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Literature Reviews

What is a Narrative Review?

A narrative literature review is used to summarize a body of literature, draw conclusions about a topic, and identify gaps.  By understanding the current state of the literature, you can show how new research connects and builds to the body of knowledge.  The general process of a narrative review is outlined in these 5 steps.

1. Choose a topic & create a research question

A good place to start a literature review is to figure out an area of interest that you would like to know more about.  After deciding a topic area, you will also need to decide if you plan on conducting additional research on the topic.  Additional research could either be qualitative or quantitative research. 

The research question you use should be narrow in focus, as this will guide you when building the search strategy.  A more focused question will return more focused search results.  Using a question framework will help determine the main elements of a search, identify some keywords, and provide insight of the scope.  You determine the scope by deciding how many articles to review and how comprehensive to be in search and the review of the literature.

Read more about developing an answerable question on Sage Research Methods.

2. Select the sources for searching & develop a search strategy

A list of sources such as literature databases or reputable websites should be made before starting to search.  The library has a number of literature databases to search, with full text access.  Websites to search could include relevant professional associations for general information, Google Scholar, or  A conversation with a librarian is recommended to determine what sources would be best to search.

The search strategy will include a list of keywords to use, controlled vocabulary, and Boolean logic.  Read more about developing the search strategy on the Systematic Review Guide.

3. Conduct the search

It is recommended to divide the search responsibilities, if working with a team.  The search strategy used in the various sources should be as similar as possible, to ensure suitable results.  Searching on websites will be different from literature databases, and will require more browsing of the results.  If using a database like Google Scholar, you should include relevant books, government reports, or other summaries in your list of references.

It is recommended to have a method of data extraction and organization prior to beginning the search.  Literature databases can be extracted and organized in a citation manager.  Individual references can also be added to a citation manager, or kept organized in a spreadsheet.

Speak with a librarian for assistance in gathering results in a format easy to use when reviewing the references.

4. Review the references

Once you finish collecting references, begin reviewing each article, report, or book summary.  Remove irrelevant articles that do not answer your research question.  Of the references kept, take notes on each.  Notes should include themes covered in the citation and the nature of the citation.  Ask yourself if the citation is current, objective, organized and clear, provides a foundation for a new study or if it identifies gaps in the literature.

The full text can be gather from the library either through our website or our Interlibrary Loan service.

5. Summarize Findings

A summary of your notes will be used in writing the final paper.  The paper will cover the themes identified, explain any conflicts or differences between them, and put it all together.

Read more about writing for a literature review on Sage Research Methods.

Narrative Review Guidance

Example Narrative Reviews