numerous codes, which were labeled with key terms from the studies. Based on a preliminary literature review, we then developed a reference guide with the main categories of classic theoretical frameworks for health information systems implementation (human, technology, organization) [ 57 ] and further characteristics of the study. Second-order categories were obtained through axial coding [ 62 ], which reduced the number of initial codes but also revealed concepts that could not be mapped to these three categories (i.e., perceived threat to professional autonomy and control). This allowed us to identify concepts related to professional identity. Subsequently, a subset of 10% of the studies was randomly selected and coded by a second coder independently of the first coder [ 63 ]. Then, an inter-coder reliability analysis was performed between the samples of coder 1 and coder 2. For this purpose, Cohen’s kappa, a measure of agreement between two independent categorical samples, was calculated. Cohen’s kappa showed that there was a high agreement in coding ( k  = 0.8) [ 64 ]. We coded for the following aspects: human, organizational, technological, professional identity factor conceptualizations, dependent variables, study type and type of data, time-frame, clinician type sample, description of the CDSS, implementation phase [ 65 ], target area of medical care [ 7 ], and applied medical specialty. Tables 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 , 6  and 7 and Table S 2 provide detailed data as per the key coding categories.

Descriptive analysis

A total of 131 studies were included in our review. In line with recent reviews of CDSS implementation research [ 6 , 14 , 57 ], the reviewed articles are distributed widely across journals (Table  1 ).

The examined articles were drawn from 69 journals, 55 of which provide only one article. The BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making and International Journal of Medical Informatics published nearly a third of the included studies, with 67 articles overall in medical informatics journals. There are additional clusters in medical specialty-related (33), health services, public health, or health care management-related (12), and implementation science-related (2) journals. The journals’ 5-year impact factor measured in 2022 ranged between 2.9 and 9.7. Of our included articles, 67 were published between 2010 and 2016, while 64 were published between 2017 and 2023.

The review includes a mixture of qualitative ( n  = 61), quantitative ( n  = 40), and mixed methods ( n  = 30) studies. Unless otherwise noted, studies indicated as qualitative studies in Table S 2 involved interviews and quantitative studies involved surveys. Interviews with individual health care professionals were the most common data collection method used ( n  = 38), followed by surveys ( n  = 58), and focus group interviews ( n  = 25). Most of the interviews were conducted with physicians ( n  = 60) and nursing professionals ( n  = 23). The studies were performed at various sites and specialties, with primary care settings ( n  = 35), emergency ( n  = 11), and pediatric ( n  = 6) departments being represented most frequently. Forty-five articles researched exclusively physicians and 10 covered nurse practitioners as respondents in their sample. Four studies surveyed pharmacists, one study surveyed medical residents as a single target group, and 20 articles included clinical leaders in addition to clinicians to their sample. Twenty-eight studies were longitudinal, although studying system implementation at one point in time will insufficiently explain the expected impact of the novel system on, e.g., the organizational performance outcomes over time [ 67 ]. The studies collected data in 29 different countries, with the most common being the USA ( n  = 41), the UK ( n  = 18), and the Netherlands ( n  = 11).

Included studies were additionally coded according to the implementation phase in which the study was conducted (i.e., exploration, adoption/preparation, implementation, sustainment phase) [ 65 ]. In 43 of the included studies, the analysis was conducted during the exploration phase, i.e., during a clinical trial or an exploration of the functionality and applicability of a CDSS. Nineteen studies were conducted in the active implementation phase, 15 studies in an implementation adoption or preparation phase, and 46 studies in a sustainment phase (i.e., implementation completed and long-term system use). The revealing studies involved an investigation in multiple implementation phases.

Following Berner’s study [ 7 ], we classified the examined CDSSs of the included studies according to specific target areas of care. As such, in 93 articles, CDSSs for planning or implementing treatment were studied. Thirty-seven studies examined CDSSs whose goal was prevention or preventive care screening. In 31 studies, the functional focus of the CDSSs was to provide specific suggestions for potential diagnoses that match a patient’s symptoms. Seventeen CDSSs of the included studies focused on follow-up management , 15 studies studied CDSSs for hospital and provider efficiency care plans and 12 focused on cost reduction and improved patient convenience (i.e., through duplicate testing alerts). Most CDSSs supported medication-related decisions and processes, such as prescribing, administration, and monitoring for effectiveness and adverse effects ( n  = 30). An overview of the characteristics of the included studies can be found in Table S 2 .

In the 131 included studies, we identified 1219 factors, which we categorized into human, technological, organizational, and professional identity threat and enhancement-related factors to implementation (Table  2 ). The total amount of factors is reported in Table  2 for each of our framework’s dimension and for each of our inferred factor sub-categories. The following section delves into the elements of our framework (Fig.  1 ), starting with the most commonly identified factors. Finally, the CDSS implementation outcomes are described.

Technological factors

At the technological level, perceptions of threat to professional identity were associated with factors related to the nature of the clinical purpose of the CDSS and system quality, such as compatibility of the CDSS with current clinical workflows [ 68 , 69 , 70 ], customization flexibility, intuitive navigation [ 71 , 72 , 126 ], and scientific evidence and transparency of the decision-outcome [ 73 , 74 , 191 ] . A total of 532 technological factors in 125 included studies were identified. In 21 studies, technological factors were related to study participants’ perceptions of professional identity threat, while in 9 studies these factors were related to perceived professional identity enhancements (Table  3 ). The exemplary quotes are chosen based on their clarity and representativeness related to the overall themes.

The reviewed studies focused primarily on medication-oriented CDSSs. Relevance, accuracy, and transparency of the recommendations’ quality and scientific evidence were found to be crucial for their acceptance and use. “ Irrelevant, inaccurate, excessive, and misleading alerts ” were associated with alert fatigue and lack of trust [ 72 , 75 , 76 , 127 , 144 ]. Some senior physicians preferred the provision of evidence-based guidelines that would reinforce their knowledge, while others advised junior physicians to override the CDSS recommendations in favor of their own instructions. However, residents tended to follow CDSS recommendations and used them to enhance their confidence about a clinical decision [ 69 , 77 , 128 ]. Physicians had diverse perceptions of the scientific evidence supporting the CDSS recommendations. Some regarded it as abstract or useless information that was not applicable to clinical decision making in practice. These physicians preferred a more conventional approach to learning from the “eminences” of their discipline while pragmatically engaging in the “art and craft” of medicine. CDSSs were perceived as increasingly undermining clinical work and expertise among health professionals [ 24 ]. In some studies examining AI (artificial intelligence)-based CDSS, explainability and transparency of the CDSS recommendations played a major role in maintaining control over the therapeutic process [ 78 , 129 ].

Many studies indicated that the introduction of a CDSS was perceived as a disruptive change to established clinical workflows and practices [ 12 , 79 , 80 , 81 , 167 ]. The fit of CDSS with standardized clinical workflows was seen as critical to the CDSS implementation. Senior clinicians preferred their own workflows and protocols for complex patient cases [ 82 ]. Geriatricians, for example, considered CDSS recommendations inappropriate for their clinical workflows because geriatric patients are typically multi-morbid and require individualized care [ 77 ]. Intuitiveness and interactivity of the CDSS were found to reduce the perceived threat to professional identity [ 5 ], and customization and adjustment of alerts based on specialties’ and individual preferences were perceived to increase competence [ 10 , 127 , 130 ]. Physicians considered that successful implementation of the CDSS depends on the integration of existing clinical processes and routine activities and requires collaboration as well as knowledge sharing among experienced professionals [ 24 ].

Organizational factors

A total of 287 organizational factors in 104 included studies were identified. In 17 studies, organizational factors were related to study participants’ perceptions of professional identity threat, while in 7 studies these factors were related to perceived professional identity enhancements (Table  4 ). In the included studies, organizational factors influencing professionals’ perceived threat to their identity have been studied from multiple perspectives, such as internal collaboration and communication [ 145 , 178 ], (top) managers’ leadership and support [ 79 , 83 ], innovation culture and psychological safety [ 24 ], organizational silos and hierarchical boundaries [ 69 , 70 ], and the relevance of social norms and endorsement of professional peers [ 161 ].

The empirical studies showed that the innovation culture plays a critical role in driving change in health care organizations. In this regard, resistance to the implementation of CDSSs may be due to a lack of organizational support as well as physicians’ desire to maintain the status quo in health care delivery [ 24 , 70 , 75 ]. Several key factors influenced the implementation in this regard. These included appropriate timing of the implementation project, user involvement, and dissemination of understandable information through appropriate communication channels [ 70 ]. Some studies showed that an innovation culture characterized by interdependence and cooperation promotes social interaction (i.e., a psychologically safe environment ), which in turn facilitates problem-solving and learning related to CDSS use [ 193 , 194 ]. For example, nursing practitioners recognized the potential of CDSSs for collaboration in complex cases, which had a positive impact on team and organizational culture development [ 24 ].

S upportive leadership (e.g., by department leaders) was found to be critical to successful CDSS implementation. This includes providing the necessary resources, such as time and space for training, technical support, and user involvement in the implementation process, which were negatively associated with perceived loss of control and autonomy [ 11 , 69 , 79 , 83 , 84 , 145 , 174 ]. Involving not only senior physicians but also nursing and paramedical leaders increased the legitimacy of CDSSs throughout the professional hierarchy and helped to overcome the negative effect of low status on psychological safety by flattening hierarchical distances [ 24 , 70 , 72 ]. In contrast, imposing a CDSS on users, led to resistance. Some physicians and nurses felt that the use of the CDSS was not under their voluntary control (i.e., “we have no choice”, “it’s not an option to not use it”) because these systems have become “as essential as … carrying a pen and a stethoscope,” with physicians feeling that they now “are reliant on the CDSS” [ 10 ]. In other cases, top-down decisions led to the resolution of initial resistance toward the CDSS [ 167 ]. Overall, committed leadership that involved users and transcended professional silos and hierarchies was critical to successful CDSS implementation. In this context, an established hierarchy and culture of physician autonomy impeded communication, collaboration, and learning across professional and disciplinary boundaries [ 54 , 195 , 196 ]. A well-designed CDSS minimized professional boundaries by, for example, empowering nurses and paramedics to make independent treatment decisions [ 8 , 180 ]. CDSSs thus provided structured means for nonmedical professionals to receive support in their clinical decision-making that was otherwise reserved for professionals with higher authority [ 34 ]. Since CDSSs allow widespread access to scientific evidence, they often led to nursing practitioners’ control or oversight of medical decisions, putting junior physicians in an inferior position, and thus providing an occasion to renegotiate professional boundaries and to dispute the distribution of power [ 24 , 77 ].

In addition, the provision of sufficient training and technical support were essential to ensure that physicians and nursing practitioners felt confident in using the CDSS and increased their satisfaction with the system [ 77 , 85 ]. Embedding new CDSSs into routine practice required communication and collaboration among professionals with clinical expertise and those with IT expertise [ 86 , 145 , 178 ]. Involving physicians and nursing practitioners in decision-making processes increased their willingness to change their long-standing practice patterns and embrace the newly introduced CDSS [ 5 , 10 ]. Facilitating the CDSS uptake therefore required legitimization of the system’s designers and exploited data sources [ 24 ]. Similarly, the success or failure of CDSSs implementation depended on the ability of the new system to align with existing clinical processes and routine activities. Often, successful adoption was at risk when the implementation was too far away from the reality of clinical practice because those responsible for designing the CDSS poorly understood the rationale for designing the system in a particular way [ 145 ].

In addition, some studies indicated that resistance was overcome by communicating the benefits of the CDSS through contextual activities and providing opportunities to experience the system firsthand. Sharing positive implementation experiences and fostering discussions among actual and potential users could bridge the gap between perceptions and actual use [ 145 , 146 ]. In this regard, endorsement from “ respected ” and “ passionate ” internal change promoters , such as expert peers, was seen as key to overcoming user resistance [ 82 ]. Confirmation from clinical experts that the new system improves efficiency and quality of care was essential for the general system acceptance [ 154 ]. Thus, social influence played an important role, especially in the initial phase of system use, while this influence decreased as users gained experience with the CDSS [ 182 ].

Human factors

A total of 197 human factors in 99 included studies were identified. In 17 studies, human factors were related to study participants’ perceptions of professional identity threat, while in 6 studies these factors were related to perceived professional identity enhancements. Table 5 summarizes the key findings from the included articles, which relate to three factors: individual attitudes and emotional responses, experience and familiarization with the CDSS , and trust in the CDSS and its underlying source.

It is reported in the empirical studies that physicians often failed to fully utilize the features of CDSSs, such as protocols, reminders, and charting templates, because they often lacked experience and familiarization with the CDSS [ 3 , 79 , 87 , 127 ]. In addition to insufficient training and time constraints, limited IT skills were reported as the main reasons [ 83 , 87 , 147 , 185 ]. As a result, users interacted with the CDSS in unintended ways, leading to data entry errors and potential security concerns [ 88 ]. According to Mozaffar et al. [ 131 ], this includes physicians’ tendency to enter incorrect data or select the wrong medication due to misleading data presentations in the system. Inadequate IT skills and lack of user training also contributed to limited understanding of the full functionality of CDSSs. As such, physicians interviewed in one study expressed the lack of knowledge about basic features of a CDSS, including alerts, feedback, and customization options, as a major implementation barrier [ 127 ]. Some studies reported that the lack of system customization to meet the personal preferences of users and the lack of system training weakened their confidence in the system and compromised their clinical decision-making autonomy [ 10 , 83 , 89 , 90 , 127 , 183 ].

Some studies indicated that there were trust issues among physicians and nursing practitioners regarding the credibility of the decision-making outcome [ 132 , 154 ], the accuracy of the CDSS recommendations’ algorithm [ 146 ], and the timeliness of medical guidelines in the CDSS [ 127 ]. Seniors appreciated medication-related alerts but felt that their own decision-making autonomy regarding drug selection and dosing was compromised by the CDSS [ 74 ]. However, they tended to use the CDSS as a teaching tool for their junior colleagues, advising them to consult it when in doubt [ 77 , 128 ]. In some cases, this led to junior physicians accepting CDSS suggestions, such as computer-generated dosages, without independent verification [ 128 , 144 , 154 ].

Several studies indicated that the CDSS introduction elicited different individual attitudes and emotional responses . More tenured health care professionals were “ frightened ” when confronted with a new CDSS. Others perceived the CDSS as a “ necessary evil ” or “ unwelcome disruption ” [ 81 ], leading to skepticism, despair, and anxiety [ 3 , 145 , 167 ]. Younger physicians, on the other hand, tended to be “ thrilled ” and embraced the technology’s benefits [ 84 , 147 , 167 ]. Motivation, enthusiasm, and a “can do” attitude toward learning orientation and skill development positively influenced engagement in CDSS [ 11 , 83 , 84 , 145 , 184 ].

The role of professional identity threat and enhancement perceptions in CDSS implementation

Overall, we found 90 factors in 65 included studies related to perceptions of professional identity threat among the study participants. Forty-four factors in 34 included studies were associated with perceived professional identity enhancements. We identified three key dimensions of professional identity threat and enhancement perceptions among health care professionals impacting CDSS implementation along different implementation phases [ 197 ]. Table 6 contains exemplary quotes illustrating the findings.

A number of physicians perceived CDSSs as an ultimate threat to professional control and autonomy , leading to a potential deterioration of professional clinical judgment [ 30 , 69 , 77 , 154 , 155 ]. Most nurse practitioners, on the other hand, experienced a shift in decision-making power, providing an occasion to renegotiate professional boundaries in favor of health care professionals with lower levels of expertise [ 24 ]. Thus, nurses associated the implementation of a CDSS with enhanced professional control and autonomy in the performance of tasks [ 34 , 155 , 169 ]. Pharmacists often advocated for medication-related CDSSs, which in turn increased physician dependency and resistance to new tasks [ 12 , 84 , 178 ]. The latter was a consequence of physicians’ increasing reliance on pharmacists for complex drug therapies, as physicians had to relinquish some decision-making authority to pharmacists by restructuring of decision-making processes [ 74 ].

Senior physicians frequently expressed concerns about overreliance on CDSS and potential erosion of expertise , which they believed led to patient safety risks [ 10 , 24 , 75 , 89 , 155 ]. They complained that overreliance on CDSS recommendations interfered with their cognition processes. For example, in medication-related CDSSs, clinical data such as treatment duration, units of measure, or usual doses are often based on pharmacy defaults that may not be appropriate for certain patients. According to these physicians, their junior colleagues might not double-check recommended medication doses and treatment activities, leading to increased patient safety risk [ 131 ]. In another study, general practitioners expressed concerns about the deskilling of future physicians through CDSSs. Some CDSSs required a high level of clinical expertise, skill, and knowledge regarding the correct entry of clinical information (e.g., symptoms) for proper support in clinical decisions. Many physicians feared that the use of CDSSs would erode this knowledge and thus allow the CDSS recommendations to lead to incorrect decisions [ 30 ]. This potential loss of skills and expertise was seen as particularly problematic in situations where decision support for medications and e-prescriptions varied from facility to facility. Physicians working at different institutions who relied on the CDSS for medication treatment support used at one institution reported that they had difficulties making the correct clinical decisions at the other institution [ 154 ]. From the reviewed articles, it appeared that senior physicians perceived CDSSs as an intrusion into their professional role and object to their expertise and time being misused for “ data entry work ” [ 10 ]. They enjoyed the freedom to decide what to prescribe, when to prescribe it, and whether or not to receive more information about it [ 77 ] and were determined not to “ surrender ” and “ be made to use [the CDSS] ” [ 82 ].

In line with the increasing dependence of physicians on pharmacists when using CDSS for medication treatment, pharmacists used the CDSS to demonstrate their professional skills and to further develop their professional role [ 178 ]. Nurse practitioners were empowered by CDSSs guidance to systematically update medications and measurements during their hectic daily clinic routine [ 24 , 91 ], to independently manage more complicated scenarios [ 8 ], and to facilitate their decision-making [ 92 ]. Some physicians stated that CDSS recommendations facilitated their critical thinking to critically reflect on the medication more than usual and facilitated more conscious decisions [ 133 ]. Increased professional identity enhancement in terms of skills and expertise were thus often associated with technological factors such as enhanced patient safety, improved efficiency, and quality of care [ 9 ].

Furthermore, physicians strongly associated their professional identity with their central role in the quality of patient care based on a high level of empathy and trust between physician and patient [ 45 , 195 ]. Their perceived threat to professional identity lead to a sense of loss in clinical professionalism and control over patient relationships [ 162 , 170 ] . CDSS usage was perceived as unprofessional or disrupting to the power dynamic between them and their patients [ 89 , 93 , 171 ]. As a result, they indicated that established personal patient relationships were affected by imposed CDSS use [ 81 ]. Other physicians saw CDSSs as having potential to enhance patient relationships providing them with more control over the system and treatment time, facilitating information and knowledge sharing with patients and building trust between patients and physicians [ 35 , 94 ].

Mapping the perceptions of threat and enhancement of professional identity among physicians and other health care professionals identified in each study to implementation phases allowed for an examination of the evolution of identity perceptions in CDSS implementations. Table 7 assigns the identity perceptions among physicians and other health care professionals to the different implementation phases. The findings illustrate that threat perceptions were predominantly perceived before and at the beginning of implementation. With steady training, use and familiarization with the CDSS, the perceived threat to professional identity slightly decreased in the sustainment phase, compared to the pre-implementation phase, while perceptions of enhancement of professional identity increased. During the exploration phase, physicians in particular perceived the CDSS as undermining their professional identity, and this perception remained relatively constant through the sustainment phase. Other health care professionals, such as nurse practitioners and pharmacists often changed their perspective over the course of the implementation phases and perceived the CDSS as supporting their control, autonomy, and skill enhancement at work.

CDSS implementation outcomes

In total, we identified 93 benefits related to CDSS implementation in the reviewed studies (Table  2 ). The most commonly evaluated benefits were improvements in work efficiency and effectiveness through the use of CDSSs, improvements in patient safety, and improvements in the quality of care . Prevention of prescription and treatment errors was also frequently mentioned. The included studies measured CDSS implementation in various ways, which we classified into seven groups (Table  8 ). Most studies measured or evaluated self-reported interest in using the system or intention, willingness to use, or adoption , followed by self-reported attitude toward CDSSs , and both self-reported and objective measure of implementation success . Objective actual use measurement was evaluated in only 10 studies, while self-reported use was measured in seven studies, and self-reported satisfaction and performance of the system was measured in five studies. Both self-reported and objective measure of usefulness and usability was measured in one study.

Although we included 40 quantitative studies in our review, only a few of these empirically measured the direct effect of professional identity threat or related organizational consequences on implementation, adoption, or use of CDSSs. Two studies empirically demonstrated a direct significant negative relationship between perceived professional autonomy and intention to CDSS use [ 5 , 48 ]. Another four studies found empirical evidence of an indirect negative association between threats to professional identity and actual CDSS use. Physicians disagreed with the CDSS recommendation because they perceived insufficient control and autonomy over clinical decision making [ 79 , 88 ] and lacked confidence in the quality of the CDSS and its scientific evidence [ 154 ].

Main findings

The purpose of this narrative review was to identify, reinterpret, and interconnect existing empirical evidence to highlight individual, technological, and organizational factors that contribute to professional identity threat and enhancement perceptions among clinicians and its implications for CDSS implementation in health care organizations. Using evidence from 131 reviewed empirical studies, we develop a framework for the engagement of health care professionals by deconstructing the antecedents of professional identity threats and enhancements (Fig. 2 ). Our proposed framework highlights the role of cognitive perceptions and response mechanisms due to professional identity struggles or reinforcements of different individual health care professionals in the implementation of CDSSs. Our work therefore contributes to the growing literature on perceived identity deteriorations with insights into how knowledge-intensive organizations may cope with these threats [ 37 , 45 , 46 ]. We categorized clinicians’ professional identity perceptions into three dimensions: (1) perceived threat and enhancement of professional control and autonomy , (2) perceived threat and enhancement of professional skills and expertise , and (3) perceived loss and gain of control over patient relationships . These dimensions influenced CDSS implementation depending on the end user’s change of status and expertise over the course of different implementation phases. While senior physicians tended to perceive CDSSs as undermining their professional identity across all implementation stages, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, and junior physicians increasingly perceived CDSS as enhancing their control, autonomy, and clinical expertise. Physicians, on the other hand, were positive about the support provided by the CDSS in terms of better control of the physician–patient relationship. In most studies, professional identity incongruence was associated with technological factors, particularly the lack of adaption of the system to existing clinical workflows and organizational structures (i.e., process routines), and the fact that CDSS functionalities have to meet the needs of users. The lack or presence of system usability and intuitive workflow design were also frequently associated as antecedents of professional identity loss. The other dimensions (i.e., human and organizational factors) were encountered less often in relation to professional identity mechanisms among health care professionals. Only six studies found empirical evidence of an indirect or direct negative relationship between health professionals’ perceived threats to professional identity and outcomes of CDSS implementation, whereas no study explicitly analyzed the relationship between dimensions of professional identity enhancement and outcomes of CDSS adoption and implementation.

figure 2

A framework for the role of professional identity in CDSS implementation

Interpretations, implications and applicability to implementation strategies

The results indicate that healthcare professionals may perceive CDSSs as valuable tools for their daily clinical decision-making, which can improve their competence, autonomy, and control over the relationship with the patient and their course of treatment. These benefits are realized when the system is optimally integrated into the clinical workflow, meets users’ needs, and delivers high quality results. Involving users in design processes, usability testing, and pre-implementation training and monitoring can increase user confidence and trust in the system early in implementation and lead to greater adoption of the CDSS [ 146 ]. To address trust issues in the underlying algorithm of the CDSS, direct and open communication, transparency in decision-making values, and clinical evidence validation of the CDSS are crucial [ 154 ]. CDSS reminders and alerts should be designed to be unobtrusive to minimize the perceived loss of autonomy over clinical decisions [ 77 ].

Contrary, the implementation of a CDSS often lead to substantial changes of professional identity and thereby often associated with fear and anxiety. A sense of a loss of autonomy and control was linked to lower adoption rates and thus implementation failure. Cognitive styles, which may be expressed in emotional reactions of users toward the CDSS, reinforced reluctance to implement and use the system [ 145 , 167 ]. This underscores the importance of finding expert peers and professionals who are motivated and positive toward CDSS adoption and use, and who can communicate and promote the professional appropriateness and benefits of the CDSS to their colleagues [ 82 , 83 , 184 ]. This promotes a focus on the improvement and benefits of the CDSS while maintaining the integrity, perceived autonomy, control, and expertise of physicians and nurses.

Accordingly, the included studies show that health professionals respond to the professional identity threat triggered by the CDSS implementation by actively maintaining, claiming, or completely changing their identity [ 39 ], which is consistent with previous studies elaborating on the self-verification of professionals [ 44 ]. For example, physicians delegated routine tasks to other actors to maintain control over the delivery of services and thereby enhance their professional status [ 201 ]. Pharmacists used the introduction of CDSS for drug treatment to demonstrate their skills to physicians and to further develop their professional role [ 178 ]. Maintaining authority over the clinical workflow without the need for additional relational work with lower-status professionals was seen as one of the main factors for health care professionals’ CDSS acceptance in our findings [ 10 , 12 , 84 , 178 ]. Physicians influence change processes, such as the implementation of CDSS, in a way that preserves the status quo of physicians’ responsibilities and practices. They often stated their objective to avoid increasing dependence on lower-status professionals such as nurses or pharmacists who were gaining control by using the new CDSS. In addition, CDSS users frequently criticized the system’s lack of fit with clinical work processes and that the systems were not able to replace the clinical expertise and knowledge [ 12 , 34 , 77 , 82 ]. The loss of control over the patient-physician relationship also represented a key component of identity undermining through the introduction of CDSSs. Many physicians expressed that their trust-building interaction with patients was eroded by the functionalities of the CDSS [ 81 , 170 ]. The fact that the use of CDSSs saves time in patient therapy and treatment, freeing up time for their patients, was rarely expressed [ 12 , 147 ]. This underscores the need to cope with the physician’s strong identification with their professional role, their tendency to preserve the status quo, and self-defense against technological change during the implementation of CDSSs.

Furthermore, the reviewed studies emphasized the importance of both inter- and intra-professional involvement, collaboration, and communication in health care organizations, during the CDSS implementation, suggesting that these mechanisms influence the extent and quality of cooperative behavior, psychologically safe environments, and role adaptation of different professional groups [ 26 , 54 , 55 , 202 ]. Among the studies we reviewed, managerial support and collaboration influenced coordination during CDSS implementation [ 82 , 83 , 174 ], such as by providing usability testing and time for efforts to change the understanding of why and how health care professionals should modify their routine practices [ 74 , 95 ].

Overall, the review shows that the consideration of perceived professional identity mechanisms among health care professionals plays an important role when implementing new CDSSs in health care organizations. Additionally, perceived threats and enhancements of professional identity should be considered and regularly assessed in long-term oriented implementation strategies. These strategies often include methods or techniques to improve the adoption, implementation, and sustainability of a clinical program or practices [ 203 ] and may span from planning (i.e., conducting a local needs assessment, developing a formal implementation plan) to educating (i.e., conduct educational meetings, distribute educational materials) to restructuring professional roles to managing quality (i.e., provide clinical supervision, audit, and feedback) [ 204 , 205 ]. To ensure implementation, health care professionals of all hierarchies should be involved in the planning and decision-making processes related to CDSS implementation. Continuous feedback loops between health care professionals, IT staff, and implementation managers can help identify unforeseen threats to professional identity and necessary adjustments to the implementation plan. The review found that perceived identity threats particularly need to be addressed among highly specialized physicians to account for their knowledge-intensive skills, expertise, and clinical workflows [ 24 , 96 ]. In addition, the purpose of CDSS implementation and information about how it aligns with organizational strategic goals and individual professional development should be clearly and continuously communicated at all stages of implementation.

Our review also confirms that health care professionals’ perceptions of the effectiveness of CDSSs reinforce the impact of organizational readiness for the ongoing and required transformation of healthcare [ 17 ]. Comprehensive assessments of the suitability of the system for established or changing clinical workflows and the technical quality of the CDSS should be prioritized at the beginning of the implementation. Training programs should be developed to help professionals adapt to the new medical systems and allay fears of a loss of competence or relevance. To mitigate threats to professional identity in the long term, it is necessary to foster an organizational culture of adaptability, learning, and psychological safety, in which it is acceptable to make mistakes and learn from them. In addition, ongoing leadership support and professional development opportunities are critical to ensure that health care professionals continue to adapt their roles and keep pace with technological developments [ 79 , 84 ].

Limitations

A literature review of a large sample of empirical studies has many advantages [ 206 ]. However, some limitations arise from the study design. First, our included studies were mainly conducted in the USA or UK (see Table S 2 ). The dominance of these two countries may pose a potential bias, as different cultures may have different implications for CDSS implementation and threat perceptions among health care professionals. Therefore, there is a need for caution in generalizing the findings on the impact of human, technological, and organizational factors on professional identity perceptions among professionals across different cultures. More studies are needed to provide a nuanced understanding of professional identity mechanisms among health care professionals across a broader range of cultures and countries.

Second, broad search terms were used to identify a larger number of articles in the literature review and to identify professional identity based on implementation and adoption factors mentioned in the included studies from the perspective of health professionals who were not specifically identified as threats to or enhancements of professional identity. This could also be considered a methodological strength, as this review combines findings from qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods studies on this construct from a large and diverse field of research on CDSS implementation. However, non-English language articles or articles that did not pass the MMAT assessment may have been overlooked, which would have provided valuable information on further barriers and facilitators (i.e., threats to professional identity in different cultures), affecting the rigor of this study.

Third, most of the studies reviewed captured CDSSs for use in primary care settings. CDSSs in highly specialized specialties or those that frequently treat multi-morbid patients, such as cardiology and geriatrics, require features that allow for detailed workflow customization. In such specialties, even more attention needs to be paid to balancing provider autonomy and workflow standardization [ 97 ]. As such, future research should provide the missing evidence in such complex settings.

Fourth, we were only able to identify a limited number of studies that empirically analyzed the causal relationships included in our framework. There is a lack of studies that use longitudinal research designs, quantitative data, or experimental study designs. Therefore, the identified effects of technological, organizational, and human factors on professional identity and consequently on implementation success need to be interpreted with caution. Future research should test whether the determinants and effects of professional identity mechanisms among healthcare professionals can be observed in real-world settings.

Professional identity threat is a key cognitive state that impedes CDSS implementation among various health care professionals and along all implementation phases [ 31 , 45 ]. Health care managers need to engage in supportive leadership behaviors, communicate the benefits of CDSSs, and leverage supportive organizational practices to mitigate the perception and effect of professional identity threat. An innovation culture needs to support the use of CDSSs and top management commitment should reduce uncertainty about why a new CDSS is needed [ 24 ]. Therefore, leaders should raise awareness of the relevant CDSS functionalities and communicate the terms and conditions of use. It is crucial to involve clinicians in updating CDSS features and developing new ones to ensure that CDSSs can be quickly updated to reflect rapid developments in guideline development [ 195 ]. One way to achieve this is to engage proactive, respected, and passionate individuals who can train colleagues to use the CDSS and promote the potential benefits of the system [ 70 , 82 ].

Our framework presented in this study provides a relevant foundation for further research on the complex relationship between human, technological, and organizational implementation factors and professional identity among different health care professionals. The findings also guide health care management experts and IT system developers in designing new CDSSs and implementation strategies by considering the ingrained norms and cognitions of health care professionals. As suggested above, more research is needed to determine whether some barriers or facilitators are universal across all types of CDSSs or whether there are domain-dependent patterns. In this context, research that explicitly focuses on AI-based CDSSs becomes increasingly important as they become more relevant in medical practice. In fact, five of the studies included in our research, conducted over the last 3 years, examined factors related to the adoption and implementation of AI-based CDSS [ 73 , 74 , 96 , 205 , 206 ]. AI-based CDSSs extend to full automation and can discover new relationships and make predictions based on learned patterns [ 97 ]. However, with their opaque and automated decision-making processes, AI-based systems may increasingly challenge professional identity as they increasingly disrupt traditional practices and hierarchies within healthcare organizations, posing a threat to professional expertise and autonomy [ 156 ]. This may further hinder the implementation and sustainable use of these systems compared to non-AI-based systems. Future research could examine overlaps in barriers and facilitators between CDSSs and AI-based systems, which are of relevance for professional identity threat perceptions among health care professionals, and assess the reasons behind these differences. In addition, translating the findings for different medical contexts may provide valuable insights. This can eventually lead to guidelines for the development of CDSS for different specialties.

Some factors were found less frequently during our analysis; in particular, communication of the benefits of a CDSS to users, the importance of trust across different hierarchies and among staff involved in implementation, and government-level factors related to the environment. While the former factors represent important psychological safety and acceptance of the CDSS, the level of the environment represents a minor role in the perception of professional identity. Future research is needed, however, to determine whether all of these factors play an important role in CDSS implementation. Furthermore, future research could explore the role of middle managers and team managers in health care organizations rather than the role of senior management in managing professional identity threats when leading change. Our narrative review found that clinical middle managers may have a special role in legitimizing CDSSs [ 156 ]. In addition, a future research opportunity arises from the perceived role and identity enhancement through new technologies and their consequences for social evaluation in hierarchical healthcare organizations [ 35 , 132 , 155 ].

Overall, the findings of this review are particularly relevant for managers of CDSS implementation projects. Thoughtful management of professional identity threat factors identified in this review can help overcome barriers and facilitate the implementation of CDSSs. By addressing practical implications and research gaps, future studies can contribute to a deeper understanding of the threat to professional identity and provide evidence for effective implementation strategies of CDSSs and thus for a higher quality and efficiency in the increasingly overburdened health care system.

Availability of data and materials

The datasets used and/or analyzed during the current study available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Abbreviations

Artificial intelligence

  • Clinical decision support system

Electronic health record

Mixed Methods Appraisal tool

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SA conceived the study, developed the literature search, screened citation titles, abstracts, and full-text articles, conducted the MMAT screening, cleaned, coded, analyzed, and interpreted one third of the data, and conceptualized and wrote the sections of the manuscript. TH conceived the study, developed the literature search, screened citation titles, abstracts, and full-text articles, conducted the MMAT screening, cleaned, coded, analyzed, and interpreted one third of the data, and edited the sections of the manuscript. CK screened citation titles, abstracts, and full-text articles, conducted the MMAT screening, cleaned, coded, analyzed, and interpreted one third of the data, and revised the manuscript. CS planned and coordinated the study and edited the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Additional file 1: table s1..

Final search strings used to identify articles for the review. Table S2. Characteristics of included studies.

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Ackerhans, S., Huynh, T., Kaiser, C. et al. Exploring the role of professional identity in the implementation of clinical decision support systems—a narrative review. Implementation Sci 19 , 11 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13012-024-01339-x

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