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Literature Reviews

  • What is a literature review?
  • Steps in the Literature Review Process
  • Define your research question
  • Determine inclusion and exclusion criteria
  • Choose databases and search
  • Review Results
  • Synthesize Results
  • Analyze Results
  • Librarian Support

What is a Literature Review?

A literature or narrative review is a comprehensive review and analysis of the published literature on a specific topic or research question. The literature that is reviewed contains: books, articles, academic articles, conference proceedings, association papers, and dissertations. It contains the most pertinent studies and points to important past and current research and practices. It provides background and context, and shows how your research will contribute to the field. 

A literature review should: 

  • Provide a comprehensive and updated review of the literature;
  • Explain why this review has taken place;
  • Articulate a position or hypothesis;
  • Acknowledge and account for conflicting and corroborating points of view

From  S age Research Methods

Purpose of a Literature Review

A literature review can be written as an introduction to a study to:

  • Demonstrate how a study fills a gap in research
  • Compare a study with other research that's been done

Or it can be a separate work (a research article on its own) which:

  • Organizes or describes a topic
  • Describes variables within a particular issue/problem

Limitations of a Literature Review

Some of the limitations of a literature review are:

  • It's a snapshot in time. Unlike other reviews, this one has beginning, a middle and an end. There may be future developments that could make your work less relevant.
  • It may be too focused. Some niche studies may miss the bigger picture.
  • It can be difficult to be comprehensive. There is no way to make sure all the literature on a topic was considered.
  • It is easy to be biased if you stick to top tier journals. There may be other places where people are publishing exemplary research. Look to open access publications and conferences to reflect a more inclusive collection. Also, make sure to include opposing views (and not just supporting evidence).

Source: Grant, Maria J., and Andrew Booth. “A Typology of Reviews: An Analysis of 14 Review Types and Associated Methodologies.” Health Information & Libraries Journal, vol. 26, no. 2, June 2009, pp. 91–108. Wiley Online Library, doi:10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x.

Meryl Brodsky : Communication and Information Studies

Hannah Chapman Tripp : Biology, Neuroscience

Carolyn Cunningham : Human Development & Family Sciences, Psychology, Sociology

Larayne Dallas : Engineering

Janelle Hedstrom : Special Education, Curriculum & Instruction, Ed Leadership & Policy ​

Susan Macicak : Linguistics

Imelda Vetter : Dell Medical School

For help in other subject areas, please see the guide to library specialists by subject .

Periodically, UT Libraries runs a workshop covering the basics and library support for literature reviews. While we try to offer these once per academic year, we find providing the recording to be helpful to community members who have missed the session. Following is the most recent recording of the workshop, Conducting a Literature Review. To view the recording, a UT login is required.

  • October 26, 2022 recording
  • Last Updated: Oct 26, 2022 2:49 PM
  • URL: https://guides.lib.utexas.edu/literaturereviews

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Libraries | Research Guides

Literature reviews, what is a literature review, learning more about how to do a literature review.

  • Planning the Review
  • The Research Question
  • Choosing Where to Search
  • Organizing the Review
  • Writing the Review

A literature review is a review and synthesis of existing research on a topic or research question. A literature review is meant to analyze the scholarly literature, make connections across writings and identify strengths, weaknesses, trends, and missing conversations. A literature review should address different aspects of a topic as it relates to your research question. A literature review goes beyond a description or summary of the literature you have read. 

  • Sage Research Methods Core Collection This link opens in a new window SAGE Research Methods supports research at all levels by providing material to guide users through every step of the research process. SAGE Research Methods is the ultimate methods library with more than 1000 books, reference works, journal articles, and instructional videos by world-leading academics from across the social sciences, including the largest collection of qualitative methods books available online from any scholarly publisher. – Publisher

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  • Next: Planning the Review >>
  • Last Updated: Jan 17, 2024 10:05 AM
  • URL: https://libguides.northwestern.edu/literaturereviews
  • UConn Library
  • Literature Review: The What, Why and How-to Guide
  • Introduction

Literature Review: The What, Why and How-to Guide — Introduction

  • Getting Started
  • How to Pick a Topic
  • Strategies to Find Sources
  • Evaluating Sources & Lit. Reviews
  • Tips for Writing Literature Reviews
  • Writing Literature Review: Useful Sites
  • Citation Resources
  • Other Academic Writings

What are Literature Reviews?

So, what is a literature review? "A literature review is an account of what has been published on a topic by accredited scholars and researchers. In writing the literature review, your purpose is to convey to your reader what knowledge and ideas have been established on a topic, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. As a piece of writing, the literature review must be defined by a guiding concept (e.g., your research objective, the problem or issue you are discussing, or your argumentative thesis). It is not just a descriptive list of the material available, or a set of summaries." Taylor, D.  The literature review: A few tips on conducting it . University of Toronto Health Sciences Writing Centre.

Goals of Literature Reviews

What are the goals of creating a Literature Review?  A literature could be written to accomplish different aims:

  • To develop a theory or evaluate an existing theory
  • To summarize the historical or existing state of a research topic
  • Identify a problem in a field of research 

Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1997). Writing narrative literature reviews .  Review of General Psychology , 1 (3), 311-320.

What kinds of sources require a Literature Review?

  • A research paper assigned in a course
  • A thesis or dissertation
  • A grant proposal
  • An article intended for publication in a journal

All these instances require you to collect what has been written about your research topic so that you can demonstrate how your own research sheds new light on the topic.

Types of Literature Reviews

What kinds of literature reviews are written?

Narrative review: The purpose of this type of review is to describe the current state of the research on a specific topic/research and to offer a critical analysis of the literature reviewed. Studies are grouped by research/theoretical categories, and themes and trends, strengths and weakness, and gaps are identified. The review ends with a conclusion section which summarizes the findings regarding the state of the research of the specific study, the gaps identify and if applicable, explains how the author's research will address gaps identify in the review and expand the knowledge on the topic reviewed.

  • Example : Predictors and Outcomes of U.S. Quality Maternity Leave: A Review and Conceptual Framework:  10.1177/08948453211037398  

Systematic review : "The authors of a systematic review use a specific procedure to search the research literature, select the studies to include in their review, and critically evaluate the studies they find." (p. 139). Nelson, L. K. (2013). Research in Communication Sciences and Disorders . Plural Publishing.

  • Example : The effect of leave policies on increasing fertility: a systematic review:  10.1057/s41599-022-01270-w

Meta-analysis : "Meta-analysis is a method of reviewing research findings in a quantitative fashion by transforming the data from individual studies into what is called an effect size and then pooling and analyzing this information. The basic goal in meta-analysis is to explain why different outcomes have occurred in different studies." (p. 197). Roberts, M. C., & Ilardi, S. S. (2003). Handbook of Research Methods in Clinical Psychology . Blackwell Publishing.

  • Example : Employment Instability and Fertility in Europe: A Meta-Analysis:  10.1215/00703370-9164737

Meta-synthesis : "Qualitative meta-synthesis is a type of qualitative study that uses as data the findings from other qualitative studies linked by the same or related topic." (p.312). Zimmer, L. (2006). Qualitative meta-synthesis: A question of dialoguing with texts .  Journal of Advanced Nursing , 53 (3), 311-318.

  • Example : Women’s perspectives on career successes and barriers: A qualitative meta-synthesis:  10.1177/05390184221113735

Literature Reviews in the Health Sciences

  • UConn Health subject guide on systematic reviews Explanation of the different review types used in health sciences literature as well as tools to help you find the right review type
  • << Previous: Getting Started
  • Next: How to Pick a Topic >>
  • Last Updated: Sep 21, 2022 2:16 PM
  • URL: https://guides.lib.uconn.edu/literaturereview

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  • What is a Literature Review? | Guide, Template, & Examples

What is a Literature Review? | Guide, Template, & Examples

Published on 22 February 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on 7 June 2022.

What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research.

There are five key steps to writing a literature review:

  • Search for relevant literature
  • Evaluate sources
  • Identify themes, debates and gaps
  • Outline the structure
  • Write your literature review

A good literature review doesn’t just summarise sources – it analyses, synthesises, and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.

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Table of contents

Why write a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1: search for relevant literature, step 2: evaluate and select sources, step 3: identify themes, debates and gaps, step 4: outline your literature review’s structure, step 5: write your literature review, frequently asked questions about literature reviews, introduction.

  • Quick Run-through
  • Step 1 & 2

When you write a dissertation or thesis, you will have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:

  • Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and scholarly context
  • Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
  • Position yourself in relation to other researchers and theorists
  • Show how your dissertation addresses a gap or contributes to a debate

You might also have to write a literature review as a stand-alone assignment. In this case, the purpose is to evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of scholarly debates around a topic.

The content will look slightly different in each case, but the process of conducting a literature review follows the same steps. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.

Literature review guide

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Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.

  • Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
  • Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
  • Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
  • Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)

You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.

Download Word doc Download Google doc

Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .

If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research objectives and questions .

If you are writing a literature review as a stand-alone assignment, you will have to choose a focus and develop a central question to direct your search. Unlike a dissertation research question, this question has to be answerable without collecting original data. You should be able to answer it based only on a review of existing publications.

Make a list of keywords

Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research topic. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list if you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.

  • Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
  • Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
  • Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth

Search for relevant sources

Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some databases to search for journals and articles include:

  • Your university’s library catalogue
  • Google Scholar
  • Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
  • Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
  • EconLit (economics)
  • Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)

You can use boolean operators to help narrow down your search:

Read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.

To identify the most important publications on your topic, take note of recurring citations. If the same authors, books or articles keep appearing in your reading, make sure to seek them out.

You probably won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on the topic – you’ll have to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your questions.

For each publication, ask yourself:

  • What question or problem is the author addressing?
  • What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
  • What are the key theories, models and methods? Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
  • What are the results and conclusions of the study?
  • How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
  • How does the publication contribute to your understanding of the topic? What are its key insights and arguments?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?

Make sure the sources you use are credible, and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.

You can find out how many times an article has been cited on Google Scholar – a high citation count means the article has been influential in the field, and should certainly be included in your literature review.

The scope of your review will depend on your topic and discipline: in the sciences you usually only review recent literature, but in the humanities you might take a long historical perspective (for example, to trace how a concept has changed in meaning over time).

Remember that you can use our template to summarise and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using!

Take notes and cite your sources

As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.

It’s important to keep track of your sources with references to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography, where you compile full reference information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.

You can use our free APA Reference Generator for quick, correct, consistent citations.

To begin organising your literature review’s argument and structure, you need to understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:

  • Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
  • Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
  • Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
  • Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
  • Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?

This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.

  • Most research has focused on young women.
  • There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
  • But there is still a lack of robust research on highly-visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat – this is a gap that you could address in your own research.

There are various approaches to organising the body of a literature review. You should have a rough idea of your strategy before you start writing.

Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).

Chronological

The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarising sources in order.

Try to analyse patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.

If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organise your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.

For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.

Methodological

If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:

  • Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources

Theoretical

A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.

You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.

Like any other academic text, your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.

The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.

If you are writing the literature review as part of your dissertation or thesis, reiterate your central problem or research question and give a brief summary of the scholarly context. You can emphasise the timeliness of the topic (“many recent studies have focused on the problem of x”) or highlight a gap in the literature (“while there has been much research on x, few researchers have taken y into consideration”).

Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.

As you write, make sure to follow these tips:

  • Summarise and synthesise: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole.
  • Analyse and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers – add your own interpretations, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole.
  • Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources.
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transitions and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts.

In the conclusion, you should summarise the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasise their significance.

If the literature review is part of your dissertation or thesis, reiterate how your research addresses gaps and contributes new knowledge, or discuss how you have drawn on existing theories and methods to build a framework for your research. This can lead directly into your methodology section.

A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .

It is often written as part of a dissertation , thesis, research paper , or proposal .

There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:

  • To familiarise yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
  • To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
  • To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
  • To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
  • To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic

Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.

The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your  dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .

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Grad Coach

What Is A Literature Review?

A plain-language explainer (with examples).

By:  Derek Jansen (MBA) & Kerryn Warren (PhD) | June 2020 (Updated May 2023)

If you’re faced with writing a dissertation or thesis, chances are you’ve encountered the term “literature review” . If you’re on this page, you’re probably not 100% what the literature review is all about. The good news is that you’ve come to the right place.

Literature Review 101

  • What (exactly) is a literature review
  • What’s the purpose of the literature review chapter
  • How to find high-quality resources
  • How to structure your literature review chapter
  • Example of an actual literature review

What is a literature review?

The word “literature review” can refer to two related things that are part of the broader literature review process. The first is the task of  reviewing the literature  – i.e. sourcing and reading through the existing research relating to your research topic. The second is the  actual chapter  that you write up in your dissertation, thesis or research project. Let’s look at each of them:

Reviewing the literature

The first step of any literature review is to hunt down and  read through the existing research  that’s relevant to your research topic. To do this, you’ll use a combination of tools (we’ll discuss some of these later) to find journal articles, books, ebooks, research reports, dissertations, theses and any other credible sources of information that relate to your topic. You’ll then  summarise and catalogue these  for easy reference when you write up your literature review chapter. 

The literature review chapter

The second step of the literature review is to write the actual literature review chapter (this is usually the second chapter in a typical dissertation or thesis structure ). At the simplest level, the literature review chapter is an  overview of the key literature  that’s relevant to your research topic. This chapter should provide a smooth-flowing discussion of what research has already been done, what is known, what is unknown and what is contested in relation to your research topic. So, you can think of it as an  integrated review of the state of knowledge  around your research topic. 

Starting point for the literature review

What’s the purpose of a literature review?

The literature review chapter has a few important functions within your dissertation, thesis or research project. Let’s take a look at these:

Purpose #1 – Demonstrate your topic knowledge

The first function of the literature review chapter is, quite simply, to show the reader (or marker) that you  know what you’re talking about . In other words, a good literature review chapter demonstrates that you’ve read the relevant existing research and understand what’s going on – who’s said what, what’s agreed upon, disagreed upon and so on. This needs to be  more than just a summary  of who said what – it needs to integrate the existing research to  show how it all fits together  and what’s missing (which leads us to purpose #2, next). 

Purpose #2 – Reveal the research gap that you’ll fill

The second function of the literature review chapter is to  show what’s currently missing  from the existing research, to lay the foundation for your own research topic. In other words, your literature review chapter needs to show that there are currently “missing pieces” in terms of the bigger puzzle, and that  your study will fill one of those research gaps . By doing this, you are showing that your research topic is original and will help contribute to the body of knowledge. In other words, the literature review helps justify your research topic.  

Purpose #3 – Lay the foundation for your conceptual framework

The third function of the literature review is to form the  basis for a conceptual framework . Not every research topic will necessarily have a conceptual framework, but if your topic does require one, it needs to be rooted in your literature review. 

For example, let’s say your research aims to identify the drivers of a certain outcome – the factors which contribute to burnout in office workers. In this case, you’d likely develop a conceptual framework which details the potential factors (e.g. long hours, excessive stress, etc), as well as the outcome (burnout). Those factors would need to emerge from the literature review chapter – they can’t just come from your gut! 

So, in this case, the literature review chapter would uncover each of the potential factors (based on previous studies about burnout), which would then be modelled into a framework. 

Purpose #4 – To inform your methodology

The fourth function of the literature review is to  inform the choice of methodology  for your own research. As we’ve  discussed on the Grad Coach blog , your choice of methodology will be heavily influenced by your research aims, objectives and questions . Given that you’ll be reviewing studies covering a topic close to yours, it makes sense that you could learn a lot from their (well-considered) methodologies.

So, when you’re reviewing the literature, you’ll need to  pay close attention to the research design , methodology and methods used in similar studies, and use these to inform your methodology. Quite often, you’ll be able to  “borrow” from previous studies . This is especially true for quantitative studies , as you can use previously tried and tested measures and scales. 

Free Webinar: Literature Review 101

How do I find articles for my literature review?

Finding quality journal articles is essential to crafting a rock-solid literature review. As you probably already know, not all research is created equally, and so you need to make sure that your literature review is  built on credible research . 

We could write an entire post on how to find quality literature (actually, we have ), but a good starting point is Google Scholar . Google Scholar is essentially the academic equivalent of Google, using Google’s powerful search capabilities to find relevant journal articles and reports. It certainly doesn’t cover every possible resource, but it’s a very useful way to get started on your literature review journey, as it will very quickly give you a good indication of what the  most popular pieces of research  are in your field.

One downside of Google Scholar is that it’s merely a search engine – that is, it lists the articles, but oftentimes  it doesn’t host the articles . So you’ll often hit a paywall when clicking through to journal websites. 

Thankfully, your university should provide you with access to their library, so you can find the article titles using Google Scholar and then search for them by name in your university’s online library. Your university may also provide you with access to  ResearchGate , which is another great source for existing research. 

Remember, the correct search keywords will be super important to get the right information from the start. So, pay close attention to the keywords used in the journal articles you read and use those keywords to search for more articles. If you can’t find a spoon in the kitchen, you haven’t looked in the right drawer. 

Need a helping hand?

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How should I structure my literature review?

Unfortunately, there’s no generic universal answer for this one. The structure of your literature review will depend largely on your topic area and your research aims and objectives.

You could potentially structure your literature review chapter according to theme, group, variables , chronologically or per concepts in your field of research. We explain the main approaches to structuring your literature review here . You can also download a copy of our free literature review template to help you establish an initial structure.

In general, it’s also a good idea to start wide (i.e. the big-picture-level) and then narrow down, ending your literature review close to your research questions . However, there’s no universal one “right way” to structure your literature review. The most important thing is not to discuss your sources one after the other like a list – as we touched on earlier, your literature review needs to synthesise the research , not summarise it .

Ultimately, you need to craft your literature review so that it conveys the most important information effectively – it needs to tell a logical story in a digestible way. It’s no use starting off with highly technical terms and then only explaining what these terms mean later. Always assume your reader is not a subject matter expert and hold their hand through a journe y of the literature while keeping the functions of the literature review chapter (which we discussed earlier) front of mind.

A good literature review should synthesise the existing research in relation to the research aims, not simply summarise it.

Example of a literature review

In the video below, we walk you through a high-quality literature review from a dissertation that earned full distinction. This will give you a clearer view of what a strong literature review looks like in practice and hopefully provide some inspiration for your own. 

Wrapping Up

In this post, we’ve (hopefully) answered the question, “ what is a literature review? “. We’ve also considered the purpose and functions of the literature review, as well as how to find literature and how to structure the literature review chapter. If you’re keen to learn more, check out the literature review section of the Grad Coach blog , as well as our detailed video post covering how to write a literature review . 

Literature Review Course

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This post is an extract from our bestselling short course, Literature Review Bootcamp . If you want to work smart, you don't want to miss this .

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16 Comments

BECKY NAMULI

Thanks for this review. It narrates what’s not been taught as tutors are always in a early to finish their classes.

Derek Jansen

Thanks for the kind words, Becky. Good luck with your literature review 🙂

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Timothy T. Chol

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Timothy T. Chol [email protected]

Tahir

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Rosalind Whitworth

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hassan sakaba

Hi, Concept was explained nicely by both of you. Thanks a lot for sharing it. It will surely help research scholars to start their Research Journey.

Susan

The review is really helpful to me especially during this period of covid-19 pandemic when most universities in my country only offer online classes. Great stuff

Mohamed

Great Brief Explanation, thanks

Mayoga Patrick

So helpful to me as a student

Amr E. Hassabo

GradCoach is a fantastic site with brilliant and modern minds behind it.. I spent weeks decoding the substantial academic Jargon and grounding my initial steps on the research process, which could be shortened to a couple of days through the Gradcoach. Thanks again!

S. H Bawa

This is an amazing talk. I paved way for myself as a researcher. Thank you GradCoach!

Carol

Well-presented overview of the literature!

Philippa A Becker

This was brilliant. So clear. Thank you

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Introduction to Literature Reviews

Introduction.

  • Step One: Define
  • Step Two: Research
  • Step Three: Write
  • Suggested Readings

A literature review is a written work that :

  • Compiles significant research published on a topic by accredited scholars and researchers;
  • —Surveys scholarly articles, books, dissertations, conference proceedings, and other sources;
  • —Examines contrasting perspectives, theoretical approaches, methodologies, findings, results, conclusions.
  • —Reviews critically, analyzes, and synthesizes existing research on a topic; and,
  • Performs a thorough “re” view, “overview”, or “look again” of past and current works on a subject, issue, or theory.

From these analyses, the writer then offers an overview of the current status of a particular area of knowledge from both a practical and theoretical perspective.

Literature reviews are important because they are usually a  required  step in a thesis proposal (Master's or PhD). The proposal will not be well-supported without a literature review. Also, literature reviews are important because they help you learn important authors and ideas in your field. This is useful for your coursework and your writing. Knowing key authors also helps you become acquainted with other researchers in your field.

Look at this diagram and imagine that your research is the "something new." This shows how your research should relate to major works and other sources.

Olivia Whitfield | Graduate Reference Assistant | 2012-2015

  • Next: Step One: Define >>
  • Last Updated: Jun 28, 2023 5:49 PM
  • URL: https://libraryguides.missouri.edu/literaturereview

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How to Write a Literature Review

What's a literature review.

  • Literature Reviews: A Recap
  • Reading Journal Articles
  • Does it Describe a Literature Review?
  • 1. Identify the Question
  • 2. Review Discipline Styles
  • Searching Article Databases
  • Finding Full-Text of an Article
  • Citation Chaining
  • When to Stop Searching
  • 4. Manage Your References
  • 5. Critically Analyze and Evaluate
  • 6. Synthesize
  • 7. Write a Literature Review

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What's a Literature Review? 

A literature review (or "lit review," for short) is an in-depth critical analysis of published scholarly research related to a specific topic. Published scholarly research (aka, "the literature") may include journal articles, books, book chapters, dissertations and thesis, or conference proceedings. 

A solid lit review must:

  • be organized around and related directly to the thesis or research question you're developing
  • synthesize results into a summary of what is and is not known
  • identify areas of controversy in the literature
  • formulate questions that need further research

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Reference management. Clean and simple.

What is a literature review? [with examples]

Literature review explained

What is a literature review?

The purpose of a literature review, how to write a literature review, the format of a literature review, general formatting rules, the length of a literature review, literature review examples, frequently asked questions about literature reviews, related articles.

A literature review is an assessment of the sources in a chosen topic of research.

In a literature review, you’re expected to report on the existing scholarly conversation, without adding new contributions.

If you are currently writing one, you've come to the right place. In the following paragraphs, we will explain:

  • the objective of a literature review
  • how to write a literature review
  • the basic format of a literature review

Tip: It’s not always mandatory to add a literature review in a paper. Theses and dissertations often include them, whereas research papers may not. Make sure to consult with your instructor for exact requirements.

The four main objectives of a literature review are:

  • Studying the references of your research area
  • Summarizing the main arguments
  • Identifying current gaps, stances, and issues
  • Presenting all of the above in a text

Ultimately, the main goal of a literature review is to provide the researcher with sufficient knowledge about the topic in question so that they can eventually make an intervention.

The format of a literature review is fairly standard. It includes an:

  • introduction that briefly introduces the main topic
  • body that includes the main discussion of the key arguments
  • conclusion that highlights the gaps and issues of the literature

➡️ Take a look at our guide on how to write a literature review to learn more about how to structure a literature review.

First of all, a literature review should have its own labeled section. You should indicate clearly in the table of contents where the literature can be found, and you should label this section as “Literature Review.”

➡️ For more information on writing a thesis, visit our guide on how to structure a thesis .

There is no set amount of words for a literature review, so the length depends on the research. If you are working with a large amount of sources, it will be long. If your paper does not depend entirely on references, it will be short.

Take a look at these three theses featuring great literature reviews:

  • School-Based Speech-Language Pathologist's Perceptions of Sensory Food Aversions in Children [ PDF , see page 20]
  • Who's Writing What We Read: Authorship in Criminological Research [ PDF , see page 4]
  • A Phenomenological Study of the Lived Experience of Online Instructors of Theological Reflection at Christian Institutions Accredited by the Association of Theological Schools [ PDF , see page 56]

Literature reviews are most commonly found in theses and dissertations. However, you find them in research papers as well.

There is no set amount of words for a literature review, so the length depends on the research. If you are working with a large amount of sources, then it will be long. If your paper does not depend entirely on references, then it will be short.

No. A literature review should have its own independent section. You should indicate clearly in the table of contents where the literature review can be found, and label this section as “Literature Review.”

The main goal of a literature review is to provide the researcher with sufficient knowledge about the topic in question so that they can eventually make an intervention.

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How to Write a Literature Review

What is a literature review.

  • What Is the Literature
  • Writing the Review

A literature review is much more than an annotated bibliography or a list of separate reviews of articles and books. It is a critical, analytical summary and synthesis of the current knowledge of a topic. Thus it should compare and relate different theories, findings, etc, rather than just summarize them individually. In addition, it should have a particular focus or theme to organize the review. It does not have to be an exhaustive account of everything published on the topic, but it should discuss all the significant academic literature and other relevant sources important for that focus.

This is meant to be a general guide to writing a literature review: ways to structure one, what to include, how it supplements other research. For more specific help on writing a review, and especially for help on finding the literature to review, sign up for a Personal Research Session .

The specific organization of a literature review depends on the type and purpose of the review, as well as on the specific field or topic being reviewed. But in general, it is a relatively brief but thorough exploration of past and current work on a topic. Rather than a chronological listing of previous work, though, literature reviews are usually organized thematically, such as different theoretical approaches, methodologies, or specific issues or concepts involved in the topic. A thematic organization makes it much easier to examine contrasting perspectives, theoretical approaches, methodologies, findings, etc, and to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of, and point out any gaps in, previous research. And this is the heart of what a literature review is about. A literature review may offer new interpretations, theoretical approaches, or other ideas; if it is part of a research proposal or report it should demonstrate the relationship of the proposed or reported research to others' work; but whatever else it does, it must provide a critical overview of the current state of research efforts. 

Literature reviews are common and very important in the sciences and social sciences. They are less common and have a less important role in the humanities, but they do have a place, especially stand-alone reviews.

Types of Literature Reviews

There are different types of literature reviews, and different purposes for writing a review, but the most common are:

  • Stand-alone literature review articles . These provide an overview and analysis of the current state of research on a topic or question. The goal is to evaluate and compare previous research on a topic to provide an analysis of what is currently known, and also to reveal controversies, weaknesses, and gaps in current work, thus pointing to directions for future research. You can find examples published in any number of academic journals, but there is a series of Annual Reviews of *Subject* which are specifically devoted to literature review articles. Writing a stand-alone review is often an effective way to get a good handle on a topic and to develop ideas for your own research program. For example, contrasting theoretical approaches or conflicting interpretations of findings can be the basis of your research project: can you find evidence supporting one interpretation against another, or can you propose an alternative interpretation that overcomes their limitations?
  • Part of a research proposal . This could be a proposal for a PhD dissertation, a senior thesis, or a class project. It could also be a submission for a grant. The literature review, by pointing out the current issues and questions concerning a topic, is a crucial part of demonstrating how your proposed research will contribute to the field, and thus of convincing your thesis committee to allow you to pursue the topic of your interest or a funding agency to pay for your research efforts.
  • Part of a research report . When you finish your research and write your thesis or paper to present your findings, it should include a literature review to provide the context to which your work is a contribution. Your report, in addition to detailing the methods, results, etc. of your research, should show how your work relates to others' work.

A literature review for a research report is often a revision of the review for a research proposal, which can be a revision of a stand-alone review. Each revision should be a fairly extensive revision. With the increased knowledge of and experience in the topic as you proceed, your understanding of the topic will increase. Thus, you will be in a better position to analyze and critique the literature. In addition, your focus will change as you proceed in your research. Some areas of the literature you initially reviewed will be marginal or irrelevant for your eventual research, and you will need to explore other areas more thoroughly. 

Examples of Literature Reviews

See the series of Annual Reviews of *Subject* which are specifically devoted to literature review articles to find many examples of stand-alone literature reviews in the biomedical, physical, and social sciences. 

Research report articles vary in how they are organized, but a common general structure is to have sections such as:

  • Abstract - Brief summary of the contents of the article
  • Introduction - A explanation of the purpose of the study, a statement of the research question(s) the study intends to address
  • Literature review - A critical assessment of the work done so far on this topic, to show how the current study relates to what has already been done
  • Methods - How the study was carried out (e.g. instruments or equipment, procedures, methods to gather and analyze data)
  • Results - What was found in the course of the study
  • Discussion - What do the results mean
  • Conclusion - State the conclusions and implications of the results, and discuss how it relates to the work reviewed in the literature review; also, point to directions for further work in the area

Here are some articles that illustrate variations on this theme. There is no need to read the entire articles (unless the contents interest you); just quickly browse through to see the sections, and see how each section is introduced and what is contained in them.

The Determinants of Undergraduate Grade Point Average: The Relative Importance of Family Background, High School Resources, and Peer Group Effects , in The Journal of Human Resources , v. 34 no. 2 (Spring 1999), p. 268-293.

This article has a standard breakdown of sections:

  • Introduction
  • Literature Review
  • Some discussion sections

First Encounters of the Bureaucratic Kind: Early Freshman Experiences with a Campus Bureaucracy , in The Journal of Higher Education , v. 67 no. 6 (Nov-Dec 1996), p. 660-691.

This one does not have a section specifically labeled as a "literature review" or "review of the literature," but the first few sections cite a long list of other sources discussing previous research in the area before the authors present their own study they are reporting.

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What is a Literature Review? How to Write It (with Examples)

literature review

A literature review is a critical analysis and synthesis of existing research on a particular topic. It provides an overview of the current state of knowledge, identifies gaps, and highlights key findings in the literature. 1 The purpose of a literature review is to situate your own research within the context of existing scholarship, demonstrating your understanding of the topic and showing how your work contributes to the ongoing conversation in the field. Learning how to write a literature review is a critical tool for successful research. Your ability to summarize and synthesize prior research pertaining to a certain topic demonstrates your grasp on the topic of study, and assists in the learning process. 

Table of Contents

  • What is the purpose of literature review? 
  • a. Habitat Loss and Species Extinction: 
  • b. Range Shifts and Phenological Changes: 
  • c. Ocean Acidification and Coral Reefs: 
  • d. Adaptive Strategies and Conservation Efforts: 
  • How to write a good literature review 
  • Choose a Topic and Define the Research Question: 
  • Decide on the Scope of Your Review: 
  • Select Databases for Searches: 
  • Conduct Searches and Keep Track: 
  • Review the Literature: 
  • Organize and Write Your Literature Review: 
  • Frequently asked questions 

What is a literature review?

A well-conducted literature review demonstrates the researcher’s familiarity with the existing literature, establishes the context for their own research, and contributes to scholarly conversations on the topic. One of the purposes of a literature review is also to help researchers avoid duplicating previous work and ensure that their research is informed by and builds upon the existing body of knowledge.

meaning of literature review and

What is the purpose of literature review?

A literature review serves several important purposes within academic and research contexts. Here are some key objectives and functions of a literature review: 2  

  • Contextualizing the Research Problem: The literature review provides a background and context for the research problem under investigation. It helps to situate the study within the existing body of knowledge. 
  • Identifying Gaps in Knowledge: By identifying gaps, contradictions, or areas requiring further research, the researcher can shape the research question and justify the significance of the study. This is crucial for ensuring that the new research contributes something novel to the field. 
  • Understanding Theoretical and Conceptual Frameworks: Literature reviews help researchers gain an understanding of the theoretical and conceptual frameworks used in previous studies. This aids in the development of a theoretical framework for the current research. 
  • Providing Methodological Insights: Another purpose of literature reviews is that it allows researchers to learn about the methodologies employed in previous studies. This can help in choosing appropriate research methods for the current study and avoiding pitfalls that others may have encountered. 
  • Establishing Credibility: A well-conducted literature review demonstrates the researcher’s familiarity with existing scholarship, establishing their credibility and expertise in the field. It also helps in building a solid foundation for the new research. 
  • Informing Hypotheses or Research Questions: The literature review guides the formulation of hypotheses or research questions by highlighting relevant findings and areas of uncertainty in existing literature. 

Literature review example

Let’s delve deeper with a literature review example: Let’s say your literature review is about the impact of climate change on biodiversity. You might format your literature review into sections such as the effects of climate change on habitat loss and species extinction, phenological changes, and marine biodiversity. Each section would then summarize and analyze relevant studies in those areas, highlighting key findings and identifying gaps in the research. The review would conclude by emphasizing the need for further research on specific aspects of the relationship between climate change and biodiversity. The following literature review template provides a glimpse into the recommended literature review structure and content, demonstrating how research findings are organized around specific themes within a broader topic. 

Literature Review on Climate Change Impacts on Biodiversity:

Climate change is a global phenomenon with far-reaching consequences, including significant impacts on biodiversity. This literature review synthesizes key findings from various studies: 

a. Habitat Loss and Species Extinction:

Climate change-induced alterations in temperature and precipitation patterns contribute to habitat loss, affecting numerous species (Thomas et al., 2004). The review discusses how these changes increase the risk of extinction, particularly for species with specific habitat requirements. 

b. Range Shifts and Phenological Changes:

Observations of range shifts and changes in the timing of biological events (phenology) are documented in response to changing climatic conditions (Parmesan & Yohe, 2003). These shifts affect ecosystems and may lead to mismatches between species and their resources. 

c. Ocean Acidification and Coral Reefs:

The review explores the impact of climate change on marine biodiversity, emphasizing ocean acidification’s threat to coral reefs (Hoegh-Guldberg et al., 2007). Changes in pH levels negatively affect coral calcification, disrupting the delicate balance of marine ecosystems. 

d. Adaptive Strategies and Conservation Efforts:

Recognizing the urgency of the situation, the literature review discusses various adaptive strategies adopted by species and conservation efforts aimed at mitigating the impacts of climate change on biodiversity (Hannah et al., 2007). It emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary approaches for effective conservation planning. 

meaning of literature review and

How to write a good literature review

Writing a literature review involves summarizing and synthesizing existing research on a particular topic. A good literature review format should include the following elements. 

Introduction: The introduction sets the stage for your literature review, providing context and introducing the main focus of your review. 

  • Opening Statement: Begin with a general statement about the broader topic and its significance in the field. 
  • Scope and Purpose: Clearly define the scope of your literature review. Explain the specific research question or objective you aim to address. 
  • Organizational Framework: Briefly outline the structure of your literature review, indicating how you will categorize and discuss the existing research. 
  • Significance of the Study: Highlight why your literature review is important and how it contributes to the understanding of the chosen topic. 
  • Thesis Statement: Conclude the introduction with a concise thesis statement that outlines the main argument or perspective you will develop in the body of the literature review. 

Body: The body of the literature review is where you provide a comprehensive analysis of existing literature, grouping studies based on themes, methodologies, or other relevant criteria. 

  • Organize by Theme or Concept: Group studies that share common themes, concepts, or methodologies. Discuss each theme or concept in detail, summarizing key findings and identifying gaps or areas of disagreement. 
  • Critical Analysis: Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each study. Discuss the methodologies used, the quality of evidence, and the overall contribution of each work to the understanding of the topic. 
  • Synthesis of Findings: Synthesize the information from different studies to highlight trends, patterns, or areas of consensus in the literature. 
  • Identification of Gaps: Discuss any gaps or limitations in the existing research and explain how your review contributes to filling these gaps. 
  • Transition between Sections: Provide smooth transitions between different themes or concepts to maintain the flow of your literature review. 

Conclusion: The conclusion of your literature review should summarize the main findings, highlight the contributions of the review, and suggest avenues for future research. 

  • Summary of Key Findings: Recap the main findings from the literature and restate how they contribute to your research question or objective. 
  • Contributions to the Field: Discuss the overall contribution of your literature review to the existing knowledge in the field. 
  • Implications and Applications: Explore the practical implications of the findings and suggest how they might impact future research or practice. 
  • Recommendations for Future Research: Identify areas that require further investigation and propose potential directions for future research in the field. 
  • Final Thoughts: Conclude with a final reflection on the importance of your literature review and its relevance to the broader academic community. 

what is a literature review

Conducting a literature review

Conducting a literature review is an essential step in research that involves reviewing and analyzing existing literature on a specific topic. It’s important to know how to do a literature review effectively, so here are the steps to follow: 1  

Choose a Topic and Define the Research Question:

  • Select a topic that is relevant to your field of study. 
  • Clearly define your research question or objective. Determine what specific aspect of the topic do you want to explore? 

Decide on the Scope of Your Review:

  • Determine the timeframe for your literature review. Are you focusing on recent developments, or do you want a historical overview? 
  • Consider the geographical scope. Is your review global, or are you focusing on a specific region? 
  • Define the inclusion and exclusion criteria. What types of sources will you include? Are there specific types of studies or publications you will exclude? 

Select Databases for Searches:

  • Identify relevant databases for your field. Examples include PubMed, IEEE Xplore, Scopus, Web of Science, and Google Scholar. 
  • Consider searching in library catalogs, institutional repositories, and specialized databases related to your topic. 

Conduct Searches and Keep Track:

  • Develop a systematic search strategy using keywords, Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT), and other search techniques. 
  • Record and document your search strategy for transparency and replicability. 
  • Keep track of the articles, including publication details, abstracts, and links. Use citation management tools like EndNote, Zotero, or Mendeley to organize your references. 

Review the Literature:

  • Evaluate the relevance and quality of each source. Consider the methodology, sample size, and results of studies. 
  • Organize the literature by themes or key concepts. Identify patterns, trends, and gaps in the existing research. 
  • Summarize key findings and arguments from each source. Compare and contrast different perspectives. 
  • Identify areas where there is a consensus in the literature and where there are conflicting opinions. 
  • Provide critical analysis and synthesis of the literature. What are the strengths and weaknesses of existing research? 

Organize and Write Your Literature Review:

  • Literature review outline should be based on themes, chronological order, or methodological approaches. 
  • Write a clear and coherent narrative that synthesizes the information gathered. 
  • Use proper citations for each source and ensure consistency in your citation style (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.). 
  • Conclude your literature review by summarizing key findings, identifying gaps, and suggesting areas for future research. 

The literature review sample and detailed advice on writing and conducting a review will help you produce a well-structured report. But remember that a literature review is an ongoing process, and it may be necessary to revisit and update it as your research progresses. 

Frequently asked questions

A literature review is a critical and comprehensive analysis of existing literature (published and unpublished works) on a specific topic or research question and provides a synthesis of the current state of knowledge in a particular field. A well-conducted literature review is crucial for researchers to build upon existing knowledge, avoid duplication of efforts, and contribute to the advancement of their field. It also helps researchers situate their work within a broader context and facilitates the development of a sound theoretical and conceptual framework for their studies.

Literature review is a crucial component of research writing, providing a solid background for a research paper’s investigation. The aim is to keep professionals up to date by providing an understanding of ongoing developments within a specific field, including research methods, and experimental techniques used in that field, and present that knowledge in the form of a written report. Also, the depth and breadth of the literature review emphasizes the credibility of the scholar in his or her field.  

Before writing a literature review, it’s essential to undertake several preparatory steps to ensure that your review is well-researched, organized, and focused. This includes choosing a topic of general interest to you and doing exploratory research on that topic, writing an annotated bibliography, and noting major points, especially those that relate to the position you have taken on the topic. 

Literature reviews and academic research papers are essential components of scholarly work but serve different purposes within the academic realm. 3 A literature review aims to provide a foundation for understanding the current state of research on a particular topic, identify gaps or controversies, and lay the groundwork for future research. Therefore, it draws heavily from existing academic sources, including books, journal articles, and other scholarly publications. In contrast, an academic research paper aims to present new knowledge, contribute to the academic discourse, and advance the understanding of a specific research question. Therefore, it involves a mix of existing literature (in the introduction and literature review sections) and original data or findings obtained through research methods. 

Literature reviews are essential components of academic and research papers, and various strategies can be employed to conduct them effectively. If you want to know how to write a literature review for a research paper, here are four common approaches that are often used by researchers.  Chronological Review: This strategy involves organizing the literature based on the chronological order of publication. It helps to trace the development of a topic over time, showing how ideas, theories, and research have evolved.  Thematic Review: Thematic reviews focus on identifying and analyzing themes or topics that cut across different studies. Instead of organizing the literature chronologically, it is grouped by key themes or concepts, allowing for a comprehensive exploration of various aspects of the topic.  Methodological Review: This strategy involves organizing the literature based on the research methods employed in different studies. It helps to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of various methodologies and allows the reader to evaluate the reliability and validity of the research findings.  Theoretical Review: A theoretical review examines the literature based on the theoretical frameworks used in different studies. This approach helps to identify the key theories that have been applied to the topic and assess their contributions to the understanding of the subject.  It’s important to note that these strategies are not mutually exclusive, and a literature review may combine elements of more than one approach. The choice of strategy depends on the research question, the nature of the literature available, and the goals of the review. Additionally, other strategies, such as integrative reviews or systematic reviews, may be employed depending on the specific requirements of the research.

The literature review format can vary depending on the specific publication guidelines. However, there are some common elements and structures that are often followed. Here is a general guideline for the format of a literature review:  Introduction:   Provide an overview of the topic.  Define the scope and purpose of the literature review.  State the research question or objective.  Body:   Organize the literature by themes, concepts, or chronology.  Critically analyze and evaluate each source.  Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the studies.  Highlight any methodological limitations or biases.  Identify patterns, connections, or contradictions in the existing research.  Conclusion:   Summarize the key points discussed in the literature review.  Highlight the research gap.  Address the research question or objective stated in the introduction.  Highlight the contributions of the review and suggest directions for future research.

Both annotated bibliographies and literature reviews involve the examination of scholarly sources. While annotated bibliographies focus on individual sources with brief annotations, literature reviews provide a more in-depth, integrated, and comprehensive analysis of existing literature on a specific topic. The key differences are as follows: 

References 

  • Denney, A. S., & Tewksbury, R. (2013). How to write a literature review.  Journal of criminal justice education ,  24 (2), 218-234. 
  • Pan, M. L. (2016).  Preparing literature reviews: Qualitative and quantitative approaches . Taylor & Francis. 
  • Cantero, C. (2019). How to write a literature review.  San José State University Writing Center . 

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Writing a Literature Review

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A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other (also called synthesis ). The lit review is an important genre in many disciplines, not just literature (i.e., the study of works of literature such as novels and plays). When we say “literature review” or refer to “the literature,” we are talking about the research ( scholarship ) in a given field. You will often see the terms “the research,” “the scholarship,” and “the literature” used mostly interchangeably.

Where, when, and why would I write a lit review?

There are a number of different situations where you might write a literature review, each with slightly different expectations; different disciplines, too, have field-specific expectations for what a literature review is and does. For instance, in the humanities, authors might include more overt argumentation and interpretation of source material in their literature reviews, whereas in the sciences, authors are more likely to report study designs and results in their literature reviews; these differences reflect these disciplines’ purposes and conventions in scholarship. You should always look at examples from your own discipline and talk to professors or mentors in your field to be sure you understand your discipline’s conventions, for literature reviews as well as for any other genre.

A literature review can be a part of a research paper or scholarly article, usually falling after the introduction and before the research methods sections. In these cases, the lit review just needs to cover scholarship that is important to the issue you are writing about; sometimes it will also cover key sources that informed your research methodology.

Lit reviews can also be standalone pieces, either as assignments in a class or as publications. In a class, a lit review may be assigned to help students familiarize themselves with a topic and with scholarship in their field, get an idea of the other researchers working on the topic they’re interested in, find gaps in existing research in order to propose new projects, and/or develop a theoretical framework and methodology for later research. As a publication, a lit review usually is meant to help make other scholars’ lives easier by collecting and summarizing, synthesizing, and analyzing existing research on a topic. This can be especially helpful for students or scholars getting into a new research area, or for directing an entire community of scholars toward questions that have not yet been answered.

What are the parts of a lit review?

Most lit reviews use a basic introduction-body-conclusion structure; if your lit review is part of a larger paper, the introduction and conclusion pieces may be just a few sentences while you focus most of your attention on the body. If your lit review is a standalone piece, the introduction and conclusion take up more space and give you a place to discuss your goals, research methods, and conclusions separately from where you discuss the literature itself.

Introduction:

  • An introductory paragraph that explains what your working topic and thesis is
  • A forecast of key topics or texts that will appear in the review
  • Potentially, a description of how you found sources and how you analyzed them for inclusion and discussion in the review (more often found in published, standalone literature reviews than in lit review sections in an article or research paper)
  • Summarize and synthesize: Give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: Don’t just paraphrase other researchers – add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically Evaluate: Mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: Use transition words and topic sentence to draw connections, comparisons, and contrasts.

Conclusion:

  • Summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance
  • Connect it back to your primary research question

How should I organize my lit review?

Lit reviews can take many different organizational patterns depending on what you are trying to accomplish with the review. Here are some examples:

  • Chronological : The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time, which helps familiarize the audience with the topic (for instance if you are introducing something that is not commonly known in your field). If you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order. Try to analyze the patterns, turning points, and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred (as mentioned previously, this may not be appropriate in your discipline — check with a teacher or mentor if you’re unsure).
  • Thematic : If you have found some recurring central themes that you will continue working with throughout your piece, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic. For example, if you are reviewing literature about women and religion, key themes can include the role of women in churches and the religious attitude towards women.
  • Qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the research by sociological, historical, or cultural sources
  • Theoretical : In many humanities articles, the literature review is the foundation for the theoretical framework. You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts. You can argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach or combine various theorical concepts to create a framework for your research.

What are some strategies or tips I can use while writing my lit review?

Any lit review is only as good as the research it discusses; make sure your sources are well-chosen and your research is thorough. Don’t be afraid to do more research if you discover a new thread as you’re writing. More info on the research process is available in our "Conducting Research" resources .

As you’re doing your research, create an annotated bibliography ( see our page on the this type of document ). Much of the information used in an annotated bibliography can be used also in a literature review, so you’ll be not only partially drafting your lit review as you research, but also developing your sense of the larger conversation going on among scholars, professionals, and any other stakeholders in your topic.

Usually you will need to synthesize research rather than just summarizing it. This means drawing connections between sources to create a picture of the scholarly conversation on a topic over time. Many student writers struggle to synthesize because they feel they don’t have anything to add to the scholars they are citing; here are some strategies to help you:

  • It often helps to remember that the point of these kinds of syntheses is to show your readers how you understand your research, to help them read the rest of your paper.
  • Writing teachers often say synthesis is like hosting a dinner party: imagine all your sources are together in a room, discussing your topic. What are they saying to each other?
  • Look at the in-text citations in each paragraph. Are you citing just one source for each paragraph? This usually indicates summary only. When you have multiple sources cited in a paragraph, you are more likely to be synthesizing them (not always, but often
  • Read more about synthesis here.

The most interesting literature reviews are often written as arguments (again, as mentioned at the beginning of the page, this is discipline-specific and doesn’t work for all situations). Often, the literature review is where you can establish your research as filling a particular gap or as relevant in a particular way. You have some chance to do this in your introduction in an article, but the literature review section gives a more extended opportunity to establish the conversation in the way you would like your readers to see it. You can choose the intellectual lineage you would like to be part of and whose definitions matter most to your thinking (mostly humanities-specific, but this goes for sciences as well). In addressing these points, you argue for your place in the conversation, which tends to make the lit review more compelling than a simple reporting of other sources.

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A literature review surveys prior research published in books, scholarly articles, and any other sources relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory, and by so doing, provides a description, summary, and critical evaluation of these works in relation to the research problem being investigated. Literature reviews are designed to provide an overview of sources you have used in researching a particular topic and to demonstrate to your readers how your research fits within existing scholarship about the topic.

Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . Fourth edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2014.

Importance of a Good Literature Review

A literature review may consist of simply a summary of key sources, but in the social sciences, a literature review usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis, often within specific conceptual categories . A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information in a way that informs how you are planning to investigate a research problem. The analytical features of a literature review might:

  • Give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations,
  • Trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates,
  • Depending on the situation, evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant research, or
  • Usually in the conclusion of a literature review, identify where gaps exist in how a problem has been researched to date.

Given this, the purpose of a literature review is to:

  • Place each work in the context of its contribution to understanding the research problem being studied.
  • Describe the relationship of each work to the others under consideration.
  • Identify new ways to interpret prior research.
  • Reveal any gaps that exist in the literature.
  • Resolve conflicts amongst seemingly contradictory previous studies.
  • Identify areas of prior scholarship to prevent duplication of effort.
  • Point the way in fulfilling a need for additional research.
  • Locate your own research within the context of existing literature [very important].

Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Jesson, Jill. Doing Your Literature Review: Traditional and Systematic Techniques . Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2011; Knopf, Jeffrey W. "Doing a Literature Review." PS: Political Science and Politics 39 (January 2006): 127-132; Ridley, Diana. The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students . 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2012.

Types of Literature Reviews

It is important to think of knowledge in a given field as consisting of three layers. First, there are the primary studies that researchers conduct and publish. Second are the reviews of those studies that summarize and offer new interpretations built from and often extending beyond the primary studies. Third, there are the perceptions, conclusions, opinion, and interpretations that are shared informally among scholars that become part of the body of epistemological traditions within the field.

In composing a literature review, it is important to note that it is often this third layer of knowledge that is cited as "true" even though it often has only a loose relationship to the primary studies and secondary literature reviews. Given this, while literature reviews are designed to provide an overview and synthesis of pertinent sources you have explored, there are a number of approaches you could adopt depending upon the type of analysis underpinning your study.

Argumentative Review This form examines literature selectively in order to support or refute an argument, deeply embedded assumption, or philosophical problem already established in the literature. The purpose is to develop a body of literature that establishes a contrarian viewpoint. Given the value-laden nature of some social science research [e.g., educational reform; immigration control], argumentative approaches to analyzing the literature can be a legitimate and important form of discourse. However, note that they can also introduce problems of bias when they are used to make summary claims of the sort found in systematic reviews [see below].

Integrative Review Considered a form of research that reviews, critiques, and synthesizes representative literature on a topic in an integrated way such that new frameworks and perspectives on the topic are generated. The body of literature includes all studies that address related or identical hypotheses or research problems. A well-done integrative review meets the same standards as primary research in regard to clarity, rigor, and replication. This is the most common form of review in the social sciences.

Historical Review Few things rest in isolation from historical precedent. Historical literature reviews focus on examining research throughout a period of time, often starting with the first time an issue, concept, theory, phenomena emerged in the literature, then tracing its evolution within the scholarship of a discipline. The purpose is to place research in a historical context to show familiarity with state-of-the-art developments and to identify the likely directions for future research.

Methodological Review A review does not always focus on what someone said [findings], but how they came about saying what they say [method of analysis]. Reviewing methods of analysis provides a framework of understanding at different levels [i.e. those of theory, substantive fields, research approaches, and data collection and analysis techniques], how researchers draw upon a wide variety of knowledge ranging from the conceptual level to practical documents for use in fieldwork in the areas of ontological and epistemological consideration, quantitative and qualitative integration, sampling, interviewing, data collection, and data analysis. This approach helps highlight ethical issues which you should be aware of and consider as you go through your own study.

Systematic Review This form consists of an overview of existing evidence pertinent to a clearly formulated research question, which uses pre-specified and standardized methods to identify and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect, report, and analyze data from the studies that are included in the review. The goal is to deliberately document, critically evaluate, and summarize scientifically all of the research about a clearly defined research problem . Typically it focuses on a very specific empirical question, often posed in a cause-and-effect form, such as "To what extent does A contribute to B?" This type of literature review is primarily applied to examining prior research studies in clinical medicine and allied health fields, but it is increasingly being used in the social sciences.

Theoretical Review The purpose of this form is to examine the corpus of theory that has accumulated in regard to an issue, concept, theory, phenomena. The theoretical literature review helps to establish what theories already exist, the relationships between them, to what degree the existing theories have been investigated, and to develop new hypotheses to be tested. Often this form is used to help establish a lack of appropriate theories or reveal that current theories are inadequate for explaining new or emerging research problems. The unit of analysis can focus on a theoretical concept or a whole theory or framework.

NOTE : Most often the literature review will incorporate some combination of types. For example, a review that examines literature supporting or refuting an argument, assumption, or philosophical problem related to the research problem will also need to include writing supported by sources that establish the history of these arguments in the literature.

Baumeister, Roy F. and Mark R. Leary. "Writing Narrative Literature Reviews."  Review of General Psychology 1 (September 1997): 311-320; Mark R. Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Kennedy, Mary M. "Defining a Literature." Educational Researcher 36 (April 2007): 139-147; Petticrew, Mark and Helen Roberts. Systematic Reviews in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide . Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2006; Torracro, Richard. "Writing Integrative Literature Reviews: Guidelines and Examples." Human Resource Development Review 4 (September 2005): 356-367; Rocco, Tonette S. and Maria S. Plakhotnik. "Literature Reviews, Conceptual Frameworks, and Theoretical Frameworks: Terms, Functions, and Distinctions." Human Ressource Development Review 8 (March 2008): 120-130; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016.

Structure and Writing Style

I.  Thinking About Your Literature Review

The structure of a literature review should include the following in support of understanding the research problem :

  • An overview of the subject, issue, or theory under consideration, along with the objectives of the literature review,
  • Division of works under review into themes or categories [e.g. works that support a particular position, those against, and those offering alternative approaches entirely],
  • An explanation of how each work is similar to and how it varies from the others,
  • Conclusions as to which pieces are best considered in their argument, are most convincing of their opinions, and make the greatest contribution to the understanding and development of their area of research.

The critical evaluation of each work should consider :

  • Provenance -- what are the author's credentials? Are the author's arguments supported by evidence [e.g. primary historical material, case studies, narratives, statistics, recent scientific findings]?
  • Methodology -- were the techniques used to identify, gather, and analyze the data appropriate to addressing the research problem? Was the sample size appropriate? Were the results effectively interpreted and reported?
  • Objectivity -- is the author's perspective even-handed or prejudicial? Is contrary data considered or is certain pertinent information ignored to prove the author's point?
  • Persuasiveness -- which of the author's theses are most convincing or least convincing?
  • Validity -- are the author's arguments and conclusions convincing? Does the work ultimately contribute in any significant way to an understanding of the subject?

II.  Development of the Literature Review

Four Basic Stages of Writing 1.  Problem formulation -- which topic or field is being examined and what are its component issues? 2.  Literature search -- finding materials relevant to the subject being explored. 3.  Data evaluation -- determining which literature makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the topic. 4.  Analysis and interpretation -- discussing the findings and conclusions of pertinent literature.

Consider the following issues before writing the literature review: Clarify If your assignment is not specific about what form your literature review should take, seek clarification from your professor by asking these questions: 1.  Roughly how many sources would be appropriate to include? 2.  What types of sources should I review (books, journal articles, websites; scholarly versus popular sources)? 3.  Should I summarize, synthesize, or critique sources by discussing a common theme or issue? 4.  Should I evaluate the sources in any way beyond evaluating how they relate to understanding the research problem? 5.  Should I provide subheadings and other background information, such as definitions and/or a history? Find Models Use the exercise of reviewing the literature to examine how authors in your discipline or area of interest have composed their literature review sections. Read them to get a sense of the types of themes you might want to look for in your own research or to identify ways to organize your final review. The bibliography or reference section of sources you've already read, such as required readings in the course syllabus, are also excellent entry points into your own research. Narrow the Topic The narrower your topic, the easier it will be to limit the number of sources you need to read in order to obtain a good survey of relevant resources. Your professor will probably not expect you to read everything that's available about the topic, but you'll make the act of reviewing easier if you first limit scope of the research problem. A good strategy is to begin by searching the USC Libraries Catalog for recent books about the topic and review the table of contents for chapters that focuses on specific issues. You can also review the indexes of books to find references to specific issues that can serve as the focus of your research. For example, a book surveying the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may include a chapter on the role Egypt has played in mediating the conflict, or look in the index for the pages where Egypt is mentioned in the text. Consider Whether Your Sources are Current Some disciplines require that you use information that is as current as possible. This is particularly true in disciplines in medicine and the sciences where research conducted becomes obsolete very quickly as new discoveries are made. However, when writing a review in the social sciences, a survey of the history of the literature may be required. In other words, a complete understanding the research problem requires you to deliberately examine how knowledge and perspectives have changed over time. Sort through other current bibliographies or literature reviews in the field to get a sense of what your discipline expects. You can also use this method to explore what is considered by scholars to be a "hot topic" and what is not.

III.  Ways to Organize Your Literature Review

Chronology of Events If your review follows the chronological method, you could write about the materials according to when they were published. This approach should only be followed if a clear path of research building on previous research can be identified and that these trends follow a clear chronological order of development. For example, a literature review that focuses on continuing research about the emergence of German economic power after the fall of the Soviet Union. By Publication Order your sources by publication chronology, then, only if the order demonstrates a more important trend. For instance, you could order a review of literature on environmental studies of brown fields if the progression revealed, for example, a change in the soil collection practices of the researchers who wrote and/or conducted the studies. Thematic [“conceptual categories”] A thematic literature review is the most common approach to summarizing prior research in the social and behavioral sciences. Thematic reviews are organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time, although the progression of time may still be incorporated into a thematic review. For example, a review of the Internet’s impact on American presidential politics could focus on the development of online political satire. While the study focuses on one topic, the Internet’s impact on American presidential politics, it would still be organized chronologically reflecting technological developments in media. The difference in this example between a "chronological" and a "thematic" approach is what is emphasized the most: themes related to the role of the Internet in presidential politics. Note that more authentic thematic reviews tend to break away from chronological order. A review organized in this manner would shift between time periods within each section according to the point being made. Methodological A methodological approach focuses on the methods utilized by the researcher. For the Internet in American presidential politics project, one methodological approach would be to look at cultural differences between the portrayal of American presidents on American, British, and French websites. Or the review might focus on the fundraising impact of the Internet on a particular political party. A methodological scope will influence either the types of documents in the review or the way in which these documents are discussed.

Other Sections of Your Literature Review Once you've decided on the organizational method for your literature review, the sections you need to include in the paper should be easy to figure out because they arise from your organizational strategy. In other words, a chronological review would have subsections for each vital time period; a thematic review would have subtopics based upon factors that relate to the theme or issue. However, sometimes you may need to add additional sections that are necessary for your study, but do not fit in the organizational strategy of the body. What other sections you include in the body is up to you. However, only include what is necessary for the reader to locate your study within the larger scholarship about the research problem.

Here are examples of other sections, usually in the form of a single paragraph, you may need to include depending on the type of review you write:

  • Current Situation : Information necessary to understand the current topic or focus of the literature review.
  • Sources Used : Describes the methods and resources [e.g., databases] you used to identify the literature you reviewed.
  • History : The chronological progression of the field, the research literature, or an idea that is necessary to understand the literature review, if the body of the literature review is not already a chronology.
  • Selection Methods : Criteria you used to select (and perhaps exclude) sources in your literature review. For instance, you might explain that your review includes only peer-reviewed [i.e., scholarly] sources.
  • Standards : Description of the way in which you present your information.
  • Questions for Further Research : What questions about the field has the review sparked? How will you further your research as a result of the review?

IV.  Writing Your Literature Review

Once you've settled on how to organize your literature review, you're ready to write each section. When writing your review, keep in mind these issues.

Use Evidence A literature review section is, in this sense, just like any other academic research paper. Your interpretation of the available sources must be backed up with evidence [citations] that demonstrates that what you are saying is valid. Be Selective Select only the most important points in each source to highlight in the review. The type of information you choose to mention should relate directly to the research problem, whether it is thematic, methodological, or chronological. Related items that provide additional information, but that are not key to understanding the research problem, can be included in a list of further readings . Use Quotes Sparingly Some short quotes are appropriate if you want to emphasize a point, or if what an author stated cannot be easily paraphrased. Sometimes you may need to quote certain terminology that was coined by the author, is not common knowledge, or taken directly from the study. Do not use extensive quotes as a substitute for using your own words in reviewing the literature. Summarize and Synthesize Remember to summarize and synthesize your sources within each thematic paragraph as well as throughout the review. Recapitulate important features of a research study, but then synthesize it by rephrasing the study's significance and relating it to your own work and the work of others. Keep Your Own Voice While the literature review presents others' ideas, your voice [the writer's] should remain front and center. For example, weave references to other sources into what you are writing but maintain your own voice by starting and ending the paragraph with your own ideas and wording. Use Caution When Paraphrasing When paraphrasing a source that is not your own, be sure to represent the author's information or opinions accurately and in your own words. Even when paraphrasing an author’s work, you still must provide a citation to that work.

V.  Common Mistakes to Avoid

These are the most common mistakes made in reviewing social science research literature.

  • Sources in your literature review do not clearly relate to the research problem;
  • You do not take sufficient time to define and identify the most relevant sources to use in the literature review related to the research problem;
  • Relies exclusively on secondary analytical sources rather than including relevant primary research studies or data;
  • Uncritically accepts another researcher's findings and interpretations as valid, rather than examining critically all aspects of the research design and analysis;
  • Does not describe the search procedures that were used in identifying the literature to review;
  • Reports isolated statistical results rather than synthesizing them in chi-squared or meta-analytic methods; and,
  • Only includes research that validates assumptions and does not consider contrary findings and alternative interpretations found in the literature.

Cook, Kathleen E. and Elise Murowchick. “Do Literature Review Skills Transfer from One Course to Another?” Psychology Learning and Teaching 13 (March 2014): 3-11; Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Jesson, Jill. Doing Your Literature Review: Traditional and Systematic Techniques . London: SAGE, 2011; Literature Review Handout. Online Writing Center. Liberty University; Literature Reviews. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J. and Rebecca Frels. Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review: A Multimodal and Cultural Approach . Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2016; Ridley, Diana. The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students . 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2012; Randolph, Justus J. “A Guide to Writing the Dissertation Literature Review." Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation. vol. 14, June 2009; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016; Taylor, Dena. The Literature Review: A Few Tips On Conducting It. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Writing a Literature Review. Academic Skills Centre. University of Canberra.

Writing Tip

Break Out of Your Disciplinary Box!

Thinking interdisciplinarily about a research problem can be a rewarding exercise in applying new ideas, theories, or concepts to an old problem. For example, what might cultural anthropologists say about the continuing conflict in the Middle East? In what ways might geographers view the need for better distribution of social service agencies in large cities than how social workers might study the issue? You don’t want to substitute a thorough review of core research literature in your discipline for studies conducted in other fields of study. However, particularly in the social sciences, thinking about research problems from multiple vectors is a key strategy for finding new solutions to a problem or gaining a new perspective. Consult with a librarian about identifying research databases in other disciplines; almost every field of study has at least one comprehensive database devoted to indexing its research literature.

Frodeman, Robert. The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity . New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Another Writing Tip

Don't Just Review for Content!

While conducting a review of the literature, maximize the time you devote to writing this part of your paper by thinking broadly about what you should be looking for and evaluating. Review not just what scholars are saying, but how are they saying it. Some questions to ask:

  • How are they organizing their ideas?
  • What methods have they used to study the problem?
  • What theories have been used to explain, predict, or understand their research problem?
  • What sources have they cited to support their conclusions?
  • How have they used non-textual elements [e.g., charts, graphs, figures, etc.] to illustrate key points?

When you begin to write your literature review section, you'll be glad you dug deeper into how the research was designed and constructed because it establishes a means for developing more substantial analysis and interpretation of the research problem.

Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1 998.

Yet Another Writing Tip

When Do I Know I Can Stop Looking and Move On?

Here are several strategies you can utilize to assess whether you've thoroughly reviewed the literature:

  • Look for repeating patterns in the research findings . If the same thing is being said, just by different people, then this likely demonstrates that the research problem has hit a conceptual dead end. At this point consider: Does your study extend current research?  Does it forge a new path? Or, does is merely add more of the same thing being said?
  • Look at sources the authors cite to in their work . If you begin to see the same researchers cited again and again, then this is often an indication that no new ideas have been generated to address the research problem.
  • Search Google Scholar to identify who has subsequently cited leading scholars already identified in your literature review [see next sub-tab]. This is called citation tracking and there are a number of sources that can help you identify who has cited whom, particularly scholars from outside of your discipline. Here again, if the same authors are being cited again and again, this may indicate no new literature has been written on the topic.

Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J. and Rebecca Frels. Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review: A Multimodal and Cultural Approach . Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2016; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016.

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Literature Review: A Definition

What is a literature review, then.

A literature review discusses and analyses published information in a particular subject area.   Sometimes the information covers a certain time period.

A literature review is more than a summary of the sources, it has an organizational pattern that combines both summary and synthesis. A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information. It might give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations. Or it might trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates. And depending on the situation, the literature review may evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant.

But how is a literature review different from an academic research paper?

While the main focus of an academic research paper is to support your own argument, the focus of a literature review is to summarize and synthesize the arguments and ideas of others. The academic research paper also covers a range of sources, but it is usually a select number of sources, because the emphasis is on the argument. Likewise, a literature review can also have an "argument," but it is not as important as covering a number of sources. In short, an academic research paper and a literature review contain some of the same elements. In fact, many academic research papers will contain a literature review section. What aspect of the study (either the argument or the sources) that is emphasized determines what type of document it is.

( "Literature Reviews" from The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill )

Why do we write literature reviews?

Literature reviews provide you with a handy guide to a particular topic. If you have limited time to conduct research, literature reviews can give you an overview or act as a stepping stone.

For professionals, they are useful reports that keep them up to date with what is current in the field.

For scholars, the depth and breadth of the literature review emphasizes the credibility of the writer in his or her field. Literature reviews also provide a solid background for a research paper's investigation.

Comprehensive knowledge of the literature of the field is essential to most research papers.

Journal Articles on Writing Literature Reviews

  • Research Methods for Comprehensive Science Literature Reviews Author: Brown,Barry N. Journal: Issues in Science & Technology Librarianship Date: Spring2009 Issue: 57 Page: 1 more... less... Finding some information on most topics is easy. There are abundant sources of information readily available. However, completing a comprehensive literature review on a particular topic is often difficult, laborious, and time intensive; the project requires organization, persistence, and an understanding of the scholarly communication and publishing process. This paper briefly outlines methods of conducting a comprehensive literature review for science topics. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR];
  • Research: Considerations in Writing a Literature Review Authors: Black,K. Journal: The New Social Worker Date: 01/01; 2007 Volume: 14 Issue: 2 Page: 12 more... less... Literature reviews are ubiquitous in academic journals, scholarly reports, and social work education. Conducting and writing a good literature review is both personally and professionally satisfying. (Journal abstract).
  • How to do (or not to do) A Critical Literature Review Authors: Jesson,Jill; Lacey,Fiona Journal: Pharmacy Education Pub Date: 2006 Volume: 6 Issue: 2 Pages:139 - 148 more... less... More and more students are required to perform a critical literature review as part of their undergraduate or postgraduate studies. Whilst most of the latest research methods textbooks advise how to do a literature search, very few cover the literature review. This paper covers two types of review: a critical literature review and a systematic review. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]
  • Conducting a Literature Review Authors: Rowley,Jennifer; Slack,Frances Journal: Management Research News Pub Date: 2004 Volume: 27 Issue: 6 Pages:31-39 more... less... Abstract: This article offers support and guidance for students undertaking a literature review as part of their dissertation during an undergraduate or Masters course. A literature review is a summary of a subject field that supports the identification of specific research questions. A literature review needs to draw on and evaluate a range of different types of sources including academic and professional journal articles, books, and web-based resources. The literature search helps in the identification and location of relevant documents and other sources. Search engines can be used to search web resources and bibliographic databases. Conceptual frameworks can be a useful tool in developing an understanding of a subject area. Creating the literature review involves the stages of: scanning, making notes, structuring the literature review, writing the literature review, and building a bibliography.

Some Books from the WU Catalog

meaning of literature review and

  • The SAGE handbook of visual research methods [electronic resource] by Edited by Luc Pauwels and Dawn Mannay. ISBN: 9781526417015 Publication Date: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2020.

Helpful Websites

  • "How to do a Literature Review" from Ferdinand D. Bluford Library
  • "The Literature Review: A Few Tips on Conducting It." from the University of Toronto
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  • Steps in Conducting a Literature Review

What is a literature review?

A literature review is an integrated analysis -- not just a summary-- of scholarly writings and other relevant evidence related directly to your research question.  That is, it represents a synthesis of the evidence that provides background information on your topic and shows a association between the evidence and your research question.

A literature review may be a stand alone work or the introduction to a larger research paper, depending on the assignment.  Rely heavily on the guidelines your instructor has given you.

Why is it important?

A literature review is important because it:

  • Explains the background of research on a topic.
  • Demonstrates why a topic is significant to a subject area.
  • Discovers relationships between research studies/ideas.
  • Identifies major themes, concepts, and researchers on a topic.
  • Identifies critical gaps and points of disagreement.
  • Discusses further research questions that logically come out of the previous studies.

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1. Choose a topic. Define your research question.

Your literature review should be guided by your central research question.  The literature represents background and research developments related to a specific research question, interpreted and analyzed by you in a synthesized way.

  • Make sure your research question is not too broad or too narrow.  Is it manageable?
  • Begin writing down terms that are related to your question. These will be useful for searches later.
  • If you have the opportunity, discuss your topic with your professor and your class mates.

2. Decide on the scope of your review

How many studies do you need to look at? How comprehensive should it be? How many years should it cover? 

  • This may depend on your assignment.  How many sources does the assignment require?

3. Select the databases you will use to conduct your searches.

Make a list of the databases you will search. 

Where to find databases:

  • use the tabs on this guide
  • Find other databases in the Nursing Information Resources web page
  • More on the Medical Library web page
  • ... and more on the Yale University Library web page

4. Conduct your searches to find the evidence. Keep track of your searches.

  • Use the key words in your question, as well as synonyms for those words, as terms in your search. Use the database tutorials for help.
  • Save the searches in the databases. This saves time when you want to redo, or modify, the searches. It is also helpful to use as a guide is the searches are not finding any useful results.
  • Review the abstracts of research studies carefully. This will save you time.
  • Use the bibliographies and references of research studies you find to locate others.
  • Check with your professor, or a subject expert in the field, if you are missing any key works in the field.
  • Ask your librarian for help at any time.
  • Use a citation manager, such as EndNote as the repository for your citations. See the EndNote tutorials for help.

Review the literature

Some questions to help you analyze the research:

  • What was the research question of the study you are reviewing? What were the authors trying to discover?
  • Was the research funded by a source that could influence the findings?
  • What were the research methodologies? Analyze its literature review, the samples and variables used, the results, and the conclusions.
  • Does the research seem to be complete? Could it have been conducted more soundly? What further questions does it raise?
  • If there are conflicting studies, why do you think that is?
  • How are the authors viewed in the field? Has this study been cited? If so, how has it been analyzed?

Tips: 

  • Review the abstracts carefully.  
  • Keep careful notes so that you may track your thought processes during the research process.
  • Create a matrix of the studies for easy analysis, and synthesis, across all of the studies.
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In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Literature Reviews

Introduction, what is a literature review.

  • Literature Reviews for Thesis or Dissertation
  • Stand-alone and Systemic Reviews
  • Purposes of a Literature Review
  • Texts on Conducting a Literature Review
  • Identifying the Research Topic
  • The Persuasive Argument
  • Searching the Literature
  • Creating a Synthesis
  • Critiquing the Literature
  • Building the Case for the Literature Review Document
  • Presenting the Literature Review

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Literature Reviews by Lawrence A. Machi , Brenda T. McEvoy LAST REVIEWED: 27 October 2016 LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2016 DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0169

Literature reviews play a foundational role in the development and execution of a research project. They provide access to the academic conversation surrounding the topic of the proposed study. By engaging in this scholarly exercise, the researcher is able to learn and to share knowledge about the topic. The literature review acts as the springboard for new research, in that it lays out a logically argued case, founded on a comprehensive understanding of the current state of knowledge about the topic. The case produced provides the justification for the research question or problem of a proposed study, and the methodological scheme best suited to conduct the research. It can also be a research project in itself, arguing policy or practice implementation, based on a comprehensive analysis of the research in a field. The term literature review can refer to the output or the product of a review. It can also refer to the process of Conducting a Literature Review . Novice researchers, when attempting their first research projects, tend to ask two questions: What is a Literature Review? How do you do one? While this annotated bibliography is neither definitive nor exhaustive in its treatment of the subject, it is designed to provide a beginning researcher, who is pursuing an academic degree, an entry point for answering the two previous questions. The article is divided into two parts. The first four sections of the article provide a general overview of the topic. They address definitions, types, purposes, and processes for doing a literature review. The second part presents the process and procedures for doing a literature review. Arranged in a sequential fashion, the remaining eight sections provide references addressing each step of the literature review process. References included in this article were selected based on their ability to assist the beginning researcher. Additionally, the authors attempted to include texts from various disciplines in social science to present various points of view on the subject.

Novice researchers often have a misguided perception of how to do a literature review and what the document should contain. Literature reviews are not narrative annotated bibliographies nor book reports (see Bruce 1994 ). Their form, function, and outcomes vary, due to how they depend on the research question, the standards and criteria of the academic discipline, and the orthodoxies of the research community charged with the research. The term literature review can refer to the process of doing a review as well as the product resulting from conducting a review. The product resulting from reviewing the literature is the concern of this section. Literature reviews for research studies at the master’s and doctoral levels have various definitions. Machi and McEvoy 2016 presents a general definition of a literature review. Lambert 2012 defines a literature review as a critical analysis of what is known about the study topic, the themes related to it, and the various perspectives expressed regarding the topic. Fink 2010 defines a literature review as a systematic review of existing body of data that identifies, evaluates, and synthesizes for explicit presentation. Jesson, et al. 2011 defines the literature review as a critical description and appraisal of a topic. Hart 1998 sees the literature review as producing two products: the presentation of information, ideas, data, and evidence to express viewpoints on the nature of the topic, as well as how it is to be investigated. When considering literature reviews beyond the novice level, Ridley 2012 defines and differentiates the systematic review from literature reviews associated with primary research conducted in academic degree programs of study, including stand-alone literature reviews. Cooper 1998 states the product of literature review is dependent on the research study’s goal and focus, and defines synthesis reviews as literature reviews that seek to summarize and draw conclusions from past empirical research to determine what issues have yet to be resolved. Theoretical reviews compare and contrast the predictive ability of theories that explain the phenomenon, arguing which theory holds the most validity in describing the nature of that phenomenon. Grant and Booth 2009 identified fourteen types of reviews used in both degree granting and advanced research projects, describing their attributes and methodologies.

Bruce, Christine Susan. 1994. Research students’ early experiences of the dissertation literature review. Studies in Higher Education 19.2: 217–229.

DOI: 10.1080/03075079412331382057

A phenomenological analysis was conducted with forty-one neophyte research scholars. The responses to the questions, “What do you mean when you use the words literature review?” and “What is the meaning of a literature review for your research?” identified six concepts. The results conclude that doing a literature review is a problem area for students.

Cooper, Harris. 1998. Synthesizing research . Vol. 2. 3d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

The introductory chapter of this text provides a cogent explanation of Cooper’s understanding of literature reviews. Chapter 4 presents a comprehensive discussion of the synthesis review. Chapter 5 discusses meta-analysis and depth.

Fink, Arlene. 2010. Conducting research literature reviews: From the Internet to paper . 3d ed. Los Angeles: SAGE.

The first chapter of this text (pp. 1–16) provides a short but clear discussion of what a literature review is in reference to its application to a broad range of social sciences disciplines and their related professions.

Grant, Maria J., and Andrew Booth. 2009. A typology of reviews: An analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. Health Information & Libraries Journal 26.2: 91–108. Print.

DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x

This article reports a scoping review that was conducted using the “Search, Appraisal, Synthesis, and Analysis” (SALSA) framework. Fourteen literature review types and associated methodology make up the resulting typology. Each type is described by its key characteristics and analyzed for its strengths and weaknesses.

Hart, Chris. 1998. Doing a literature review: Releasing the social science research imagination . London: SAGE.

Chapter 1 of this text explains Hart’s definition of a literature review. Additionally, it describes the roles of the literature review, the skills of a literature reviewer, and the research context for a literature review. Of note is Hart’s discussion of the literature review requirements for master’s degree and doctoral degree work.

Jesson, Jill, Lydia Matheson, and Fiona M. Lacey. 2011. Doing your literature review: Traditional and systematic techniques . Los Angeles: SAGE.

Chapter 1: “Preliminaries” provides definitions of traditional and systematic reviews. It discusses the differences between them. Chapter 5 is dedicated to explaining the traditional review, while Chapter 7 explains the systematic review. Chapter 8 provides a detailed description of meta-analysis.

Lambert, Mike. 2012. A beginner’s guide to doing your education research project . Los Angeles: SAGE.

Chapter 6 (pp. 79–100) presents a thumbnail sketch for doing a literature review.

Machi, Lawrence A., and Brenda T. McEvoy. 2016. The literature review: Six steps to success . 3d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

The introduction of this text differentiates between a simple and an advanced review and concisely defines a literature review.

Ridley, Diana. 2012. The literature review: A step-by-step guide for students . 2d ed. Sage Study Skills. London: SAGE.

In the introductory chapter, Ridley reviews many definitions of the literature review, literature reviews at the master’s and doctoral level, and placement of literature reviews within the thesis or dissertation document. She also defines and differentiates literature reviews produced for degree-affiliated research from the more advanced systematic review projects.

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What is the Purpose of a Literature Review?

What is the Purpose of a Literature Review?

4-minute read

  • 23rd October 2023

If you’re writing a research paper or dissertation , then you’ll most likely need to include a comprehensive literature review . In this post, we’ll review the purpose of literature reviews, why they are so significant, and the specific elements to include in one. Literature reviews can:

1. Provide a foundation for current research.

2. Define key concepts and theories.

3. Demonstrate critical evaluation.

4. Show how research and methodologies have evolved.

5. Identify gaps in existing research.

6. Support your argument.

Keep reading to enter the exciting world of literature reviews!

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a critical summary and evaluation of the existing research (e.g., academic journal articles and books) on a specific topic. It is typically included as a separate section or chapter of a research paper or dissertation, serving as a contextual framework for a study. Literature reviews can vary in length depending on the subject and nature of the study, with most being about equal length to other sections or chapters included in the paper. Essentially, the literature review highlights previous studies in the context of your research and summarizes your insights in a structured, organized format. Next, let’s look at the overall purpose of a literature review.

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Literature reviews are considered an integral part of research across most academic subjects and fields. The primary purpose of a literature review in your study is to:

Provide a Foundation for Current Research

Since the literature review provides a comprehensive evaluation of the existing research, it serves as a solid foundation for your current study. It’s a way to contextualize your work and show how your research fits into the broader landscape of your specific area of study.  

Define Key Concepts and Theories

The literature review highlights the central theories and concepts that have arisen from previous research on your chosen topic. It gives your readers a more thorough understanding of the background of your study and why your research is particularly significant .

Demonstrate Critical Evaluation 

A comprehensive literature review shows your ability to critically analyze and evaluate a broad range of source material. And since you’re considering and acknowledging the contribution of key scholars alongside your own, it establishes your own credibility and knowledge.

Show How Research and Methodologies Have Evolved

Another purpose of literature reviews is to provide a historical perspective and demonstrate how research and methodologies have changed over time, especially as data collection methods and technology have advanced. And studying past methodologies allows you, as the researcher, to understand what did and did not work and apply that knowledge to your own research.  

Identify Gaps in Existing Research

Besides discussing current research and methodologies, the literature review should also address areas that are lacking in the existing literature. This helps further demonstrate the relevance of your own research by explaining why your study is necessary to fill the gaps.

Support Your Argument

A good literature review should provide evidence that supports your research questions and hypothesis. For example, your study may show that your research supports existing theories or builds on them in some way. Referencing previous related studies shows your work is grounded in established research and will ultimately be a contribution to the field.  

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Ensure your literature review is polished and ready for submission by having it professionally proofread and edited by our expert team. Our literature review editing services will help your research stand out and make an impact. Not convinced yet? Send in your free sample today and see for yourself! 

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Okun MS , Marjenin T , Ekanayake J, et al. Definition of Implanted Neurological Device Abandonment : A Systematic Review and Consensus Statement . JAMA Netw Open. 2024;7(4):e248654. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2024.8654

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Definition of Implanted Neurological Device Abandonment : A Systematic Review and Consensus Statement

  • 1 Department of Neurology, Norman Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases, Gainesville, Florida
  • 2 Department of Neurosurgery, Norman Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases, Gainesville, Florida
  • 3 Musculoskeletal Clinical Regulatory Advisers, Washington, District of Columbia
  • 4 Department of Neurosurgery, National Guard Hospital, Riyadh, Saudia Arabia
  • 5 Department of Electronic Engineering, Imperial College London, United Kingdom
  • 6 Quetz Ltd, Chelmsford, England
  • 7 University of Tasmania, Tasmania, Australia
  • 8 Department of Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering, University College London, London, England
  • 9 Amber Therapeutics Limited, London, England
  • 10 The Royal Society, London, England
  • 11 Neurotech Network, St Petersburg, Florida
  • 12 Center for Neuro-Restoration, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, Ohio
  • 13 Center for Bioethics, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston
  • 14 Department of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston
  • 15 Medical Research Council Brain Network Dynamics Unit, Departments of Engineering Sciences and Clinical Neurosciences, University of Oxford, Oxford, England
  • 16 Department of Neurology, Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, District of Columbia
  • 17 Department of Biochemistry, Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, District of Columbia
  • 18 Neuroethics Studies Program, Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, District of Columbia
  • 19 Defense Medical Ethics Center, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland
  • 20 Department of Psychiatry, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland

Question   What definition for neurological device abandonment can be developed through consensus?

Findings   This systematic review and consensus statement reviewed 734 articles published in the professional literature and found that 7 were relevant to or addressed the issue of neurological device abandonment. A multistakeholder group developed a consensus definition for neurological device abandonment inclusive of devices used in deep brain stimulation, vagal nerve stimulation, and spinal cord stimulation, including failures related to patient consent, support before the end of the device's lifespan, and safety concerns.

Meaning   This study established a formal definition of neurological device abandonment, which may be important for development of guidelines, policies, and laws that collectively have the potential to reduce or prevent such abandonment.

Importance   Establishing a formal definition for neurological device abandonment has the potential to reduce or to prevent the occurrence of this abandonment.

Objective   To perform a systematic review of the literature and develop an expert consensus definition for neurological device abandonment.

Evidence Review   After a Royal Society Summit on Neural Interfaces (September 13-14, 2023), a systematic English language review using PubMed was undertaken to investigate extant definitions of neurological device abandonment. Articles were reviewed for relevance to neurological device abandonment in the setting of deep brain, vagal nerve, and spinal cord stimulation. This review was followed by the convening of an expert consensus group of physicians, scientists, ethicists, and stakeholders. The group summarized findings, added subject matter experience, and applied relevant ethics concepts to propose a current operational definition of neurological device abandonment. Data collection, study, and consensus development were done between September 13, 2023, and February 1, 2024.

Findings   The PubMed search revealed 734 total articles, and after review, 7 articles were found to address neurological device abandonment. The expert consensus group addressed findings as germane to neurological device abandonment and added personal experience and additional relevant peer-reviewed articles, addressed stakeholders’ respective responsibilities, and operationally defined abandonment in the context of implantable neurotechnological devices. The group further addressed whether clinical trial failure or shelving of devices would constitute or be associated with abandonment as defined. Referential to these domains and dimensions, the group proposed a standardized definition for abandonment of active implantable neurotechnological devices.

Conclusions and Relevance   This study’s consensus statement suggests that the definition for neurological device abandonment should entail failure to provide fundamental aspects of patient consent; fulfill reasonable responsibility for medical, technical, or financial support prior to the end of the device’s labeled lifetime; and address any or all immediate needs that may result in safety concerns or device ineffectiveness and that the definition of abandonment associated with the failure of a research trial should be contingent on specific circumstances.

Patients who have received implanted neurological devices, such as deep brain, vagal nerve, and spinal cord stimulation, will be increasingly abandoned. 1 , 2 This phenomenon of device abandonment will increase coincidently with neurotechnology market growth as increasing types and sophistication of implantable devices are made commercially available, older iterations of neurotechnology become obsolete or more difficult to maintain, and health care insurance coverage fails to keep pace with these realities. The topic and definition of abandonment was recently debated at the Royal Society Summit on Neural Interfaces (September 13-14, 2023) and resulting therefrom, we reviewed the literature and developed a preliminary definition for implantable neurological device abandonment based on the existing data and experience of experts in the field.

Considering the expanding device abandonment phenomenon, we suggest that it will be critical to define shareholder and stakeholder groups and their respective needs and priorities within the expanding current and proposed environments of implantable neurotechnology use. As strongly advocated by the disability movement, the adage of “nothing about us without us” aptly characterizes active roles that shareholders and stakeholders 3 should play in clinical trials conducted to generate evidence of safety and efficacy, as well as processes, guidelines, and laws required for sound commercialization, provision, access, monitoring, and economic support of extant and emerging devices.

The most important stakeholders are patients receiving these neurotechnology implants. This is because while the involvement of other shareholders and stakeholders will likely wax and wane over the utility lifetime of a device, the relationship of the patient with the device is perdurable; namely, it provides the patient with a means toward sustaining personal agency. 4 Thus, although these devices are not generally considered to be life-sustaining or life-supporting in the absolute sense, we argue that their value in qualitative life sustenance and support cannot and should not be denied, neglected, or abandoned. In this study, we refer to patients and participants interchangeably. The authors recognize that these terms refer to the people living with neurological conditions and that there are many roles within the health ecosystem. The context of this study is for specific roles that people with lived experience have within the clinical and research environment present during the time of implant and management of their neurological device.

In this study, we sought to more clearly define involved stakeholders, their respective roles and responsibilities, and circumstances and premises that constitute abandonment of patients who have active implantable technologies that are intended to diagnose, treat, or otherwise mitigate neuropsychiatric diseases, injury, and conditions; therefrom, we sought to offer a standardized definition of abandonment of active implantable neurotechnological devices. Throughout, we use the term abandonment to mean a failure to actively support medical needs of patients who, through no fault of their own, do not possess the medical, technical, or financial capabilities to maintain the safe and effective use of a durable implanted neurotechnological device.

Following a Royal Society Summit on Neural Interfaces, a systematic review of articles in English using the PubMed search engine was undertaken to investigate extant definitions of neurological device abandonment ( Figure 1 ). Articles were reviewed for relevance to neurological device abandonment in the setting of deep brain, vagal nerve, and spinal cord stimulation. An expert review group was convened to summarize findings, add subject matter experience, and apply relevant ethics concepts and any missing literature. The group proposed a current, operational definition for neurological device abandonment. The group also addressed device durability and insolvency of device companies. Data collection, study, and consensus development were conducted between September 13 to 14, 2023, and February 1, 2024. The Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses ( PRISMA ) reporting guideline was used. Our PubMed review used the search terms abandonment and deep brain stimulation , abandonment and neuromodulation , abandonment and neurological devices , retention and deep brain stimulation , device malfunction and deep brain stimulation , device removal and deep brain stimulation , abandonment and vagal nerve stimulation , and abandonment and spinal cord stimulation .

The expert consensus group consisted of 3 neuroethicists (F.G., G.L.M., and J.G.), 2 neuroscientists with experience in device engineering (S.P.D. and T.D.), 2 patients with implanted devices (S.P.D. and J.F.), 1 neurologist (M.S.O.), 1 neuropsychologist (C.K.), 1 neurosurgeon (who also founded a device company; J.E.), 1 neurological device regulatory specialist (T.M.), and 1 policy representative from the Royal Society (J.P.). One member of the group (S.P.D.) was counted as both a neuroscientist and a patient with a neurological device implant. Figure 1 summarizes the search strategy, which revealed that of 734 articles identified, 7 articles 3 , 5 - 10 were related to or addressed neurological device abandonment.

The consensus group discussed findings and contributed additional professional and personal experience and other relevant peer-reviewed ethics constructs and articles to propose a preliminary comprehensive definition for neurological device abandonment. The group addressed stakeholders and their respective responsibilities and operationally defined the context of abandonment, whether clinical trial failure constituted abandonment, and if and to what extent shelving of devices impacts abandonment, as defined. Finally, based on the literature, discussion, and expert experience, the group proposed a standardized definition for abandonment of active implantable neurotechnological devices.

In addition to the patient, key stakeholders include clinician-scientists, family members, and device manufacturers. All presumably share a common goal of improving patients’ lives, yet various stakeholders may have additional incentives and aims that may not completely support or sustain patient benefit. For example, although the clinician’s primary fiduciary responsibility is to the patient, clinician-scientists can have 2 fiduciary responsibilities: patient care and contributing to scientific knowledge, and these may be in tension if not frank conflict. Feinsinger and colleagues 11 - 13 have argued that clinician-scientists’ primary responsibility is always to patients while contribution to scientific inquiry and knowledge is secondary. However, there is some ambiguity in defining if and how the pursuit of scientific inquiry may result in direct benefit to patients in a clinical trial, and it should be appreciated that negative trials may also be associated with potential benefits. 14 - 16 Beyond the clinical and research encounter, it is important to acknowledge that device manufacturers have fiduciary responsibility qua fiscal responsibility to their boards and shareholders given that considerable resources have been invested in the development and funding of clinical trials. 17 , 18 Finally, it should be recognized that device manufacturing companies also have a responsibility to ensure their own credibility and reputation.

Such variation in stakeholder fiduciary responsibilities can lead to situations in which patients have received a medical device that may be beneficial but ongoing access to the device and the expertise and finances required to manage the device may not be guaranteed after implant. We contend that this is especially problematic in the context of active implanted neurotechnology for several reasons. First, the severity of signs and symptoms of patients enrolled in clinical trials may render these individuals at somewhat more risk. Second, there are potentially greater risks associated with neurosurgical intervention and possible effects of neurostimulation on cognition, emotion, and behavior, which would require ongoing monitoring and intervention (eg, adjustment of device performance parameters). Third, failure to monitor and maintain the implanted technology could lead to recidivistic and perhaps rebound signs, symptoms, and effects in such patients, which may create additional burden and harms. Fourth, and as an undergirding ethical construct, longitudinal evaluation and maintenance of implanted devices are essential to the intended purpose of the trial (ie, to assess the safety, effectiveness, and relative efficiency of the technology, 14 overarching goals of science via the acquisition of knowledge with intent to advancing public good, and essence of medicine: to provide right and good care of patients who are the subject of clinician moral and technical regard). 19 , 20 More information on defining and sustaining fiduciary responsibility and country specificity can be found in the eAppendix in Supplement 1 .

In general, medical abandonment is formally defined as an abrogation of clinical responsibility as incurred by a clinician’s unilateral termination of their treatment of a patient in need absent provision of adequate notice to or support for the patient to obtain substitutional care. However, as it relates to abandonment of care in circumstances wherein a patient receives an implant of an active neurotechnological device, a standardized definition that fully and granularly captures and obtains the specifics of such dissolution of responsibility has not been established, to our knowledge. While issues described in this study may also be applicable to noninvasive neurological technologies, the nonindwelling nature of such devices fails to evoke many of the same concerns. Existing notions of what constitutes device abandonment may depend on the relative perspective and values of the clinician, patient, family member, device manufacturer, and insurance company. The Royal Society Summit on Neural Interfaces meeting (September 13-14, 2023) highlighted the need for an improved definition of implantable neurological device abandonment.

Patient experience has established several factors associated with abandonment, including lack of payer support for device maintenance and replacement, the paucity or complete absence of plans for continued provision, and the use of other investigational devices when companies dissolve or cease manufacturing or providing services for a particular product. These challenges emphasize a need for technology-related guidelines and policies to ensure services to sustain patient involvement and accommodate long-term patient needs. 21 Furthermore, ethical concerns about neurotechnological device abandonment arise, at least in part, because neural systems are relatively functionally and to some extent structurally plastic. Thus, the introduction of device hardware (eg, electrodes) into the nervous system parenchyma and the actual modulatory effect of such instruments can create alterations in neurological node and network activity, which may manifest as alterations in cognitive, emotive, or behavioral domains. Simple discontinuation of the function of the device can and has been noted to evoke changes in the pathology treated and aspects of individual capacity and agency. 22

Ensuring patient and participant awareness of these outcomes and the contingencies of continued care is paramount to the probity of obtaining their consent to participate in a clinical trial or agreement to receive an implanted device. 23 , 24 Indeed, to uphold the ethical probity of any treatment or trial of such neurotechnology, genuine informed consent must address potential benefits, burdens, and risks associated with the specific device and patient understanding of associated outcomes that could arise. 23 , 25 , 26

An important consideration in developing a realistic definition of device abandonment is that clinical trials often fail to achieve their desired outcomes. To be clear, trial failure is not abandonment. While the guiding maxim for clinical care is benevolence (ie, a desire to maximize the good), the undergirding principle of clinical research in reality is nonmaleficence (ie, nonharm), given that the intended idiosyncratic and more generalized goods of any research investigation remain uncertain through the course of the study. 23 , 27 - 29 Therefore, overarching responsibility and measures to avoid harm afford a sound moral keel for any research enterprise despite the omnipresent chance of failure to achieve good ends as desired by intention and design. Trial failure can arise from safety concerns or lack of efficacy or effect, and hence discontinuation represents responsible action to avoid undue burden and harm.

However, for trial termination to remain contrary to abandonment and axiomatically nonmaleficent, it is essential for 3 things to occur. First, study participants should be informed about the possibility of discontinuance owing to such concerns about safety and inefficacy, as well as their relative assignment to treatment or control arms of the investigation. Although this information is important, patients may have difficulty understanding or retaining it. This can lead to possible therapeutic misconception and misperception by the patient of clinical abandonment. 3 Second, participants should be notified if and when the trial is being terminated. Finally, researchers in charge of the study should provide participating patients resources and vectors for other therapeutics that meet accepted standards of care. To be sure, any definition of abandonment must specify these distinctions of trial failure vs abandonment.

It is critical to disaggregate and disambiguate a failed clinical trial from a failed potential therapy. Clinical trials of active implantable neurotechnologies offer unprecedented opportunities not only to afford possible benefits rendered by successful outcomes, but also to more thoroughly investigate mechanisms of devices in question and neural structures and functions they affect. This information can lead to foundational knowledge about brain-behavior relationships that may afford viable targets to alleviate research participant and subsequent patient suffering and debility. Accomplishing these goals depends on the trial design, including choice of outcome measures, modulation parameters, surgical site, definition of benefit, timeline to assess outcomes, power analyses, variability in research participant characteristics and sign or symptom presentation, differences in surgical approach, and relevant neurophysiology. 14 Variables that may contribute to trial failure are provided in the eAppendix in Supplement 1 .

A more complex issue can arise when a particular implantable neurotechnological device is demonstrated to have efficacy in a clinical trial but then fails to translate to use in practice owing to stakeholder agendas. We refer to this circumstance as shelving. It can occur when an interventional approach is deemed to be implementable, safe, and effective but is prevented from being used in clinical care owing to ongoing issues, tensions, or conflicts in corporate intellectual property control or other licensing agreements. This can occur when companies have breakdowns in relations with a clinician-inventor or when a change in commercial strategic direction for funding to support clinical translation leads to intentional buy and block impediment of further treatment. Although this may be explicitly contrary to fundamental ethical principles guiding humanitarian considerations, it is legal as a matter of fact. At present, there is no explicit pull mechanism to ensure rollout and provision of a proven therapy after a successful clinical trial. Thus, there is potential for abandonment for non–therapeutic or health economic reasons. See the eAppendix in Supplement 1 for more information on shelving of devices.

Given that these are new technologies, it is important to address the durability of any implanted device. Durability of a neurotechnology refers to the time that the device or system remains functional and effective without requiring excessive maintenance or repair throughout its span of use. This includes the device as a single entity and as a levelled iteration (eg, versions 1.0, 2.0, and beyond) or category (eg, unipolar deep brain stimulation electrodes vs multipolar electrodes) of a therapeutic tool. Given the rapid pace of development and progress in neuroscience and technological applications in research and clinical care, what works and may be considered as cutting edge or at least a viable standard of care today may not be regarded as state of the field or even adequately effective tomorrow. 27 , 30 Patients should be informed of these possibilities and realities as an element of obtaining their consent so as to afford insight and judgment about future considerations of acquiring care as may be required and, thereby, avoiding abandonment, as mentioned previously.

Finally, there are numerous examples of neurotechnology companies becoming insolvent. For example, the commercial entity Neurovista (date of insolvency, August 2013), which was developing a first-in-human brain implant, declared bankruptcy, and patients who received implants with the technology felt betrayed. The sentiment was fortified by patient therapeutic expectations and by the perception that an unsettling break in trust had occurred. Recent reports provide evidence that 1 patient who was part of the trial compared the experience to a sense of loss or theft, stating, “They took away that part of me,” which the individual felt compromised their agency and in this way left them abandoned to an absence of care. 2 , 31 It is important to bear in mind that such devices are regarded as enabling technologies, 23 , 27 , 32 - 35 and therefore, it is vital to consider and respect the degree to which some patients may identify with these devices as constituent to their identities and personalities. 31 , 36 - 42 The distress they experience may in some cases be directly proportional to the effectiveness of the technology and their subjective relationship with it.

In cases of device maintenance or replacement (with repaired or newer versions), payers will surely play a role in determining sustainability of resources and services that can be provided to patients. We posit that any genuine discussion and actions toward defining and preventing neurotechnological device abandonment must address the value of payer conjoinment to the enterprise in ways that are supportive and facilitative to positive, beneficent ends. Failure of this sector participation would render any such efforts toward these goals problematic at least, if not impossible in reality. Lessons learned from prior and current experience with the payer sector may serve as key pediments toward bridging extant gaps in the regnant system and conduct of health care support. 25

It should be noted that when explantation or removal of a device is necessary, it will be important to address challenges of who will pay for expenses incurred. To be sure, future efforts will need to clarify the status of abandoned devices (eg, defective devices, those no longer functioning after battery depletion, or functional devices providing waning benefit). Therefore, the safety and ethics of device removal will need to be determined for each case, with special considerations afforded to whether a future upgrade in the software or change in management strategy could convert a nonfunctioning device to a functioning device.

Apropos to the previously mentioned facts, factors, considerations, and concerns provided in this systematic review and consensus statement, we propose the adoption of a standard definition of abandonment of active implantable neurotechnological devices , which constitutes 1 of the following ( Figure 2 ):

1. Failure to provide information relevant to (the existence or absence of) plans for medical, technical, and/or financial responsibility as fundamental aspects of patient consent during and after a clinical trial.

2. Failure to fulfill reasonable responsibility for medical, technical, and/or financial support prior to the end of an implantable device’s labeled lifetime.

3. Failure to address any immediate needs (eg, infection or device programming) of the individual using the implanted device, which may result in safety concerns and/or the deterioration of device effectiveness.

4. Failure of a clinical research trial if or when (1) informed consent has failed to address ongoing access to and management of the implanted device (per 1) and/or such other devices that may be demonstrated as having equal or greater therapeutic value in the future and (2) individuals responsible for the trial have not made a reasonable effort to facilitate continued access to device and support for patients who benefit from the device.

This study has several important limitations. First, because the field currently lacks a formal, accepted definition of device abandonment, it is possible that the literature review and expert group could have missed relevant aspects of abandonment. Second, the literature was sparse on this topic, and thus it will be likely that as more publications become available, these works could help refine future definitions. Third, our review did not examine similar abandonment challenges in cardiac pacemaker and related technologies. However, we performed a review of 232 additional articles using the search terms abandonment and pacemaker , which revealed 41 relevant articles that afforded comparative illustration of abandonment challenges that were similar in cardiac and neural technology implant cases. These challenges included magnetic resonance imaging–induced heating of partially abandoned devices, infections, broken lead fragments, and capping of a disconnected device. We anticipate that challenges similar to those noted for cardiac pacemaker use would increase in number as more neurological devices are implanted. Hence, we posit that definitions and issues of device abandonment will continue to evolve and therefore will require ongoing attention as neurotechnologies are further developed and in the contexts of current practices.

In this systematic review and consensus statement, a comprehensive literature review on neurological device abandonment revealed that this ethical issue was largely buried within case reports, case series, and clinical trials. Dialogue like that recently conducted at the Royal Society, with the convergence of stakeholders and combined with experience has the potential to yield a more functional definition of neurological device abandonment. We opine that these tenets previously listed may afford a working basis for further consideration, discourse, and dialogue toward establishing a formal definition of abandonment of active implantable neurotechnological devices and guidelines, policies, and laws to prevent its occurrence. We encourage such discussion and welcome participation to advance such ends, especially as devices expand into neuropsychiatric indications.

Accepted for Publication: February 27, 2024.

Published: April 30, 2024. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2024.8654

Open Access: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the CC-BY License . © 2024 Okun MS et al. JAMA Network Open .

Corresponding Author: Michael S. Okun, MD, Department of Neurology, Norman Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases, 3409 SW Williston Rd, Gainesville, FL 32607 ( [email protected] ).

Author Contributions: Drs Okun and Giordano had full access to all of the data in the study and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.

Concept and design: All authors.

Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: Okun, Ekanayake, Kubu.

Drafting of the manuscript: Okun, Marjenin, Ekanayake, Gilbert, Doherty, Kubu, Lázaro-Muñoz, Giordano.

Critical review of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Okun, Marjenin, Ekanayake, Doherty, Pilkington, French, Kubu, Lázaro-Muñoz, Denison.

Administrative, technical, or material support: Ekanayake, Pilkington, Denison.

Supervision: Okun, Ekanayake.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Dr Okun reported serving as a medical advisor to the Parkinson’s Foundation; receiving research grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Parkinson’s Foundation, Michael J. Fox Foundation, Parkinson Alliance, Smallwood Foundation, Bachmann-Strauss Foundation, Tourette Syndrome Association, and University of Florida Foundation; serving as principal investigator of an NIH Training Grant; receiving royalties for publications with Hachette Book Group, Demos, Manson, Amazon, Smashwords, Books4Patients, Perseus, Robert Rose, Oxford University Press, and Cambridge University Press; serving as an associate editor for the New England Journal of Medicine Journal Watch Neurology and JAMA Neurology ; participating in continuing medical education and educational activities in the past 12 to 24 months on movement disorders sponsored by WebMD/Medscape, RMEI Medical Education, the American Academy of Neurology, the Movement Disorders Society, Mediflix, and Vanderbilt University; that grants from industry were received by the University of Florida and not Dr Okun; participating as a site principal investigator or co-investigator for several NIH-, foundation-, and industry-sponsored trials without receiving honoraria; and that research projects at the University of Florida receive device and drug donations. Dr Gilbert reported receiving a Royal Society bursary award to attend the Neural Interfaces Summit 2023 and grants from the University of Tasmania EthicsLab during the conduct of the study. Dr Doherty reported receiving devices for research studies from Innocon Medical and grants from Brain Research UK, the Inspire Foundation, and Innovate UK outside the submitted work and owning less than 1% of shares in Amber Therapeutics Ltd, London, which has subsidiaries Bioinduction Ltd (maker of the Picostim and Picostim DyNeuMo, Bristol, UK, in several first-in-human studies) and Finetech Medical Ltd (manufacturer of the Sacral Anterior Root Stimulator). Dr Kubu reported receiving grants from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) during the conduct of the study and having a patent issued. Dr Lázaro-Muñoz reported receiving grants from the NIH. Dr Denison reported receiving supply devices for research from Amber Therapeutics during the conduct of the study and serving as nonexecutive chairman of Mint Neuro, which makes circuits for implants, and a consultant for Cortec, which develops neurotechnology. Dr Giordano reported receiving award UL1TR001409 from the NIH National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences through the Clinical and Translational Science Awards Program, a trademark of the Department of Health and Human Services, part of the Roadmap Initiative Re-Engineering the Clinical Research Enterprise, and National Sciences Foundation Award 2113811-Amendment ID 001 and support from the Henry Jackson Foundation for Military Medicine; Strategic Multilayer Assessment Branch of the Joint Staff, J-39, US Strategic Command, Pentagon; Asklepios Biosciences; and Leadership Initiatives. No other disclosures were reported.

Data Sharing Statement: See Supplement 2 .

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  • Published: 01 May 2024

Low-cost otolaryngology simulation models for early-stage trainees: a scoping review

  • Joselyne Nzisabira 1 , 2   na1 ,
  • Sarah Nuss 1 , 3   na1 ,
  • Estephanía Candelo 1 , 4 , 5 ,
  • Ernest Aben Oumo 1 , 2 ,
  • Keshav V. Shah 1 , 6 ,
  • Eric K. Kim 1 , 7 ,
  • Joshua Wiedermann 1 , 8 ,
  • Ornella Masimbi 2 ,
  • Natnael Shimelash 2 &
  • Mary Jue Xu 1 , 7 , 9  

BMC Medical Education volume  24 , Article number:  483 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

Metrics details

Medical simulation is essential for surgical training yet is often too expensive and inaccessible in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Furthermore, in otolaryngology-head and neck surgery (OHNS), while simulation training is often focused on senior residents and specialists, there is a critical need to target general practitioners who carry a significant load of OHNS care in countries with limited OHNS providers. This scoping review aims to describe affordable, effective OHNS simulation models for early-stage trainees and non-OHNS specialists in resource-limited settings and discuss gaps in the literature.

This scoping review followed the five stages of Arksey and O’Malley’s Scoping Review Methodology. Seven databases were used to search for articles. Included articles discussed physical models of the ear, nose, or throat described as “low-cost,” “cost-effective,” or defined as <$150 if explicitly stated; related to the management of common and emergent OHNS conditions; and geared towards undergraduate students, medical, dental, or nursing students, and/or early-level residents.

Of the 1706 studies screened, 17 met inclusion criteria. Most studies were conducted in HICs. Most models were low-fidelity (less anatomically realistic) models. The most common simulated skills were peritonsillar abscess aspiration and cricothyrotomy. Information on cost was limited, and locally sourced materials were infrequently mentioned. Simulations were evaluated using questionnaires and direct observation.

Low-cost simulation models can be beneficial for early medical trainees and students in LMICs, addressing resource constraints and improving skill acquisition. However, there is a notable lack of contextually relevant, locally developed, and cost-effective models. This study summarizes existing low-cost OHNS simulation models for early-stage trainees and highlights the need for additional locally sourced models. Further research is needed to assess the effectiveness and sustainability of these models.

Question: What is the current landscape of low-cost otolaryngology-head and neck surgery simulation for early medical trainees and students?

Finding: In this scoping review we identified 17 studies that met inclusion criteria. Most studies were developed in high-income countries, and most models were not locally sourced.

Meaning: There is a notable lack of low-cost OHNS simulation models that are relevant for early medical trainees and students.

Peer Review reports

Introduction

Medical simulation is a valuable component of training [ 1 ]. Historically, simulation usage has been predominantly centered in high-income countries (HICs). Consequently, there exists an opportunity to expand access to simulation education in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) [ 2 , 3 ]. While low-cost simulation models have been explored in HICs, the specific models used in these settings may not be applicable to LMICs due to lacking the same resources. Studies have demonstrated that using locally sourced materials and readily available devices is cost-effective [ 4 ]. Furthermore, low-fidelity, or less anatomically realistic, simulation may confer similar benefits compared to high-fidelity, or highly anatomically realistic, simulation though with lower costs [ 5 , 6 ]. Despite the potential benefits of simulation in LMICs, there is limited literature, particularly for surgical specialties where workforce shortages, ethical considerations, and financial constraints limit opportunities for practice [ 7 ].

In otolaryngology-head and neck surgery (OHNS), simulation training has an opportunity to address the burden of disease centered in LMICs through training of general practitioners (GPs) and primary care providers in regions where subspecialists are limited. The burden of OHNS disease is high, with 1.5 billion people worldwide experiencing hearing loss, primarily in LMICs [ 8 ]. Paradoxically, low-income countries have 50 times fewer OHNS providers than high income countries [ 9 ]. Given the burden of OHNS disease far outweighs the current number of providers, it is imperative to train primary healthcare provider to help increase access to essential OHNS care. Simulation is a central component of many HIC OHNS training programs [ 10 , 11 , 12 , 13 ], [ 14 ], ; however, many models are largely directed at the skill set of senior residents and physicians. Given that primary care providers such as GPs in LMICs may be the first or only providers available in rural or first-level hospitals, the opportunity to develop skills that are critical for managing OHNS emergencies and common conditions is essential to developing confidence and preventing morbidity and mortality.

To address the gap in simulation models for primary care practitioners in common and emergent OHNS conditions, this scoping review aims to describe and evaluate available low-cost OHNS simulation models geared toward early-stage medical trainees or GPs.

Study design

Given limited and heterogenous literature, a scoping review was selected and conducted in February 2023 in accordance with Arksey and O’Malley’s Scoping Review Methodology and following the PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) Extension for Scoping Reviews Guidelines [ 15 , 16 ]. The search strategy aimed to address the research question regarding the outcomes of using low-cost OHNS simulation models for early-stage trainees in education.

Literature search

A search strategy was developed to capture the maximal results, which included the main search concepts of “simulation,” “otolaryngology,” “education,” and “low cost.” These terms were combined using Boolean operators OR (within critical constructed concepts) and AND (between key concepts). The specific search strategy was adapted to each data base. The search was conducted in the following databases: PubMed, MEDLINE, EBSCO, Scopus, Science Direct, CINAHL, EMBASE, and Web of Science (Supplemental Table 1 ).

Inclusion criteria included studies of any language that discussed the development or implementation of a physical model of the ear, nose, or throat that were explicitly described as “low-cost,” “cost-effective,” or defined as <$150 if explicitly stated related to the care or management of OHNS conditions (operative or non-operative). Models were only considered if they were applicable for training of undergraduate students, medical, dental, or nursing students, and/or early-level residents, and we excluded simulations that would not be applicable to a GP (i.e., advanced OHNS resident level skills). Original research of any study type was included. Letters to the editor, abstracts, systematic reviews, virtual reality simulations, electronic simulations, and studies that utilized mannequin models were not included.

The study team completed a primary title and abstract screening using a Covidence database (Veritas Health Innovation Ltd, Melbourne) based on the search criteria. Two reviewers each independently screened the titles and abstracts of all identified articles for relevance to the research question. A third independent reviewer resolved disagreements over article eligibility. In the full-text review, data was extracted and recorded following the Arksey and O’Malley’s “descriptive-analytical” approach for data extraction, and the information was summarized from selected articles on an Excel spreadsheet [ 15 ]. At least two authors reviewed extracted data from the included articles. A third reviewer resoled any remaining conflicts. Snowball sampling was used to identify gray literature from study reference lists.

Statistical analysis

Outcomes included study characteristics (authors, year, language, journal of publication, study design), context (study country, target population) simulation details (specialty of simulation model, cost, fidelity of model, materials used, local sourcing of materials, condition being simulated), and model evaluation (evaluation of surgical skill and efficacy of model). Summary statistics were performed using Microsoft Excel. Categorical variables were presented as counts and percentages n(%). There were no continuous data.

The initial search returned 3355 studies. After 1649 duplicates were removed, 1706 studies underwent title and abstract screening. Of these, 1607 were excluded. Ninety studies were screened for full text review based on inclusion and exclusion criteria. Seventy-four studies met inclusion criteria (Fig.  1 ). Table  1 provides an overview of the included low-cost simulation models for essential OHNS conditions.

figure 1

PRISMA Flow diagram of data analysis procedure

Characteristics of studies

Of the studies examined, 82% ( n  = 14) of studies were conducted in HICs, and the majority were conducted in the United States or in the United Kingdom (Fig.  2 ). 94% ( n  = 16) of the studies utilized a cross-sectional study design. Most articles targeted general OHNS care ( n  = 8, 47%). 35% ( n  = 6) of the models were low-fidelity models (less anatomically realistic). The characteristics of the studies are summarized in Table  2 . Simulation fidelity was assessed using the Simulation Fidelity (SiFi) scale, a validated 6-point scale to describe simulation fidelity across five domains, with scores of 0–1 meaning low-fidelity, 2–3 meaning medium fidelity, and 4–5 meaning high fidelity (Table  3 ) [ 17 ].

figure 2

Global distribution of Low-Cost ENT Simulation Model Studies

Reflexivity Statement

This scoping review emerged from collaborative work within the Global OHNS Initiative involving LMIC and HIC researchers. This piece was written to promote more accessible and equitable avenues to education and training for LMIC researchers. Our authorship group consists of five LMIC authors and five HIC authors. Five of the ten authors are women. All authors contributed substantially to the conception, drafting, and revision of this piece. All authors approved the final version. Everyone has agreed to be accountable for all aspects of the work, aligning with ICJME Authorship Criteria

The most common simulated skills were peritonsillar abscess aspiration ( n  = 6, 35%), cricothyrotomy ( n  = 4, 24%), myringotomy with tube placement ( n  = 2, 12%), and other ear models (2, 12%). Nasal packing ( n  = 1, 6%), auricular hematoma ( n  = 1, 6%), and tracheostomy care ( n  = 1, 6%) were also included.

One (6%) study was geared towards medical students, eight (47%) towards residents, two (12%) towards both medical students and residents, one (6%) towards nurses, one towards anesthesia students, and one (6%) towards paramedics. Out of the eight resident-focused models, three were geared towards emergency medicine residents. Two (12%) models were geared towards attendings or consultants, and both models were included given the models’ transferability to simulate other more basic skills.

Eleven (65%) models reported a dollar value associated with their model. The average price per model was $52.00 USD (range: $10 - $150). Prices were all converted directly to USD and were standardized to a 2024 estimated cost. The remaining models were described as “low-cost” by authors without specific information about the cost of the materials. Fifteen (88%) studies reported using locally sourced materials. Model reusability is reported in Table  1 .

Simulation evaluation

Sixteen (94%) studies assessed model efficacy. Models were evaluated using both questionnaires ( n  = 8, 47%), direct observation of skills ( n  = 4, 24%), or both ( n  = 4, 24%). Three of the eight studies that included direct observation (38%) used video monitoring to evaluate clinical skill. Participant questionnaires included a variety of themes such as participants’ comfort with the skill, model realism, ease of use, and participant confidence performing the skill.

Given the substantial burden of OHNS disease worldwide and current limited OHNS workforce, simulation training tools tailored for primary care providers are critical in developing OHNS knowledge and skills to increase access to OHNS care globally [ 8 , 9 ]. Existing low-cost OHNS simulations primarily target residents and consultants and can often overlook the essential skill set required by GPs [ 18 , 19 ]. These skills encompass emergent and common OHNS conditions such as epistaxis, emergent surgical airway, and ear and nose foreign body removal. Equipping medical students and early-trainees with basic OHNS care skills is vital. This type of task shifting can alleviate delays in care, transportation challenges, and alleviate the burden on tertiary centers.

This is the first study to evaluate low-cost OHNS simulations tailored to GPs and early-trainee education, emphasizing locally sourced models. The low number of studies identified in this review highlights that simulations addressing the skill set of early trainees and primary care providers is an area for future educational research depending on regional needs and resource availability. Our findings describe the available low-cost simulations in OHNS and highlights insufficient availability of such models. Future work should focus on developing additional low-cost, contextually appropriate models to bridge gaps in healthcare training and delivery in resource-constrained settings.

A variety of approaches have been employed to develop low-cost OHNS simulation models. For instance, studies such as those by Chudek et al. (2021, UK) and Taylor et al. (2014, USA) utilized inexpensive materials like latex gloves, custard, and latex moulage for simulating peritonsillar abscess aspiration [ 1 , 2 ]. These models offer a cost-effective solution for training primary care providers in essential procedures.

Conversely, studies such as Bright et al. (2021, India) and Bhalla et al. (2021, UK) employed thermoplastic ray cast and cork as materials for nasopharyngeal swabbing and peritonsillar abscess aspiration simulations, respectively [ 3 , 4 ]. While these models may have slightly higher initial costs, their reusable components contribute to long-term cost-effectiveness and sustainability.

Moreover, innovative approaches were seen in studies like Botto et al. (2019, Italy) and Ozkaya Senuren et al. (2020, Turkey), where wooden tablets and sheep trachea were utilized for cricothyrotomy simulations [ 5 , 6 ]. These models demonstrate adaptability to local resources and highlight the potential for contextually appropriate simulation solutions.

In terms of dissemination and implementation, workshops, online resources, and collaborative initiatives with local healthcare organizations could facilitate the adoption of these low-cost simulation models. By sharing detailed instructions and training materials, such as those provided by Molin et al. (2020, USA), the reach and impact of these models can be expanded to benefit primary care providers in diverse settings [ 7 ].

Simulated medical models have proven highly effective in imparting essential OHNS procedure skills and can provide an important avenue to improve surgical training in resource constrained environments. However, our data show that most low-cost simulation models ( n  = 14, 82%) are developed and utilized in HIC, which aligns with prior studies that report a lack of locally developed low-cost simulations in LMIC contexts [ 7 ]. Furthermore, many “low-cost” simulation models rely on high-cost materials such as 3D printers or specialized mannequins, which may not be available in LMICs. When considering model sustainability and applicability of these models in LMICs, it is important to recognize the limitations of certain high-fidelity models in such resource-constrained environments. Prior studies demonstrate that low fidelity simulation models do not necessarily lead to worse skill outcomes, which emphasizes the potential of low-cost, less intricate models as valuable tools for skill acquisition [ 5 , 20 ].

A previous systematic review of low-cost simulations in OHNS identified 18 studies on low-cost ENT simulations [ 14 ]. However, only five of these simulations were relevant to GPs as shown in Table  4 . In contrast, our study included 17 simulations directly applicable to GPs. There is potential for expanding the range, reach, and applications of existing models. Most of the models in our study focused on peritonsillar abscess simulations, which may not always fall within a GP’s scope of practice. Future efforts should focus on exploring simulation models that use locally sourced materials and align with the skill requirements of primary care providers in LMICs. Specifically, investigations into simple yet effective simulation approaches, such as task trainers or hybrid models incorporating both physical and virtual elements, could be prioritized to address the diverse educational needs and resource constraints in these settings. Specifically, more models focusing on skills like epistaxis management and nasal/ear foreign body removal are essential to address common conditions encountered by primary care providers in LMICs.

Additionally, several of the existing models could be adapted for a broader set of GP-level skills, such as using ear models for foreign body removal and cerumen management, in addition to myringotomy. There is also a clear need for alternatives to animal models, which can be harder to procure or reuse, leading to higher operation and maintenance costs. Additionally, most models in this study did not explore the use of locally sourced materials. Collaborating with LMICs to adapt models to utilize locally available materials is an essential next step to enhance accessibility and effectiveness. Finally, our study identified heterogeneity in evaluations of the efficacy of these simulations in augmenting the knowledge, skills, and confidence of GPs. This suggests that future research should incorporate standardized metrics that evaluate educational utility of low-cost OHNS simulations.

Our study has several limitations. Not all the studies we included provided exact cost information for the simulations, which, if available, could have contributed to our understanding of the cost-effectiveness of these models. Reusability of the models was reported, however not incorporated into the cost calculation. We also did not independently evaluate fidelity and instead relied on fidelity assessments as reported by the authors for the scope of this study. Furthermore, excluding studies involving 3D printing or mannequins might have resulted in overlooking potentially useful insights regarding the development and components of these models. As 3D printing technology becomes more affordable, cost and access may not be a barrier in the future, opening exciting possibilities for its integration into future research studies and innovations across various fields. Additionally, a notable portion of the studies reviewed did not compare efficacy directly to high-fidelity models, highlighting the need for further research regarding the effectiveness of these simulations.

Low-cost, locally sourced OHNS simulations for GPs, early trainees, and students hold immense promise in LMICs. This tailored simulation-based training not only addresses the financial constraints faced by educational institutions but also considers local factors, including the local burden of OHNS diseases, available resources, hospital infrastructure, and the distinct roles and responsibilities of GPs in these settings. By conducting country-specific studies, these simulations could offer a practical and sustainable solution to enhance OHNS knowledge and skills among primary care providers, ultimately improving healthcare delivery and patient outcomes. Our scoping identified a range of potential simulation models that hold promise for replication in LMICs, along with crucial gaps that warrant exploration for the development of contextually relevant, low-cost models.

Data availability

The papers used to extract data for this manuscript are all publicly available on one of the following platforms: PubMed, MEDLINE, EBSCO, Scopus, Science Direct, CINAHL, EMBASE, and Web of Science.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the Global Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Initiative for facilitating this collaboration. We would like to thank Chris Wen, John Bukuru, Patrick Balungwe, Nabin Lageju, and Tianzeng Chen for their contributions to reviewing the manuscript.

SRN is supported by the Fogarty International Center and National Institute of Mental Health, of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number D43 TW010543. This study is a part the study funded by NIH grant number NIH/FIC- 5R21HD103052-02. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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Joselyne Nzisabira and Sarah Nuss contributed equally to this work.

Authors and Affiliations

Global Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (OHNS) Initiative, Durham, NC, USA

Joselyne Nzisabira, Sarah Nuss, Estephanía Candelo, Ernest Aben Oumo, Keshav V. Shah, Eric K. Kim, Joshua Wiedermann & Mary Jue Xu

School of Medicine, University of Global Health Equity, Butaro, Rwanda

Joselyne Nzisabira, Ernest Aben Oumo, Ornella Masimbi & Natnael Shimelash

Brown University Warren Alpert Medical School, Providence, RI, USA

Fundación Valle del Lili, Cali, Colombia

Estephanía Candelo

Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Mayo Clinic Florida, Jacksonville, FL, USA

Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA

Keshav V. Shah

Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, University of California, San Francisco, USA

Eric K. Kim & Mary Jue Xu

Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Mayo Clinic , Rochester, USA

Joshua Wiedermann

National Clinician Scholars Program, University of California, San Francisco, USA

Mary Jue Xu

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JN contributed to the study design, team management, data extraction, data analysis, manuscript writing, and final manuscript review SN contributed to the study design, team management, data extraction, data analysis, manuscript writing, and final manuscript review EC contributed to the data extraction, data analysis, manuscript revisions, and final manuscript review EAO contributed to the data extraction, data analysis, manuscript revisions, and final manuscript reviewKVS contributed to the data extraction, data analysis, manuscript revisions, and final manuscript reviewEKK contributed to the data extraction, data analysis, manuscript revisions, and final manuscript reviewJW contributed to the project oversight, data interpretation, manuscript revisions, and final manuscript reviewOM contributed to the study conception, study design, project oversight, data interpretation, manuscript revisions, and final manuscript review NS contributed to the study conception, study design, project oversight, data extraction, data interpretation, manuscript revisions, and final manuscript reviewMJX contributed to the study conception, study design, project oversight, data interpretation, manuscript revisions, and final manuscript review.

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Nzisabira, J., Nuss, S., Candelo, E. et al. Low-cost otolaryngology simulation models for early-stage trainees: a scoping review. BMC Med Educ 24 , 483 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12909-024-05466-3

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Understanding the meaning of the lived experience “maternal role” in women with multiple sclerosis and planning a supportive program: a combined exploratory study protocol

  • Elaheh Mansouri Ghezelhesari 1 ,
  • Mohamad Ali Nahayati 2 ,
  • Abbas Heydari 3 ,
  • Hosein Ebrahimipour 4 , 6 &
  • Talat Khadivzadeh 5 , 7  

Reproductive Health volume  21 , Article number:  59 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

Metrics details

The maternal role is one of the most challenging yet rewarding roles that women experience in their lives. It begins when a woman becomes pregnant, and as the pregnancy progresses, she prepares to fulfill her role as a mother. A woman's health plays a crucial role in her ability to fulfill the maternal role. Multiple sclerosis (MS), as an autoimmune disease, presents unique challenges in achieving this role. Failing to fulfill the maternal role can have lasting consequences for both the mother and the baby. Given the increasing number of women with MS of reproductive age in Iran and the absence of specific programs for this group during pregnancy and postpartum, researchers have decided to develop a supportive program by exploring the meaning of the maternal role and identifying the needs of these women during this period.

Methods/materials

This study will be conducted in 3 stages. The first stage involves a qualitative study to explore the meaning of the "maternal role" in women with MS through a descriptive and interpretive phenomenological approach based on Van Manen's method. Data will be collected through semi-structured interviews with pregnant women with MS and mothers with MS who have children under one-year-old, recruited from the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Mashhad, Iran. The second stage will involve designing a support program based on the findings of the phenomenological study, literature review, and exploratory interviews. A logical model will guide the development of the program, and validation will be conducted using the nominal group technique.

This study is the first of its kind in Iran to explore the meaning of the maternal role and develop a support program for women with MS. It is hoped that the results of this study will help address the challenges of motherhood faced by these women.

Plain language summary

The maternal role is considered one of the most significant roles a woman will undertake in her lifetime. It is a process in which a woman, as a mother, attains competency in her role and eventually becomes comfortable with her identity as a mother. However, there are various factors, such as diseases, that can impede a mother from fully embracing her role. Multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disease that predominantly affects women of reproductive age, is one such condition.

Given the lack of research in Iran regarding the experiences of women with MS in their maternal role, a study was developed in three phases. The first phase involves interviewing pregnant women with MS and mothers with MS who have children under one-year-old to explore the meaning of the maternal role. In the second phase, utilizing the findings from the initial interviews and the experts' opinions, a support program will be created to assist women with MS during pregnancy and after giving birth, and in the last stage, this program will be evaluated by nominal group technique.

The maternal role is one of the most challenging yet rewarding roles that women experience in their lives [ 1 ]. This role is seen as a process in which a mother gains competence and ultimately feels comfortable with her identity as a mother [ 2 ]. It consists of two components: physical and practical duties such as feeding, holding, cleaning the baby, and ensuring its safety, as well as cognitive-emotional aspects focusing on attitudes towards motherhood and awareness of the child's needs [ 3 ].

Various factors influence a woman's ability to fulfill the maternal role [ 4 ], with health being a significant factor. Illness can diminish a woman's capacity and confidence in performing maternal duties, leading to delays in achieving the maternal role [ 5 ].

Multiple Sclerosis (MS), the third leading cause of neurological disability, is the most prevalent neurological disorder among young adults [ 6 ]. It is a chronic, progressive disease characterized by autoimmune damage to the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve, resulting in a range of sensory, movement, and vision problems [ 7 ]. People suffering from this disease experience a wide range of sensory, movement, and vision problems due to extensive local inflammation in the central nervous system and disturbances in the transmission of nerve signals [ 8 , 9 ].

According to the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation (MSIF) report, the number of MS patients worldwide has increased from 2.3 million people in 2013 to 2.9 million in 2023 [ 10 ]. However, the incidence of women is higher than men [ 11 ]. Therefore, MS is spreading more rapidly among women of reproductive age, women who are at the peak of their sexual and reproductive activities [ 12 ].

Having this disease causes a wide range of physical and mental disorders in women. In addition to physical symptoms such as urinary incontinence, bowel issues, menstrual irregularities, and sexual dysfunction, women with MS also experience psychological challenges like irritability, decreased self-esteem, anxiety, and depression [ 13 , 14 , 15 , 16 ].

MS can also affect women's fertility [ 17 ]. Before the 1950s, many affected women refused pregnancy because they were worried about the adverse effects of the disease on pregnancy [ 18 ]. However, advancements in disease treatment have made it possible for women with MS to have children [ 19 ]. Research shows that women with MS who have children experience slower disease progression compared to those who are single or childless [ 20 , 21 , 22 ]. Despite these positive outcomes, the number of women with MS who choose to become pregnant remains lower than the general population [ 23 , 24 ].

Many affected women have attributed their low desire for pregnancy and motherhood to concerns that are influenced by the disease itself and its subsequent complications [ 25 ]. Damage to the fetus due to drug use during pregnancy, the risk of disease transmission to the fetus, and challenges related to caring for the baby are just some of the concerns these women face in regard to pregnancy and motherhood [ 18 , 25 , 26 , 27 ].

Several studies related to the maternal role in affected women have reported that these women are not satisfied with their role as a mother. This lack of satisfaction with the role is caused, on one hand, by the inability of women to estimate the physical and psychological needs of their babies and children, and on the other hand, by the influence of guilt due to the possibility of disease transmission and neglecting the well-being of their babies and children in the future [ 25 , 28 ]. They stated that this disease compromised their ability to perform some activities related to the "ideal mother," and in this case, they were judged as a "bad" or "abnormal" mother [ 18 ]. In fact, society viewed them as disabled mothers who did not have the necessary ability to care for their babies [ 27 ].

It appears that many affected women face challenges in achieving their role as a mother, and these challenges can impact the maternal interactions with children and the mother's understanding of the baby's future [ 29 ]. Failure to achieve this role leads to feelings of depression, stress, reduced maternal and child pleasure, delayed growth, child abuse, lack of emotional and social development in later stages, and ultimately a lack of necessary care [ 30 , 31 , 32 ].

Supporting and guiding women of reproductive age in fulfilling the maternal role is crucial to improving women's health [ 33 ]. The availability of support systems, both formal and informal, with a positive outlook, is necessary for successfully transitioning into the maternal role and building self-confidence in parenting during the prenatal and postnatal periods [ 31 ]. Many women with MS during pregnancy and after delivery express concerns about the lack of support from family and health personnel [ 25 , 34 ]. Supporting these women can be considered a protective factor against the concerns and challenges caused by the disease's impact on children's well-being and maternal depression symptoms [ 35 ].

In women with MS, 3-6 months after giving birth, the most likely disease flare-up is due to the elimination of the immunosuppressive state of pregnancy and the sudden decrease in estrogen [ 18 , 36 ]. At the same time, the physical and emotional support received from their families and parents decreases, intensifying the damage caused by the flare-up of the disease. Meanwhile, the social support received during this period plays a vital role in the transition to motherhood [ 25 , 37 ].

In Iran, the prevalence of MS is very high. According to the MSIF report, the prevalence of this disease in Iran is 101 cases per 100,000 people [ 10 ]. In a study reported by Etemadifar et al., out of 42,200 MS patients registered in 2013 in Iran, 32,477 were women and 9,723 were men [ 38 ]. Despite the high prevalence of this disease in Iran, many quantitative studies have been conducted regarding the problems and challenges faced by women with MS [ 12 , 39 , 40 ], however, there are very few qualitative studies. This is despite the fact that in order to discover the lived experience of phenomena that somehow face human interactions, quantitative research does not have the necessary flexibility and depth [ 41 ]. Among the types of qualitative studies, phenomenology is a type of study that tries to provide a direct description of experiences, as they are, without considering their psychological basis and scientific and causal explanations [ 42 ]. By using phenomenology studies, it is possible to reveal the hidden meanings in people's experiences and, in this way, facilitate access to their complex and hidden needs by creating a common sense with others [ 43 ]. A perspective based on qualitative research in MS disease, focusing on the "voice of patients" and reflecting on their experiences, supports these people and their families during important life changes such as pregnancy and motherhood [ 44 ].

Considering the growing population of women of reproductive age with MS in Iran [ 45 ], and the lack of a qualitative study related to the experiences of these mothers from the role of motherhood and the challenges they face during pregnancy and after delivery, and the lack of guidelines or a comprehensive program resulting from their needs during this period, the present study was designed to discover the meaning of the maternal role in women with MS and design a support program based on their needs during pregnancy and the first year after childbirth.

The aim of this study is to gain a deep insight into the experiences of mothers in their maternal role. By doing so, we hope to design a support program that addresses the needs and challenges faced by these women during pregnancy and after childbirth. Ultimately, this will lead to an improvement in the quality of health services and prevent the adverse effects of not fulfilling the maternal role.

Specific objectives

The primary objective of the first stage of the study is to conduct a phenomenological study to understand the significance of the maternal role in women with MS. This will help us identify the needs and challenges these women face during this time, which will inform the development of a support program in the second stage.

Special Objectives of the First Stage:

Explore the lived experience of the maternal role in pregnant women with MS and those who have a child less than one-year-old.

Identify the needs and expectations of mothers regarding a support program.

The overall goal of the second phase is to create a support program based on the findings of the phenomenological study, literature review, and interviews with key informants.

Special Objectives of the Second Stage:

Determine the needs and challenges for designing a support program based on the study results, literature review, and interviews.

Define the components, characteristics, and strategies of the support program using a logical model.

The general purpose of the third stage is to validate the support program using the nominal group technique.

Special Objectives of the Third Stage:

Validate the support program by gathering expert opinions during the nominal group meeting.

Formulate the final program based on feedback from experts in the nominal group meeting.

The first stage

The initial phase of the current study utilizes Van Manen's descriptive and interpretive phenomenology method. This approach allows the researcher to explore a shared experience from various perspectives by interpreting the perceptions and lived experiences of different individuals [ 46 ]. Since the focus of this study is on understanding the subjective nature of the participants' experiences, both description and interpretation of the phenomenon are crucial. Van Manen's method, with its comprehensive explanation of the hermeneutic cycle and analysis, can aid in understanding the significance of the maternal role in women with MS.

Choosing the research field

To gather relevant information on the maternal role phenomenon, the researcher has selected health centers and the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Mashhad as the research field for this study.

Participant selection method

For maximum information, purposive (purposeful) sampling will be employed in this study. Participants will be chosen based on diversity in age, education, occupation, disease severity, duration of illness, and number of children. This approach aims to provide a comprehensive view of the maternal role phenomenon.

Inclusion criteria

Participants must have a confirmed MS diagnosis by a neurologist, be pregnant women with MS and have children under one year old, not have any other diseases besides MS, be able to understand and speak Persian, and communicate effectively with the researcher .

Exclusion criteria

Participants who are unwilling to continue cooperation at any stage of the interview will be excluded.

Sample size

The sampling process will conclude when no new data is obtained from interviews or when data saturation is reached.

Data collection process

After receiving approval from the ethics committee at Mashhad University of Medical Sciences, the researcher first contacts the Multiple Sclerosis Society and health centers. At this stage, eligible women who are willing to participate in the study sign an informed consent form and receive comprehensive explanations about the research objectives. Demographic information of the participants is then recorded to describe them. The participants are asked to choose a suitable place for the interview and are informed that a voice recorder will be used. They are assured that their voice will not be shared and their information will be coded on the demographic questionnaires.

During the interview, general questions are asked first, followed by specific questions related to the research problem. Initial questions include: "What made you decide that now is the right time to become a mother?" The main questions related to motherhood are then asked, such as "How do you perceive motherhood?" Probing questions like "Can you provide more details?" are used to gain a deeper understanding of the issue. Each interview typically lasts between 30 to 90 minutes, with an average of 45 minutes. Interviews continue until data saturation is reached. After conducting the interviews and recording the tapes, data interpretation begins. The interpretation process involves a spiral movement from part to whole and vice versa to ensure no information is overlooked.

Data analysis

Van Manen's third to sixth steps will be utilized to analyze the data. These steps involve reflecting on the intrinsic content of the phenomenon, writing and rewriting, maintaining a strong connection with the phenomenon, and matching the study's findings while considering the relationship between the parts and the whole. The Guba and Lincoln criteria will be applied to enhance the study's accuracy.

Second stage

The second stage of the current study aims to design a support program for women with MS to address the challenges they face in fulfilling the maternal role. In this study, a logical model is utilized to create a support program that recognizes the needs and challenges of these women based on the findings of the phenomenological study. The use of a logical model has garnered significant attention among healthcare providers and is considered an appropriate model for planning and evaluating health issues in society [ 47 ].

A logic model is a transparent method that graphically illustrates the rationale behind an action. It is used to assess the effectiveness of designed programs and to outline the logic of implementing a program before its design. This model consists of various components, including Inputs, Activities/Strategies, Output, Assumptions, Short-term Outcomes, Medium-term Outcomes, and Impacts/Long-term Outcomes. [ 48 ].

The steps involved in developing a logical plan in this study include five steps, with the final step being completed in the third stage of the study. These steps are as follows:

Data collection: Data collection in this study to develop a support program based on a logical model through the results obtained from a qualitative study in the first stage, a systematic review of quantitative and qualitative studies conducted concerning the needs of women with MS in relationship with mother's role, with extensive search in scientific databases such as Pubmed, Scopus, EMBASE, Web of Science, The Cochran Library and Persian language databases such as SID and Magiran using Persian keywords and their English equivalents and specialized interviews with Key informants

Definition of the problem and statement of objectives: Based on the codes and themes extracted from the phenomenological study, exploratory interviews with key informants, and literature review, the needs and problems of women with MS regarding the maternal role will be identified to determine the goals of the support program.

Definition of program elements: In the logical model, the elements include inputs, activities, outputs, and short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals (consequences). In this model, the "if-then" set can explain the relationship between the components well. Ordering that "if" the resources (inputs) including... are provided, then the activities of... can be executed, or "if" the activities of the program are executed successfully, then the outputs of... .. and the consequences of ... will be obtained [ 49 ].

Identifying the required resources or inputs to respond to the needs and challenges of women with MS concerning the maternal role will be done based on literature review, exploratory interviews, and the use of professors' opinions.

Concerning the necessary activities and strategies, the question should be answered, what activities should be done on the designated resources to achieve the desired results? Identifying and describing the necessary activities and strategies for the implementation of the support program as in the previous stage using the results of the present phenomenological study, literature review, and exploratory interviews with key informants and experts, and finally consulting with the professors of the research team will be done. Short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals (consequences) will also be determined with the consensus of professors and the research team and exploratory interviews with experts.

Building and drawing the model: In this step, the relationship between the components of the logical model is specified.

The third stage

In the final stage of evaluating the draft support program developed in this study, the nominal group technique will be employed. This technique involves four basic steps: generating ideas, recording ideas, discussing ideas further, and voting on ideas [ 50 ].

For the nominal group technique in this study, participants will be purposefully selected based on the research team's recommendations.

The pregnancy rate after a diagnosis of MS in women is lower than that of the normal population [ 23 , 24 ]. However, several studies have suggested that pregnancy may help slow the progression of the disease [ 20 , 21 , 22 ]. Many affected women attribute their low desire for pregnancy and motherhood to concerns stemming from the disease itself and its complications. MS poses a significant challenge for women who wish to become pregnant and be mothers [ 25 ].

These challenges highlight the necessity of developing and implementing a program to address these needs and obstacles. Despite an extensive search, no comprehensive program or guidelines have been created for these mothers. Some studies have identified support as a crucial element during pregnancy and postpartum for these mothers [ 25 , 37 ].

In Iran, the prevalence of MS is high [ 45 ]. In Iranian culture, which is influenced by the Islamic religion, having children is viewed as a social and cultural duty for women. Newly married women are expected to conceive shortly after starting married life. The role of mother is paramount for women in Iranian society, and they strive to fulfill this role correctly [ 51 , 52 ]. However, comprehensive guidelines for these mothers during pregnancy and postpartum are lacking in Iran, with only limited references in national guidelines for pregnancy and childbirth care.

Due to the absence of phenomenological studies exploring the experiences of Iranian mothers with MS in their maternal role, and the lack of a comprehensive plan for them during pregnancy and postpartum, researchers have developed a support program based on the needs of these mothers. The aim is to reduce the challenges faced by these mothers and utilize qualitative data in practice. This study hopes to serve as an initial step for further research both within and outside of Iran.

Availability of data and materials

Not applicable.

Abbreviations

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis International Federation

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to all the participants who helped us implement this project

This Study is funded by Mashhad University of Medical Sciences.

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Elaheh Mansouri Ghezelhesari

Department of Neurology, Ghaem Hospital, Mashhad University of Medical Sciences, Mashhad, Iran

Mohamad Ali Nahayati

Nursing and Midwifery Care Research Center, Mashhad University of Medical Sciences, Mashhad, Iran

Abbas Heydari

Department of Health Economics and Management, School of Health, Mashhad University of Medical Sciences, Mashhad, Iran

Hosein Ebrahimipour

Nursing and Midwifery Care Research Center, Mashhad University of Medical Sciences, Ebn Sina Street, Mashhad, 9137913199, Iran

Talat Khadivzadeh

Health Sciences Reseach Center, Torbat Heydarieh University of Medical Sciences, Torbat Heydarieh, Iran

Department of Midwifery, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Mashhad University of Medical Sciences, Mashhad, Iran

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EMGh, AH, HE, MAN, and TKH collaborated on designing the protocol. EMGh, TKH, and AH worked on the implementation and analysis plan. EMGh, MAN, HE, and TKH have drafted the initial version of this protocol article. All authors have thoroughly reviewed the text, made revisions, and approved the final manuscript.

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Ghezelhesari, E.M., Nahayati, M.A., Heydari, A. et al. Understanding the meaning of the lived experience “maternal role” in women with multiple sclerosis and planning a supportive program: a combined exploratory study protocol. Reprod Health 21 , 59 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12978-024-01799-w

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