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Literature Reviews - Research Guide

Planning your Review & EBP

Planning Your Review


The process of researching and writing a literature review usually includes the following steps:

  1. Defining your literature review topic - identify the issues
  2. Planning your approach to your research and literature review
  3. Searching the literature
  4. Managing the results of your research
  5. Evaluating texts
  6. Reading critically and analysing texts
  7. Writing your literature review

As all of this takes time, it is best to start early and give yourself enough time to collect and analyse the literature.

Prior to developing your search strategy, you will need to formulate your review topic.
It is important to consider the scope of your topic and the purpose of your research.
You may need to do some background reading, to develop an overview of your review topic, before planning your research and literature review.

In order to develop your review topic, it must be contextualised.
When placing your topic in context, it is useful to think about the following:

  • Who is the intended audience?
  • What is the purpose of the research?
  • What is the scope of the research topic?
  • What is the time period?
  • What is the geographical coverage?
  • What are the relevant/related disciplines?

To search the literature, you will need to further define your review topic:

  • Describe your topic in broad and narrow concepts and determine the relationships between these concepts
  • Determine key words and phrases which best describe your topic
  • Find definitions for any terms with which you are not familiar - subject dictionaries and encyclopaedia will help you to define relevant terms and concepts
  • Consider synonyms and alternative terms
  • Consider scientific and common terms
  • Consider variant spellings
  • Decide if you should use controlled vocabulary (eg Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)), as well as natural language

What is Evidence Based Practice?

Evidence-based practice (EBP) "requires the integration of the best research evidence with our clinical expertise and our patient’s unique values and circumstances" (Sharon, Glasziou, Richardson, & Haynes, 2018).

For more information, please read: Evidence based medicine: what it is and what it isn't.

The following video provides a brief overview of EBP:

(Courtesy of Idaho State University Libraries)


Straus, S. E., Glasziou, P., Richardson, W. S., & Haynes, R. B. (2018). Evidence-based medicine: How to practice and teach EBM. Retrieved from

The EBP Process

Evidence-based practice is a 5-step process:

  1. Ask a question
  2. Access the evidence
  3. Appraise the evidence
  4. Apply the evidence
  5. Audit or evaluate its effectiveness.

The 5As of EBP Creative Commons License

Please refer to the sections below for more information on each step.


The first step in evidence-based practice is to define your clinical question.
There are many frameworks that you can use in formulating your question, such as PICO.
Find out more about clinical questions on the following pages:


Once you have a well-formulated clinical question, you can start searching the literature.
Refer to the 'Journals and Databases' page for databases related to your topic.

You should also look at the following of databases with evidence based materials:

Database Description

Cochrane Library 

The Cochrane Library comprises several databases of reviews of the effects of health care.
Included is the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews - evidence-based systematic reviews prepared by the Cochrane Collaboration to provide high quality information to people providing and receiving care and those responsible for research, teaching, funding and administration at all levels.
Joanna Briggs Institute Resources for evidence-based research including best practice information sheets, systematic reviews and electronic journals and conference papers.
Consumer health-care information is also available.
Some content is only accessible via login and password through the Members Area.
PEDro - Physiotherapy Evidence Database An initiative of the Centre for Evidence-Based Physiotherapy (CEBP)
Trip (Turning Research Into Practice) medical database Evidence based healthcare resources


Once you have located some relevant literature, you will need to critically appraise the evidence.

There are many different types of study designs, which would affect how you would appraise the individual studies, and thus the weight you give each study.
This is commonly represented in what is know as the Level of Evidence hierarchy.

Hierarchy of evidence pyramid. (Aslam, Georgiev, Mehta & Kumar, 2012)  CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Some key resource for appraising literature are:

For more information and tools on critical appraisal of the literature, please go to:


Aslam, S., Georgiev, H., Mehta, K., & Kumar, A. (2012). Matching research design to clinical research questions. Indian Journal of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and AIDS, 33, 49-53. Retrieved from:


The key elements of evidence-based practice are:

  • Best research evidence
  • Clinical expertise
  • Patient values and circumstances.

Elements of EBP Creative Commons License

When applying the studies you have found in practice, it is important to do so in the context of the other two elements.


Once you have implemented your evidence-based practice, you need to audit and evaluate it to see if it is effective.

Please refer to Chapter 8 of Evidence-based medicine: How to practice and teach EBM by Straus, Glasziou, Richardson and Haynes for guidance on how to do this.


Scoping reviews are conducted in preparation for a literature or systematic review, to see what literature there is on a topic, providing an overview of the characteristics of the literature.

5 steps for conducting scoping reviews: 

  1. Develop & register a protocol
    • State a clear research question
    • Define eligibility criteria
  2. Search the literature
    • Database searching
    • Supplementary searching
  3. Study Selection
    • Title and abstract screening
    • Full text screening
  4. Charting included sources 
    • Chart characteristics of studies 
  5. Report results, implications, and recommendations

Use the PRISMA-ScR for scoping reviews.

The Joanna Briggs Institute has a plethora of scoping review resources for the health sciences including a framework and templates.

Cochrane Training provides Scoping reviews: what they are and how you can do them:

  1. Scoping reviews: an overview with examples
  2. Example: Strengthening clinical governance in low- and middle-income countries
  3. Examples of non-health related scoping reviews
  4. Doing scoping reviews
  5. Polling questions and Q&A session
  1.     How will you determine what is already known about your topic?
  2.     How will you identify any gaps in knowledge of the topic?
  3.     How will you determine areas for further study, that have been identified by other researchers?
  4.     How will you identify significant researchers in the field?
  5.     How will you determine if there are differing opinions about the topic?
  6.     How will you identify which areas have generated debate on the topic?
  7.     What  methodologies might you consider for your research?
  8.     What sources of information might be useful to you?
  9.     What time period will your review cover?
  10.     Who is the intended audience for your literature review?