Module 1: Types of Reviews

Conducting a Literature Review

All reviews follow a familiar process:

  1. Find and examine existing literature reviews.
  2. Formulate a research question.
  3. Search for sources.
  4. Assess the quality of your results and select your sources.
  5. the important information from your sources.
  6. Analyze what you’ve found.

Find and Examine Existing Literature Reviews

Prior to starting your own research, you will want to look at existing literature reviews – this is especially important so that you don’t duplicate existing work. It can also be helpful to look at the approaches taken for literature reviews similar to your own topic or discipline.  Below are some examples of locating existing reviews.


  1. Search in – All published articles have literature reviews. They are a key component of an academic journal article as they create the foundation for new research and establish credibility for the authors. Authors need to demonstrate to peer reviewers and readers that they have a good command of the existing literature, and they have identified a gap they will fill with the present study.
  2. Identify clusters of citations in published articles – Sometimes, literature reviews are clearly labelled as such with a descriptive heading, but more often, they are presented as part of the introduction or background section at the beginning of the article. The telltale sign that you are looking at the literature review is the presence of clusters of citations.
  3. Search for “literature review” articles – While most literature reviews are done in the context of laying the groundwork for an original study, some are published as articles in their own right. When searching for this type of article you can limit part of your search strategy to look for the term “literature review” in the title of the article. See Figure 1.1 below.
A Search box with the terms “literature review” in the Title field and Diet Soda and Brian Health in the All Fields field.
Figure 1.1. Example of how to search with the term “literature review” in the title. This screen grab from PubMed Central, National Library of Medicine (NLM) is included on the basis of fair dealing. 

Formulate a Research Question

In general, your research question will tackle the problem you are trying to address by conducting the review. Since constructing a research question can be an in-depth process,  we go over it in more detail in Module 2: Formulating a Research Question and Searching for Sources.

Conduct Your Review Using the SALSA Framework

Once you have a research question, there are four stages you can follow when conducting your chosen review. These are known as the SALSA Framework: search, appraisal, synthesis and analysis.


Here is a quick summary of the SALSA steps.

Wait, What happened to the “L” in SALSA?

Did you notice the missing L? We did too! The authors, Grant and Booth (2009) created  a simple analytical framework for conducting reviews: Search, Appraisal, Synthesis and Analysis. SASA, however, doesn’t make a memorable acronym, and Academics love a good acronym, so they derived the “L” from the last letter of appraisal:  Search, AppraisaL, Synthesis and Analysis (SALSA).


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Advanced Research Skills: Conducting Literature and Systematic Reviews Copyright © 2021 by Kelly Dermody; Cecile Farnum; Daniel Jakubek; Jo-Anne Petropoulos; Jane Schmidt; and Reece Steinberg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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