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Health project: The literature review

What is a literature review?

A literature review provides a critical evaluation of the existing literature on a particular topic. The literature review is the foundation of your research report or thesis.

What is the purpose of a literature review?

A literature review provides the context for your research, by examining and acknowledging the work of others, and allowing you to establish your position within your discipline's scholarly communication. It shows an examiner that you are familiar with significant research in your area and justifies the importance of your topic.

A literature review should address:

  • What research has already been undertaken in this field/on this topic? 
  • What were the results and conclusions of this research?
  • How do the findings from other studies inform the investigation or study of my topic?
  • What gaps exist in the literature that will justify my research and ensure the research hasn't been done before?

Questions to ask about your literature review

Courtesy of the University of Toronto:

  1. What is the specific thesis, problem, or research question which my literature review helps to define?
  2. What type of literature review am I conducting? Am I looking at issues of theory? methodology? policy? quantitative research (e.g., on the effectiveness of a new procedure)? qualitative research (e.g., studies)?
  3. What is the scope of my literature review? What type of publications am I using (e.g., journals, books, government documents, popular media)? What discipline am I working in (e.g., nursing psychology, sociology, medicine)?
  4. How good was my information seeking? Has my search been wide enough to ensure I've found all relevant material? Has it been narrow enough to exclude irrelevant material? Is the number of sources I've used appropriate for the length of my paper?
  5. Have I critically analysed the literature I use? Do I follow through a set of concepts and questions, comparing items to each other in the ways they deal with them? Instead of just listing and summarizing items, do I assess them, discussing strengths and weaknesses?
  6. Have I cited and discussed studies contrary to my perspective?
  7. Will the reader find my literature review relevant, appropriate, and useful?


Taylor, D., & Health Sciences Writing Centre University of Toronto. (n.d.). The literature review: A few tips on conducting it. Retrieved from: