The literature review is an essential component of any dissertation, and its importance cannot be overstated in the nursing field. It serves as a foundation that supports the problem statement, provides context, and sets the stage for the methodology and findings.

In this article, we will explore more on how to write a compelling nursing dissertation literature review.

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a scholarly investigation of published material related to your chosen dissertation topic. It involves evaluating, summarizing, and synthesizing existing research, theories, and concepts pertinent to your study.

Unlike an annotated bibliography, a literature review organizes the existing knowledge by themes or variables, not by the list of publications.

What’s the Purpose of a Literature Review?

  • Demonstrate your topic knowledge: One of the key aims of the literature review is to demonstrate your thorough understanding of the topic. It shows that you are not starting from scratch but building upon existing knowledge.
  • Reveal the research gap you’ll fill: Identifying gaps in existing research is crucial for validating your dissertation’s research question. These gaps can range from areas where further study is needed, conflicting results from existing studies, or a complete lack of research on a particular subject within your nursing specialty.
  • Lay the foundation for your conceptual framework: The literature review helps you build your study’s conceptual framework. It assists you in defining key concepts, variables, and theories that will guide your research.
  • To inform your methodology: Understanding the research methods used in existing studies will help you decide on the methodology for your dissertation. The review can highlight effective methods as well as pitfalls to avoid.

Reviewing the Literature

While the essential goal is to collate and summarize the existing research related to your dissertation topic, a well-executed literature review does much more than just compiling studies. It examines methodologies, highlights inconsistencies in the findings, and points out gaps that your research can address.

Here are the multiple dimensions of reviewing literature for a nursing dissertation.

Analytical Reading

Start by reading the selected literature critically, not just passively absorbing the content. Look for underlying assumptions, research methodologies, and limitations in each study. Consider how each article aligns with or challenges existing theories and practices in nursing.

Themes and Variables

As you read, identify themes and variables that frequently appear. Is there a particular patient population consistently underserved in the existing literature? Are there consistent findings across multiple studies about a particular nursing intervention?

Identifying these themes will guide you in organizing your literature review and pinpointing gaps in current research.

Comparing Methodologies

A detailed review will focus on findings and critically evaluate the methodologies used in different studies. Did the study use a qualitative or quantitative approach? Was the sample size adequate, and were the variables well-defined?

Critiquing the methodology is crucial because it informs your understanding of the existing research and shapes your research design.

Recognizing Inconsistencies and Conflicts

One of the key roles of a literature review is to identify inconsistencies or conflicts in existing research. Are there contradictory findings among studies that have examined the same variables? What could be the cause of these inconsistencies?

Recognizing these elements is crucial as they can offer an opening for your research, allowing you to provide fresh insights or resolve conflicts in the literature.

Identifying Research Gaps

This is arguably the most crucial aspect of reviewing literature. You need to delineate clearly where the gaps are in existing research and how your study will fill these gaps.

Whether it’s an overlooked population, a controversial issue, or a novel approach to an old problem, your dissertation can significantly contribute by addressing these gaps.

Synthesizing Information

Your role as a reviewer is to describe what others have found and offer a new perspective on the research, creating a narrative that drives toward your research question.

Synthesizing involves connecting different works, contrasting methodologies and outcomes, and aligning your findings with overarching themes and variables relevant to your study.

Future Directions

While your dissertation will focus on a specific research question, the literature review should also point toward future directions in the field. Are there emerging technologies, policy changes, or demographic shifts that will require new kinds of nursing research?

These future directions can offer readers insights into your research’s broader applicability and potential impact.

The Literature Review Chapter

The Literature Review Chapter provides the contextual background and lays the foundation for your research question, methodology, and subsequent findings.

It is not merely a summary of other works in the field but a critical evaluation that synthesizes the existing literature and identifies gaps or contradictions that your research will address. Here’s a more in-depth look at this chapter’s role in your dissertation.

Setting the Context

The Literature Review Chapter typically begins by setting the context of your research. It introduces the main topics, theories, or variables that are the focus of your dissertation.

You may provide an overview of major changes in nursing practices or policies relevant to your topic and how these have been addressed (or not) in existing literature.

Organizational Strategy

One of the challenges in writing a Literature Review Chapter is the organization of the material. While a chronological approach can work well for topics that have seen a clear progression of ideas over time, thematic organization is often more useful.

For instance, if your dissertation is about the efficacy of telehealth in nursing, you could organize studies by the patient populations they serve, the types of technologies used, or the outcomes they measure.

Critical Evaluation

A substantive literature review goes beyond summarization; it involves critically evaluating the studies you include. This includes questioning the methodologies, critiquing the conclusions, and considering the implications of these studies for your own research. Did the authors make unwarranted assumptions?

Were the sample sizes sufficiently large? By critically evaluating each piece, you give your reader a comprehensive understanding of your area’s research state.

Link to Research Question

Every piece of literature you review should have a clear link to your research question. Explain how each study you discuss in the literature review informs your research question and how it fits into your conceptual framework.

This will make it clear to your reader why each piece is relevant and how it collectively forms the backdrop against which your own research will be conducted.

Addressing the Gaps

One of the Literature Review Chapter’s most critical functions is to identify the gaps in existing research. These gaps are not just topics that haven’t been covered; they are questions that arise from the existing literature but have not been addressed.

These gaps allow you to contribute something new to your field, so make them explicit.

Concluding Remarks

Toward the end of the Literature Review Chapter, it’s essential to summarize the key findings from the literature you’ve reviewed, discuss their implications for your research, and set the stage for the methodology, analysis, and conclusion chapters that follow.

This is your final opportunity within this chapter to clarify the significance of the problem you’re investigating and justify why your research will provide a valuable contribution.

How do I find Articles for my Literature Review?

Databases like PubMed, CINAHL, and Scopus are invaluable resources for nursing research. Use well-defined search terms, and don’t ignore seminal papers in your field. It is also advisable to consult your advisors or mentors for recommendations.

How Should I Structure My Literature Review?

A well-structured literature review organizes information thematically or methodologically rather than just listing studies. Introduction, methodological considerations, themes, conclusions, and recommendations for further research are common sections.

Example of a Literature Review

Telehealth in Nursing Practice: A Comprehensive Literature Review on Efficacy, Accessibility, and Challenges


The primary focus of this literature review is to understand the effectiveness of telehealth services in improving patient care within the nursing sector. Given the increasing reliance on technology to deliver healthcare services, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative to critically assess the efficacy, accessibility, and quality of telehealth in nursing practice.

Contextual Background

Digital technology has significantly impacted healthcare delivery, introducing telehealth as a new paradigm. Telehealth in nursing has covered several services, from patient monitoring to consultations and follow-up appointments. 

Several legislative acts have been passed to facilitate telehealth, but the utilization remains varied.

Thematic Organization

For ease of understanding, the literature has been organized into three broad themes:

Efficacy of Telehealth Services in Nursing

Accessibility and Patient Satisfaction

Challenges and Barriers to Telehealth Adoption in Nursing

Efficacy of Telehealth Services in Nursing

Studies, such as Smith et al. (2019), have found that telehealth services effectively manage chronic disease. The study demonstrated a 30% reduction in hospital readmissions among heart failure patients through remote patient monitoring. 

Another study by Johnson and Clarke (2020) showed improved diabetes management via telehealth services, particularly in glycemic control.

Critical Evaluation

While these studies suggest telehealth's efficacy, they are limited by small sample sizes and short follow-up periods. More long-term studies are needed to assess the sustained benefits of telehealth.

Accessibility and Patient Satisfaction

The literature suggests a positive correlation between telehealth services and patient satisfaction. Williams et al. (2018) found that 80% of patients using telehealth services reported high satisfaction rates, attributing it to reduced travel time and increased comfort.

Critical Evaluation

However, this theme also raises the issue of the digital divide, as patients in rural or underprivileged areas may not have access to the necessary technology or high-speed internet, as observed by Lee (2021).

Challenges and Barriers to Telehealth Adoption in Nursing

Despite the advantages, telehealth faces several challenges. As noted by Anderson and Smith (2019), from the nursing perspective, there are licensing issues across state lines. Furthermore, there are concerns about patient privacy and data security, as Davis et al. (2020) mentioned.

Critical Evaluation

Policy changes and technology solutions are needed to address these barriers effectively.

Gaps and Conclusion

One evident gap in the existing literature is the lack of focus on the nurse's perspective about the telehealth adoption process. Another is the absence of long-term studies that cover a diverse demographic profile.

Telehealth offers promise in improving patient care and satisfaction within nursing; however, challenges must be addressed. Future research must address these gaps and contribute to policy changes for widespread and effective adoption.

Final Thoughts on Writing Dissertation Literature Reviews

The literature review section of your nursing dissertation is not just a simple summary of previous research. It critically examines the existing literature related to your specific research question.

The literature review identifies gaps in the current knowledge and shows how your research fills these gaps. Essentially, it lays the groundwork for your arguments in your dissertation, providing the context and rationale for your research.

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