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MHIM 609: Concepts of Research Methodology

Literature Review


What is a literature review?

A literature review is an exploration and evaluation of the current, relevant literature on your research topic. It is a summary and synthesis of the existing literature on the topic without contributing new knowledge to research on the topic. Literature reviews often appear as part of a scholarly paper but also as separate publications. The literature you decide to include in your review may come from a variety of sources, including scholarly articles, books, dissertations, and conference proceedings among others.


  • What is your research question or problem?
  • Searching for sources, or literature, relevant to the research topic.
  • Evaluating which literature is significant to the understanding of the topic.
  • Organizing the literature to effectively convey the most important aspects of the topic.
    • Discuss the findings of relevant literature.
  • Writing a summary and synthesis of the current literature, including an introduction, body, and conclusion.


  • An overview of the research question, topic, or problem under consideration and the purpose of the literature review.
  • Categories of literature included in the review (e.g., sources supporting a particular position and sources against and sources with alternative perspectives).
  • Explanation of how each source is similar to and different from the others.
  • Conclusions as to which pieces are best considered in their argument and make the greatest contribution to the understanding and development of their area of research.


  • Place each work in the context of its contribution to the understanding of the subject under review.
  • Describe the relationship of each work to the others under consideration.
  • Identify new ways to interpret and shed light on any gaps in previous research.
  • Resolve conflicts among seemingly contradictory previous studies.
  • Identify areas of prior scholarship to prevent duplication of effort.
  • Point the way forward for further research.
  • Place one's original work (in the case of theses or dissertations) in the context of existing literature.

Citing Sources

  • For help citing sources in APA style, visit the library's APA FAQ page.

Source: University of California at Santa Cruz University Library

Choosing a Topic

Before you begin your research you need a topic.  To get topic ideas you can browse topics within your textbook, discussion items on professional society websites, or interesting journal articles.  Below are some resource you can use to identify current topics within Health Informatics.  


Society Websites

When searching for a topic on an association or society website, you may want to start your search by looking at the "news" or "media" page of the website.  This will give you an idea of what topics or issues are important to the association/society, as well as topics they may have recently published about. 

The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA)

American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA)

Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS)

Journal Articles 

Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association: JAMIA

Health Informatics Journal 

Journal of Healthcare Informatics Research 

Healthcare Informatics 

Health Data Management 

Keywords and Subject Headings 

Keyword searching is how you typically search web search engines.  Think of important words or phrases related to your research topic and type them into the database to get results.  

Subject Headings are predefined controlled vocabulary words used to describe the content of each item in a database.  Subject headings act as descriptors, allowing you to find relevant items on the same topic.  

Keywords Subject Headings
  • natural language words describing your topic - good to start with
  • pre-defined "controlled vocabulary" words used to describe the content of each item (book, journal article) in a database
  • more flexible to search by - can combine together in many ways
  • less flexible to search by - need to know the exact controlled vocabulary term
  • database looks for keywords anywhere in the record - not necessarily connected together
  • database looks for subjects only in the subject heading or descriptor field, where the most relevant words appear
  • may yield too many or too few results
  • if too many results - also uses subheadings to focus on one aspect of the broader subject
  • may yield many irrelevant results
  • results usually very relevant to the topic

Source: MIT Libraries 

Boolean Operators: AND, OR, NOT

Boolean searching is based on connecting keywords and Boolean operators together to either narrow or broaden your set of results.  The three basic boolean operators are AND, OR, and NOT.  You can use Boolean operators to focus a search, when your topic contains multiple search terms.

Search Logic: Nesting

Databases follow commands you type in and return results based on those commands.  Be aware of the logical order in which words are connected when using Boolean operators.  Databases recognize AND as the primary operatore, and will connect concepts together with AND  unless told otherwise.  If you are using a combination of And and OR operators in a search, it is important that you enclose the words being combined with OR in parentheses.  

Once you have narrowed down your topic and identified keywords, you are ready to begin searching for relevant literature.  You can begin your search either in Discovery Search or in the Library Databases.  Below is a list of library databases, related to health Informatics, that you may find useful. 

Need Help Using a Database?  If you need help using a database, or constructing a search, contact a librarian for assistance. 

Library doesn't have access?  If you find an article or book that you are interested in and the library does not have access to the content.  You can request the resource through Interlibrary Loan. 

Searching the literature for information to include in a literature review is a process requiring multiple searches and methods of utilizing different resources to retrieve information.

Source Types

Scholarly, or peer-reviewed, articles have been through a rigorous editing and vetting process by subject matter experts in a given field written for a specific audience and nearly always include an abstract, literature review, methods, results or findings, discussion, conclusion, and references with no advertising and have a purpose to educate and communicate research findings, e.g.:

Health Informatics JournalInternational Journal of Health Information Management, etc.

Popular source articles have not been through as rigorous of an editing and vetting process; may not always be written, edited, or vetted by subject matter experts; are written for a general audience and easier to read; include advertising; and have a purpose to convey news or entertain, e.g.:

The New York TimesNewsweekNational Geographic, etc.

Trade resources are aimed at professionals in a particular field and often report news and trends in the field, e.g.:

Association journals, websites, newsletters, product reviews, interviews with industry leaders, job listings, etc.

Source: University of California at Berkeley Library

Primary and Secondary Sources 

Source: East Carolina University Libraries 


When searching for information for inclusion in a literature review, consider evaluating sources' authority, purpose, relevance, date, source of publication, and references.


  • Who is the author?
  • Does the author convey a particular viewpoint?
  • Does the author present particular cultural, religious, racial, or other orientations?
  • Does the author have an institutional affiliation (e.g., UTHSC)?


  • Why was this information produced? Why was it researched and written?
  • What questions does it address and answer?
  • Is there a stated purpose in the study?
  • Does it attempt to be objective and recognize multiple viewpoints?
  • Who is the intended audience, e.g. scholars or general audience?


  • How is it relevant to your topic and your own research purpose?
  • How can you apply the author's research to yours?
  • What is the depth of the information, e.g. detailed analysis or broad overview?


  • When was it published?
  • Which edition are you using? Are there differences between the first publication and the edition used?
  • Has anything changed on this topic or in your field since it was published?
  • Are there published reviews on this particular source?

Source of Publication

  • Who has published the information, e.g. scholarly journal, university press, etc.?
  • Does the publisher hold a particular position or viewpoint, e.g. progressive or conservative and/or sponsored by an organization?
  • Was it self-published?
  • Where was it originally published and in what language?
  • In what medium was it published, e.g. online, print, video, self-posted, etc.? What does the medium indicate about the quality and credibility of the source?


  • Are sources cited?
  • Who is cited?
  • Do the cited sources represent a particular school of thought or viewpoint?
  • Does there appear to be affiliation between the author and the authors of the sources cited?
  • Did they appropriately represent the context of their cited sources?
  • Did they ignore any important elements from their cited sources?
  • Did they select facts to support their own position?
  • Did they appropriately cite ideas that were not their own?

Source: University of California at Berkeley Libraries


After searching for sources and before writing a literature review, it is important to consider the most effective way to meaningfully present the literature. What is the best order to present your sources? What are the most important topics that have emerged in the literature that you should include?

Literature reviews may be organized in different ways, including by chronology, theme, or methodology:


A chronological literature review is organized according to when the articles being discussed were written; however, a chronological literature review also may organize sources in chronological order by theme. Subsections in this type of review may be organized around time periods or time periods within a theme being discussed.


A thematic literature review is organized around a theme, topic, or issue present in the literature. Thematic literature reviews may have a chronological component however, such as the development of a theme, topic, or issue over time. Subsections in this type of review may be organized around the subtopics on that theme, topic, or issue being discussed.


A methodological literature review is organized around the methods of the researchers and authors whose work is being discussed. If the literature review focuses on methods, the types of literature included will be affected (e.g., randomized controlled trials, systematic reviews, etc.) and reflect the way in which the literature is discussed. 

There may be additional sections of a literature review, including sections introducing or providing background information to help the audience understand the situation; a chronological progression of literature or ideas relevant to the topic of the review; the criteria and methods by which you selected sources, including why certain source types were included; and any questions to be answered or ideas for future research.

Source: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Writing Center and University of Texas at Dallas McDermott Library


When writing a literature review, consider the overall organization of your paper in the introduction, body, and conclusion:


  • Define or identify the general topic, issue, or area of concern
  • Point out overall trends in what has been published about the topic; or conflicts in theory, methodology, evidence, and conclusions; or gaps in research and scholarship; or a single problem or new perspective of immediate interest.
  • Establish the writer's reason (point of view) for reviewing the literature; explain the criteria to be used in analyzing and comparing literature and the organization of the review (sequence); and, when necessary, state why certain literature is or is not included (scope).


  • Group research studies and other types of literature (reviews, theoretical articles, case studies, etc.) according to common denominators such as qualitative versus quantitative approaches, conclusions of authors, specific purpose or objective, chronology, etc. (see the "Organize" tab)
  • Summarize individual studies or articles with as much or as little detail as each merits according to its comparative importance in the literature, remembering that space (length) denotes significance.
  • Provide the reader with strong sentences at beginnings of paragraphs and brief "so what" summary sentences at intermediate points in the review to aid in understanding comparisons and analyses.

Conclusion or Recommendations

  • Summarize major contributions of significant studies and articles to the body of knowledge under review, maintaining the focus established in the introduction.
  • Evaluate the current body of knowledge reviewed, pointing out major methodological flaws or gaps in research, inconsistencies in theory and findings, and areas or issues pertinent to future study.
  • Conclude by providing some insight into the relationship between the central topic of the literature review and a larger area of study such as a discipline, a scientific endeavor, or a profession.

Citing Sources

  • For help citing sources in APA style, visit the library's APA FAQ page.

Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison Writing Center



  • Evans, R. S. (2016). Electronic health records: Then, now, and in the future. Yearbook of Medical Informatics, (Suppl. 1), S48–S61. Advance online publication.


  • Cohen, G. R., & Adler-Milstein, J. (2016). Meaningful use care coordination criteria: Perceived barriers and benefits among primary care providers. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association: JAMIA, 23(e1), e146–e151.
  • Fields, D., Riesenmy, K., Blum, T. C., & Roman, P. M. (2015). Implementation of electronic health records and entrepreneurial strategic orientation in substance use disorder treatment organizations. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 76(6), 942–951.
  • Sun, W., Cai, Z., Li, Y., Liu, F., Fang, S., & Wang, G. (2018). Data processing and text mining technologies on electronic medical records: A review. Journal of Healthcare Engineering, 2018, 4302425.


  • Fackrell, K., Potgieter, I., Shekhawat, G. S., Baguley, D. M., Sereda, M., & Hoare, D. J. (2017). Clinical interventions for hyperacusis in adults: A scoping review to assess the current position and determine priorities for research. BioMed Research International, 2017, 2723715.
  • Williams, K. S., Shah, G. H., Leider, J., & Gupta, A. (2017). Overcoming barriers to experience benefits: A qualitative analysis of electronic health records and health information exchange implementation in local health departments. eGEMs, 5(1), 18.

UTHSC Digital Commons

  • Discover recent thesis and dissertation submissions from students in the Department of Health Informatics and Information Management