Congratulations! You applied and were accepted into a graduate-level program at [fill in the blank] university. In your first research methods class, your assignment is to do a comprehensive literature review on a topic of your choice. It sounds easy enough – just find a few articles related to your topic and summarize, right? You probably did this type of annotated bibliography as an undergraduate and are pretty optimistic about doing another one. As the professor and other classmates talk more about the demands and expectations for this literature review, however, you may begin to feel less confident. If it’s any consolation, you are not alone.

Writing a literature review involves a synthesis of a complex range of analytical and rhetorical skills as well as academic writing skills, and an understanding of what is meant by critical analysis and argument.(Turner & Bitchener, 2008).

At the same time, there is often a disconnect between what faculty expect in terms of research and writing skills and what incoming graduate students understand about how to conduct a literature review. At the graduate level, and especially when preparing a thesis or dissertation, the literature review is a high-stakes document that introduces the novice researcher to the scholarly conversation of his/her discipline for the first time. Students are often surprised that the specific research and writing skills needed to do a graduate-level literature review aren’t taught in class, while faculty may assume students already have these skills (Harris, 2011). As a result, “most graduate students receive little or no formal training in how to analyze and synthesize the research literature in their field” (Boote & Beile, 2005, p. 5). It is for these students that we write this book.

Literature Reviews for Education and Nursing Graduate Students introduces you to the components of the stand-alone literature review and prepares you to write one of your own. This open textbook is designed to help students in graduate-level nursing and education programs recognize the significant role the literature review plays in the research process and synthesize and cite key sources with confidence. Although specific examples are generally nursing or education related, most of the content is also applicable to other students in the social sciences. Likewise, this textbook is openly licensed, meaning it is available at no cost to anyone in the world who would like to use it. Instructors (and others) may freely edit or modify it and assign as much or as little as needed.

Literature Reviews for Education and Nursing Graduate Students is written for new graduate students and novice researchers just entering the work of their chosen discipline. It is meant to assist “students who can complete course assignments to scholars who can make a contribution to their respective fields.” (Switzer & Perdue, 2011, p. 12). The book was written by two librarians with expertise guiding nursing and education graduate students through the literature review research and writing process. We include in the book examples from the literature of nursing and education to facilitate a greater understanding of what it means to be a successful graduate student. Our intent is to promote the idea that the literature review is a dynamic and complex synthesis of research and writing that is quite different than an annotated bibliography.

Literature Reviews for Education and Nursing Graduate Students covers topics related to literature review research and writing. Chapter 1 provides an overview of literature reviews and their purpose. Chapters 2 and 3 relate to getting started with the review, including how to develop a research question or hypothesis. Chapters 4 and 5 deal with the research process, that is, where to find relevant sources and how to evaluate their credibility. Chapters 6 and 7 discuss how to document sources and, one of the most difficult tasks novice researchers face, how to synthesize information. Chapter 8 is focused on writing your own literature review. A short conclusion and an answer key to questions asked in previous chapters complete the text. Each chapter begins with a summary of learning objectives for that chapter and concludes with a set of questions to assess your understanding of the topics covered. Examples, tutorials, videos, additional resources, websites and/or activities are provided. Finally, at the end of each chapter you will find a list of works cited as well as image attributions.

Although this textbook does not contain all of the answers you will need to successfully write a literature review, the authors hope that when used in combination with all of the other experiences you will have as a graduate student, it will help you to become the researcher and scholar you want to be.


Boote, D.N., & Beile, P. (2005). Scholars before researchers: On the centrality of the dissertation literature review in research preparation. Educational Researcher 34(6), 3-15.

Harris, C.S. (2011). The case for partnering doctoral students with librarians: A synthesis of the literatures. Library Review 60(7), 599-620.

Switzer, A., & Perdue, A.S. (2011). Dissertation 101: A research and writing intervention for education graduate students. Education Libraries 34(1), 4-14.

Turner, E., & Bitchener, J. (2008). An approach to teaching the writing of literature reviews. Zeitschrift Schreiben.


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Literature Reviews for Education and Nursing Graduate Students Copyright © by Linda Frederiksen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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