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OT 6293: Art and Science of Evidence-Based Practice

Literature Review Overview

Studying at a computer with books glasses and cup of coffee

Checkmark YES  A Literature Review is ...

  • A gathering of published literature on a topic for the PURPOSE OF ANALYSIS.
  • A CRITICAL SURVEY of existing published information on a topic in preparation for new original research, policy creation, grant funding, trend forecasting...
  • Can be part of a larger work such as a Dissertation or Book.
  • Can be a singular work such as a journal article, evidence brief, or critically appraised topic paper.

Checkbox NO  A Literature Review is NOT ...

  • a book review or summary
  • an article review or summary
  • a group of book reviews
  • a list of related works
  • a random collection of articles
  • a random collection of research studies

Purposes for Literature Reviews Generally

  • to provide an opportunity to EVALUATE CRITICALLY what has been published on a topic 
  • to identify MAJOR IDEAS and THEMES arising from what is known about a topic 
  • to uncover INCONSISTENCIES, conflicts, or disagreements in what is known about a topic 
  • to identify STRENGTHS or WEAKNESSES in existing research 
  • to identify areas of research that are thoroughly researched (the science is settled) 
  • to identify GAPS in knowledge about a topic (areas that need further research) 
  • to identify WHO initiated discussion of the topic and why 
  • to identify EXPERTS or competing theorists in a topic field 
  • to identify SEMINAL works and landmark studies 
  • to place the topic in an HISTORICAL framework or context 
  • to help provide a BIG picture overview of what has been discovered about a topic
  • to trace the EVOLUTION of thought on a topic 
  • to build a CONCEPTUAL MODEL underlying current thought 
  • to identify HYPOTHESES concerning a topic for purposes of testing 
  • to serve as a LAUNCHING PAD... for the next discussion, the next research project, the next idea, the next theory, the next concept. 

Additional Purposes for HEALTH SCIENCES Literature Reviews:

  • to confirm that the research question has not already been answered adequately by existing research (prevents duplicate research)
  • to assure researchers that their idea has not been tested and found harmful or deadly 
  • to confirm that professional decision-making is up-to-date with current knowledge and practice

Walking stairs one step at a time

STEP 1:  Choose a Topic.

Informally, explore a topic you find fascinating or troubling, that you enjoy, or that you are passionate about.

Is there enough published material on your topic generally to allow you to perform a meaningful review? Two or three items would make a weak review.

REALITY CHECK:  You can't review the literature on a topic that hasn't been researched to some extent. If you can't find articles or books on your topic with basic searching, maybe nothing has been written about that topic yet. Consider lengthening your time frame. Contact a librarian to help with search terms and places to search. 

ADVICE:  Do some informal exploring before emotionally attaching to a topic.

STEP 2: Predict the Location of Information on the topic.

Ask yourself where information on your topic might be located.

         Newspapers?     Government websites?     Books?     Magazines?     Scholarly Journals?

If your topic is Nursing Education Theory, don't look in an Agriculture database. 

Is your topic cross-disciplinary?  

Autism interventions can be found in Education databases, Medical databases, Child Development databases, Psychology databases, and maybe even Family Sciences databases. If the interventions include equipment, then Science databases, Engineering databases, and even Business database might be necessary.

STEP 3: Choose your Search Tools.

Use a variety of tools to get comprehensive results. 

Search Engines such as    Google     Bing     Yahoo     DuckDuckGo     Google Scholar   

Library databases          Library catalogs          Bibliographies         Archives      Institutional Repositories, etc.

One single information search tool will NOT find everything you will need for an adequate literature review.

Use a variety of tools: library catalogs, library databases, internet search engines, etc.

STEP 4:  Identify appropriate information formats.

*Book Chapters  *  Research Articles  *  Videos  *  Newspaper articles  *  Blog posts  *  Audio Recordings  *  Conference papers  *   EHRs 

Keep in mind that some topics have a TIME component. Information on topics that are historical may not be found online.

You may have to search print resources by hand. Physically browse Library shelves. Locate and search archives.

Information on topics that are extremely current may only be available online: news websites, blog posts, twitter, etc.

STEP 5: Choose search TERMS carefully.

The BEST search begins with a search for the RICHT SEARCH WORDS. If you identify the RIGHT WORDS, the literature will fall into your lap. When choosing serach terms, be comprehensive. Think of as many words as you can.

Use Natural (plain) language search terms -- common words, everyday words

Use Controlled Vocabulary -- formal or technical terminology (MeSH, Library of Congress Subject Headings, Database Subject Headings)


  • Informal, general term -- Pain Reliever
  • Formal terminology -- Tylenol
  • Technical terminology -- Acetaminophen

THINK SYNONYMS, lots of synonyms.

Examples:  Brain Cancer  *  Brain Neoplasms  *  Brain Tumor  *  Brain Malignancy  *  Intracranial Neoplasm  *  Cerebral Ventricle Neoplasm  *  Infratentorial Neoplasm  *  Cerebellar Neoplasm  *  Neurocytoma  *  Pinealoma  *  Supratentorial Neoplasm  *  Glioblastoma Multiforma, etc.

STEP 6: Devise a Search Strategy

Make a Plan    *    Follow Your Plan    *    Document Your Work

  • Explore and choose a topic.
  • List your search tools. (databases, search engines, etc.)
  • List your search terms. (common words, formal terminology, technical terminology, synonyms)
  • Choose your filters. (age range, date range, sex, language, peer reviewed only, etc.)
  • Choose your information formats. (RCTs only, quantitative methods, etc.)
  • Craft the search strategy using Boolean Operators (AND, OR)
  • Document lists, choices, and strategy.
  • Implement the search strategy in each search tool.
  • Document results.
  • Evaluate results
  • Modify search strategy if necessary. Document.
  • Refine results. Document.
  • Screen Title/Abstracts of search results according to review objectives/research question.

STEP 7: Analyze Results.

  • Read each result carefully and critically.
  • Create a matrix or spreadsheet to document strengths, weaknesses, important data, etc., of each results/article/study.
  • Note your personal observations (positive & negative).

STEP 8: Write

Keep the following in mind when writing:

  • Early in the review, state why the topic being reviewed is important.
  • Distinguish between experimental research findings and other types of information.
  • Indicate why certain studies or certain resources are important.
  • Mention / address other literature reviews on your topic, if they exist.
  • Analyze the matrix or spreadsheet to prevent missing or forgetting something.
    • Note points of agreement between writers.
    • Note points of disagreement and analyze why.
    • Note gaps and weaknesses in individual arguments
    • Note gaps and weaknesses in the body of literature as a whole.
  • Conclude your review with your own personal assessment based on what the literature shows. Refer directly to the literature and the matrix/spreadsheet to bolster your argument.

STEP 9: Cite all Sources.

  • Avoid Plagiarism. Follow Copyright Laws. 
  • Follow one citation style.
  • Use citation software (Mendeley, RefWorks, EndNote, etc.)


Use the PICO to enhance your searching:

Asking for and locating evidence in the literature depends upon asking an effective clinical question.
Use the PICO mnemonic to focus your mind and build that question.

P =   Patient      Patient      Population     Problem  (includes demographic information)

I   Intervention   Treatment    Therapy     Prognostic Factor    Exposure

C  =  Comparison  (could be placebo or no treatment)

O  =  Outcome       (what you hope to accomplish; target for success: measurable)

Basic Boolean:

Venn diagrams for AND  OR and NOT used in Boolean


Intermediate Boolean:

Advanced Boolean with AND and OR and synonyms


Google Searches using Boolean:

Google Search with AND and OR


Advance or Expert Boolean:

Searching with Controlled Vocabulary (formal terms) using search sets (Boolean) and filters (limits).

CINAHL search with Headings and Limits

PubMed Videos

CINAHL Complete Videos

Nursing & Allied Health Literature (ProQuest) Videos

APA PsycINFO Videos

OT Search Videos

Medline with Full Text Videos

Occupational Thearpy: Suggested Databases

For Occupational Therapy research, try these databases first.

Depending on your topic, you might find information in these databases.

These resources are useful for BASIC information about a topic. Includes encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc.

Citing Your Work

This book is in PRINT only. However, students may request book pages or book chapters using InterLibrary Loan.


RefWorks is a Citation Management Software used to gather article citations and book citations so Reference Lists can be generated instantly in a variety of citation styles.

Below are resources that explain how to use RefWorks Citation Management software.

FREE to TWU students.

Need Full Text?

Click the PDF link  PDF full text graphic to access the full-text article.

No PDF link??  Locate the Find Full-Text link. 

     1. Locate and click on the Find Full-Text link for your article:

                     Article citation with "Find Full Text" link (no PD

     2.  Click on the Database link where the full-text article is held.

                     Article VIEW IT database location

     3. Click on the PDF link in the database.

                     Article with full text PDF icon

If you cannot access the full-text, consider submitting an InterLibrary loan (ILL) request.  

Sometimes your librarian can help locate full-text even if it appears not to be available -- so feel free to contact your librarian before submitting an ILL request.

        Google Scholar logo

Google Scholar is a subset of big Google. It searches for items on the Internet that are "published." 

 TWU InterLibrary Loan

          Interlibrary loan logo    

When TWU does not have your article full-text, you can request the article full-text using the TWU Libraries InterLibrary Loan service.

​* For Students, Faculty, & Staff only.     * Register for an account using TWU Portal name & password    
* Full Text arrives in your email     * Track ILL Requests (like UPS or FedEx)     * Delivery within 24 hours is our goal  
* No ILL for Reserve items     * No ILL for Textbooks     * No ILL for Woman's Collection items     * No ILL for videos or CDs 


Login using your TWU Portal Username and Password.

Interlibrary loan webpage graphic

2. Fill out ILL account form.

ILL Account Creation form

3 Click Submit Information button. (see above)

Your ILL account will look like this.

Example ILL Account