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Conducting a Literature Review

A collection of strategies and resources for conducting a literature review

Step 1: Select a Topic

Selecting a topic for a literature review can be challenging, but there are a few things you can consider to help you choose an interesting and relevant topic:

  • Avoid selecting a broad topic like "pain" - instead, consider key aspects are of significance, like "pain management" or "pain prevention".
  • It is better to start with an overly-narrow topic than an overly-broad topic.
  • Discuss your topic ideas with a peer or mentor for additional insights.
  • Do some quick searches on a topic of interest to find out if there is enough existing literature to support a literature review.

Cronin, P., Ryan, F. & Coughlan, M. (2008). Undertaking a literature review: A step-by-step approach. British Journal of Nursing, 17(1), 38-43

Step 2: Develop a Searchable Question

When developing a searchable question, it helps to identify the key concepts of your research proposal. A clear and precise search question can be used to develop search terms during the literature searching process.

There are a number of frameworks available to use to help you break your question into its key concepts. Take a look at the frameworks below. 




From BMJ Best Practice:

The PICO (Population, Intervention, Comparator and Outcomes) model captures the key elements and is a good strategy to provide answerable questions.

Population: who are the relevant patients or the target audience for the problem being addressed?
     Example: In women with non-tubal infertility

Intervention: what intervention is being considered?
    Example: …would intrauterine insemination…

Comparator: what is the main comparator to the intervention that you want to assess?
     Example: …when compared with fallopian tube sperm perfusion…

Outcomes: what are the consequences of the interventions for the patient? Or what are the main outcomes of interest to the patient or decision maker?
     Example: …lead to higher live birth rates with no increase in multiple pregnancy, miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy rates?


How to clarify a clinical question. (n.d.). BMJ Best Practice. Retrieved October 26, 2022, from


From "Formulating the Evidence Based Practice Question":

Setting: What is the context for the question? The research evidence should reflect the context or the research findings may not be transferable.

Perspective: Who are the users, potential users, or stakeholders of the service?

Intervention: What is being done for the users, potential users, or stakeholders?

Comparison: What are the alternatives? An alternative might maintain the status quo and change nothing.

Evaluation: What measurement will determine the intervention’s success? In other words, what is the result?

Davies, K. S. (2011). Formulating the Evidence Based Practice Question: A Review of the Frameworks. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 6(2), Article 2.



From "How CLIP became ECLIPSE":

Expectation—what does the search requester want the information for (the original ‘I’s)?
Client Group
Impact: what is the change in the service, if any, which is being looked for? What would constitute success? How is this being measured?
Service: for which service are you looking for information? For example, outpatient services, nurse-led clinics, intermediate care

Wildridge, V., & Bell, L. (2002). How CLIP became ECLIPSE: A mnemonic to assist in searching for health policy/management information. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 19(2), 113–115.

Step 3: Apply PICO Framework

The PICO framework is one of the more commonly used question frameworks in EBP.

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