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Literature Reviews: Using Library Resources in Writing


The following types of literature are specifically dedicated to providing literature reviews. These can be valuable in giving you a sense of the literature in your specific field. They can also provide critical or comparative reviews.

Determine whether the bibliographic databases you search enable you to search for them. If not, find a workaround, as suggested below in the boxes below.

Review articles

Scholarly journal articles often contain literature reviews. They can be in the introduction or in a special literature review section. They situate the author's topic within its literature.

A specific type of scholarly article, however, is entirely devoted to reviewing the literature. 

Given the huge glut in scholarly literature that makes it more and more difficult to track research developments, use of this type of article can be critical. This type of scholarly article orients researchers to relevant literature if they are new to a field  or want to monitor recent trends. Scholarly review articles are an important source of bibliography.  You can often tell from the rather general quality of its title  whether an article may be a review article.

Don't confuse review articles in a scholarly journals with book reviews, about which see the box below. 

Finding "Review Literature"

  • Certain databases make it very easy to find scholarly review articles in scholarly journals. See if there is a way to limit search results to review articles. You may see separate limiters for journal articles that are reviews as well as reviews of a specific type, e.g. "systematic reviews" (see below box about this special type of review article).
  • If you don't see a limiter, try the suggestion on this Boston College library guide about adding "literature review" to your search. Another option is put in just the word "review".
  • If you are using Google Scholar, consider the point here (scroll to "1. Google Scholar") about searching Google Scholar for reviews (Florida State University Libraries).

"Systematic Reviews"

Any literature review has to be done "systematically" to be done thoroughly. But a "systematic review" is also a term for one special type of review, often in medical and psychological areas. The term however has spilled into other areas.

(1.)  Medicine

When searching Medline, try limiting your search results by "systematic review" as a publication type. See here for National Library of Medicine definition of "systematic review".


(2.) Psychology

You can limit to systematic reviews in PsycINFO by selecting it under methodology.

American Psychological Association definition of "systematic review".

(3.) "Systematic review" in other areas.

To see the wide variety of areas in which this term is used in other fields, do a literature search in the database Web of Science, which spans sciences, social sciences, and humanities. If you search on "systematic reviews" (using the quotation marks) as a title search, then click on "Analyze", then "Web of Science Categories" on the left, you can see a breakdown of subjects in which this terms is used.

You can limit to that subject category for examples of how these articles use the term "systematic review" outside medicine or psychology proper.

Another option is to search for "systematic review" as a title search in subject-specific bibliographic databases find how models of this term is used in your subject area of interest. You can also see whether there is literature *about* systematic reviews for your subject. Here is an example of the latter:  "On the use of systematic reviews to inform environmental policies", from which:

"There is a common belief outside of healthcare, however, that SRs [systematic reviews] intrinsically adopt a biomedical model that is of relevance only to medicine, for example only capable of using randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and only capable of answering certain types of questions (Petticrew, 2001). As demonstrated in this article, this belief is unjustified."

Yet more types of reviews

The articles below suggest a large variety of other review types.  Also, this guide from Temple University Libraries   Systematic Reviews & Other Review Types  (mentioned above under systematic reviews) suggests a variety of other review types; click on the link and view a list of them on the left.

If any of them are of interest, you may want to consider using a bibliographic database to search on them to see if they are specific to medical or health areas, or whether they can be found in other subject areas as well. Cf. the use of Web of Science mentioned in the box above about systematic reviews as a model for how to do this in a bibliographic database.

This 2019 article is from the Health Information and Libraries Journal: Meeting the review family: exploring review types and associated information retrieval requirements  The article found "forty-eight review types"! From the article:

"The last decade has witnessed increased recognition of the value of literature reviews for advancing understanding and decision making. This has been accompanied by an expansion in the range of methodological approaches and types of review. However, there remains uncertainty over definitions and search requirements beyond those for the ‘traditional’ systematic review. This study aims to characterise health related reviews by type and to provide recommendations on appropriate methods of information retrieval based on the available guidance.
. . .
Forty‐eight review types were identified and categorised into seven families. Published guidance reveals increasing specification of methods for information retrieval; however, much of it remains generic with many review types lacking explicit requirements for the identification of evidence."

This 2009 article also from the Health Information and Libraries Journal suggests the wide range of types of review used in health information and health care: A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologiesFrom the Conclusions:

"..., this typology provides a valuable reference point for those commissioning, conducting, supporting or interpreting reviews, both within health information and the wider health care domain."

Book reviews

Book reviews can be very helpful in assessing whether a book is worth reading as part of a literature review. Some book reviews provide a comparison of books about a subject. In addition, a well-written book review can 

Ideas for finding book reviews:

  • search on the general web or in Google Scholar for book reviews
  • find how to locate a book review in the databases you search; don't confuse with search techniques for finding scholarly review articles in journals.
  • monitor the book review section of your favorite journals.

Book reviews can be very helpful in assessing whether a book is worth reading as part of a literature review. Some book reviews provide a comparison of books about a subject.