University of Canberra
Skip to Main Content

Literature Reviews for the Health Sciences: Introduction

This guide will show you how and where to find the material for a literature review


Literature reviews report the current knowledge on a topic and provide a summary of research from previously published studies. The synthesis of the literature reviewed provides a comprehensive overview of the knowledge available on the topic.

The Literature review also builds a case or identifies a research gap which assists an author in positioning his or her own work in the context of the previous studies (Baker 2016).

A literature review is a search and evaluation of the available literature in your chosen topic area; it documents the state of the art with respect to the topic you are writing about.

The process:

  • Surveys the literature in your chosen area of study
  • Synthesises the information in that literature into a summary
  • Critically analyses the information gathered, identifies gaps in the current knowledge, showing limitations of theories and points of view and formulating areas for further research

Types of Literature Reviews


Traditional literature reviews assist in the creation of a focused research question, justified by the review. Students demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the research topic through the synthesis of the current research and theories. They are prone to personal bias, both in which material is selected for the review, and in how it is interpreted (Frey 2018).

Example : Antigenic Variability a Potential Factor in Assessing Relationship Between Guillain Barré Syndrome and Influenza Vaccine – Up to Date Literature Review


The purpose of a scoping review is to find ALL the research on the topic. The literature search follows a systematic approach to map evidence on a topic and identify main concepts, theories, sources and knowledge gaps. The PRISMA for Scoping Reviews flowchart contains 20 reporting items to include when completing a Scoping Review (Trico et al. 2018).

Example: Infodemiology and Infoveillance: Scoping Review


A systematic literature review is a method to review relevant literature in your field through a highly rigorous and 'systematic' process.  The process of undertaking a systematic literature review covers not only the content found in the literature but the methods used to find the literature, what search strategies you used and how and where you searched.  A systematic literature review also importantly focuses on the criteria you have used to evaluate the literature found for inclusion or exclusion in the review. Like any literature review, a systematic literature review is undertaken to give you a broad understanding of your topic area, to show you what work has already been done in the subject area and what research methods and theories are being used. The literature review will help you find your research gap and direct your research. (1)

Example: Implementation factors and their effect on e-Health service adoption in rural communities: a systematic literature review 


A Rapid Literature Review speeds up the systematic review process by limiting some of the systematic review processes, e.g. broader search strategies, conducting a review of reviews, reducing grey literature reviewed, performing only simple quality appraisals, and extracting only key concepts.

When processes are accelerated or omitted the risk of bias, publication bias and reduced quality of analysis are increased. Documenting the processes and limitations of the review accurately in the review mitigates these shortcomings to some degree (Grant & Booth 2009).

Rapid reviews are useful when answers to specific questions are required quickly e.g. during the Covid 19 pandemic.

Example: International travel‐related control measures to contain the COVID‐19 pandemic: a rapid review


As systematic reviews became more common, and the number of reviews increased, the possibility of conducting an overarching systematic review became possible. Umbrella reviews, developed by the Cochrane Collaboration, “focuses on a broad condition or problem for which there are two or more potential interventions, and highlights reviews that address these potential interventions and their results”, e.g. "an umbrella review on virtual reference services might variously incorporate findings from several more specific systematic reviews on e‐mail, chat or videoconference services” (Grant & Booth 2009).

Example: Neonatal interventions for preventing cerebral palsy: an overview of Cochrane Systematic Reviews


The Purpose of the Literature Review

Related / Useful UC Library Guides


Baker, Joy. (2016). The Purpose, Process, and Methods of Writing a Literature Review. AORN journal. 103. 265-269. 10.1016/j.aorn.2016.01.016. 

Frey, B. (2018). The SAGE encyclopedia of educational research, measurement, and evaluation (Vols. 1-4). Thousand Oaks,, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi: 10.4135/9781506326139

Grant, M.J. and Booth, A. (2009), A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 26: 91-108.

Tricco, AC, Lillie, E, Zarin, W, O'Brien, KK, Colquhoun, H, Levac, D, Moher, D, Peters, MD, Horsley, T, Weeks, L, Hempel, S et al. PRISMA extension for scoping reviews (PRISMA-ScR): checklist and explanation. Ann Intern Med. 2018,169(7):467-473. doi:10.7326/M18-0850.

Tricco AC, Lillie E, Zarin W, O'Brien KK, Colquhoun H, Levac D, Moher D, Peters MDJ, Horsley T, Weeks L, Hempel S, Akl EA, Chang C, McGowan J, Stewart L, Hartling L, Aldcroft A, Wilson MG, Garritty C, Lewin S, Godfrey CM, Macdonald MT, Langlois EV, Soares-Weiser K, Moriarty J, Clifford T, Tunçalp Ö, Straus SE. PRISMA Extension for Scoping Reviews (PRISMA-ScR): Checklist and Explanation. Ann Intern Med. 2018 Oct 2;169(7):467-473. doi: 10.7326/M18-0850. Epub 2018 Sep 4. PMID: 30178033.

(1) Griffith University subject guides :