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Pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences

Key drug resources, evidence-based practice tools, databases, journals and websites for pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences

What is a literature review?

A literature review is a critical assessment of the literature pertaining to a particular topic or subject.  It is a 'systematic, explicit, and reproducible method for identifying, evaluating and synthesising the existing body of completed and recorded work produced by researchers, scholars, and practitioners'  Fink, (2005).

What's its purpose?

  • justify your research
  • provide context for your research
  • identify new ways, to interpret and highlight gaps in previous research
  • ensure that the research has not been done before
  • signpost a way forward for further research
  • show where the research fits into the existing literature
  • highlight flaws in previous research

What is a systematic review?

"Systematic reviews aim to identify, evaluate and summarise the findings of all relevant individual studies, thereby making the available evidence more accessible to decisionmakers. When appropriate, combining the results of several studies gives a more reliable and precise estimate of an intervention’s effectiveness than one study alone." 

Centre for Reviews and Dissemination 2009, Systematic Reviews: CRD's guidance for undertaking reviews in health care, Centre for Reviews and Dissemination, York.

The key characteristics of a systematic review are:

  • a clearly stated set of objectives with pre-defined eligibility criteria for studies;
  • an explicit, reproducible methodology;
  • a systematic search that attempts to identify all studies that would meet the eligibility criteria; learn more about how to conduct a thorough systematic search;
  • an assessment of the validity of the findings of the included studies, for example through the assessment of risk of bias; and
  • a systematic presentation, and synthesis, of the characteristics and findings of the included studies.

Higgins JPT, Green S (editors). Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions Version 5.1.0 [updated March 2011]. The Cochrane Collaboration, 2011. Available from