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How to find information for science or health based literature reviews

1 - Welcome

This is a stack of books next to book shelves.

The guide will show you how to find information for literature review within Health and the Life Sciences.

Is this the guide for me?

The guide is aimed at undergraduate students in their final year and MSc students studying within the Departments of Biosciences and Chemistry, Allied Health Professions and Nursing.

Read before using this guide! 

  • This guide has been written to support students undertaking literature reviews within the Departments of Biosciences and Chemistry, Allied Health Professions and Nursing.
  • If you are from another department, we would encourage you check with your teaching team before following any guidance here about literature searching.
  • The College of Health, Wellbeing and Life Sciences includes a range of subject disciplines and this guide is broad in focus which means it may not cover something that is unique to your department or subject area. 
  • Literature searching and literature review guidance can change. The functionality of specialist resources may alter. 
  • If you have any doubts or questions about your literature review and any advice provided here... check with the person that set your assignment!
  • The guidance here does not replace any assignment specific requirements and you should always thoroughly read and understand what is required for your assignment before you begin writing.

 If you have any questions about your assignment, you should always check with the person that set the assignment.

2 - How will this guide help me?

The guide will help you:

  • find information
  • apply a structured approach to research
  • help minimise missing key papers
  • save time.


How to use the guide:

You can work through the guide section by section or choose the section tab that covers the information you need. You can then read the text, watch the videos and try the activities. Your choice!

You can also use the keyboard shortcut - CTRL + F - to search each page for a word of interest.

You could also use the  Microsoft Immersive Reader Tools and have the guide read to you whilst you work! You can find out more about using this feature in Step 4 of this handy guide from the Skills Centre.

We have divided the literature review process into 12 steps and you are encouraged to take a break from the guide and activities whenever you need.

Try not to think of a literature review as a linear process. You may have to revisit or repeat a step: for example you may have to re-run searches or use saved searches to keep up to date with literature, especially if your review is over an extended time period.


This is a picture of a light bulb.                Activity 1: To get you thinking about your literature review, watch this video - What is a literature review - from Northwestern University. This video is within the Sage Research Methods Video Collection. 


How to watch the video:

  • You click on the link above - How to do a literature review - and you be taken into Library Search.
  • We have included a screen shot of the Library Search listing for this video below. This is an image and is not a clickable item.
  • We have provided this to help you understand that you are moving from one resource to another and you need to know how to access the full text of a resource. 
  • You access the video by clicking on the Access content in SAGE publications link and if prompted, log in with your SHU login details.

This is an image of the Library Search listing of the recommended video for watching.


This is a picture of a light bulb.                Activity 2Boost your academic confidence by assessing your skills. 

There are lots of ways that you could do this. You can assess your skills by taking the online Skills Check with the Skills Centre or using a skills audits in an eBook. You can find out how to do both below!

Take the skills check with the Skill Centre

You will be asked a series of questions to rate your knowledge and confidence across a range of key academic skills. Your answers will ensure the recommended resources for building your academic skills are personalised and useful to you, whatever your level or mode of study. 

Take a skills audit using an eBook: Dissertations and Project Reports.

1. Click on the eBook title below - Dissertations and Project Reports. The link will take you to the eBook listed in Library Search.


2. You access the full text of the book by clicking on the eBook Central link which is within the Library Search listing of the book. Below you can see the Library Search record of the eBook. This is an image and is not a clickable items.



3. Login with your SHU login details.

4. Go to page and take the skills audit on p.17.

5. The audit includes section recommendations for where you can find the information you need to help improve your skills.

3 - The potential confusion between a literature review and a systematic review

This guide covers lots of searching techniques and approaches you can apply when undertaking a literature review. 

Do not confuse a systematic review with a literature review! Both are very different things!  Are you really being asked to conduct a systematic review, or are you doing an extended literature review with a systematic and comprehensive search strategy? You may be asked to do a systematic review, but in reality you are conducting a systematic review of the literature.

There is a real difference between the two and you should always check to make sure that you are doing the right thing.


  • A systematic review aims to answer a very specific research question, with strict parameters. It is normally done in a group of people with formalised roles and specified research parameters, often outlined in a protocol.


  • A systematic literature search is a review of the literature within specified databases in order to collect as much of the evidence available within those resources. You will be expected to demonstrate your search strategy in some way, and to discuss the findings of the published literature.

You can systematically review literature and you may decide to use some of the search techniques you see listed in literature review books that cover systematic reviews. If you are doing a literature review and you are an undergraduate or a MSc student, it is unlikely that you are doing a systematic review.


This guide is comprehensive, detailed and written to support a range of literature reviews with varying levels of complexity required.

Not all approaches will be applicable to you and you may not need to go into as much depth as some of the steps suggest. You must make your own judgement 

If you are unsure what you should be doing for your literature review and you have any doubts about:

  • whether you are doing a literature review or a systematic review
  • how comprehensive the literature review needs to be

Check with the person that set your literature review! It is admirable to want to do the best literature review you can but stay within your literature review brief.

4 - I would like to know more...

5 - Guide credits

Just to add, we are not experts on whether honey or silver is more effective for wound healing but we are quite interested in the question and have been using the example in Library workshops for a number of years.

This guide is a collaborative piece of work between Subject and Research Librarians from the Hallam Library teams - Library Learning and Teaching Support Team and the Library Research Support Team.