Writing a literature review for nursing is an excellent way to become acquainted with a specific area of research. The purpose is to critically evaluate the published body of knowledge on your topic. Instead of a long summary of the research, your review should add value to the literature through the identification of important research gaps, controversies and directions for future research. A literature review is time intensive, but can be efficiently completed by employing some basic research and time management skills.


Identify your topic, define your style, and limit your scope. For example, your topic could be "Nursing Ethics." Your style may be to document the transformation in nursing ethics across time ("historical analysis") or to compare ethical principles across different fields ("comparative analysis"). If you select a comparative analysis, limit your scope to a few areas of nursing (e.g. clinical, palliative care, or geriatric).

Construct a list of keywords related to your topic that can used to find sources. For example, if your topic is "Nursing Ethics," some keywords may include: "code of ethics," "confidentiality," or "principles."

Search for literature in various publication types, including: books, academic databases/journals, government documents, or health care websites. Search academic nursing journals simultaneously through various online databases, such as PubMed, Medline, and Scholars Portal. Check the references of books and articles to find additional sources.

Evaluate the quality of your sources. Avoid older sources (more than 10 years old) unless you are conducting a historical analysis and/or they are widely cited in the literature. Select sources that offer a range of competing ideas and themes.

Writing your Review

Write an introductory paragraph that clearly defines your topic, style, and scope. Concisely outline important trends and debates within the literature. Conclude your introduction by identifying the overall sequence of your review.

Organize your the body into several paragraphs corresponding to different themes, fields of nursing, or time periods in the literature. Explain the relevance of your sources; offer your own critique when appropriate. Reserve a few paragraphs to highlight important gaps in the literature and propose directions for future research.

Summarize the important ideas and themes of your review in a concluding paragraph. Avoid introducing new material. Evaluate of the current state of your topic within the nursing discipline. Provide insight about how your topic fits into the overall profession of nursing.

Write your list of references and/or a bibliography in the format (e.g. AMA, APA, Chicago style) requested by your teacher or professor.


Ask your teacher or professor about any important references (e.g. "Classics") on your topic.


Use cue cards to summarize important ideas and themes; they can be categorized and referred to later when writing.


Avoid using too many quotes; try to summarize complex ideas in your own words first.

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