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This guide brings together Library resources at the University of Melbourne Library, both in print and online, that are relevant to psychological sciences.

Systematic Literature Review

Systematic Literature Review

Systematic Literature Review

 Outlined below is a systematic approach to conducting a literature review using the PICO(T) principle.

Follow the steps to:

  • formulate an answerable question/issue
  • refine concepts and keywords
  • develop search strategies
  • critically appraise literature
  • complete the Research Planner

Step 1: Question Type

Think of an issue then use the list below to determine the type of question it is. Select each heading for a definition and best study type to use in searching.





Step 2: PICO(T) Principle

The PICO(T) principle is a framework in which to formulate a question or issue of interest. Questions should be answerable and refined, so to identify each of the components in the PICO formula. This will allow for keywords to be easily defined and more effective search results returned.

P  Population/Problem

I   Intervention

C  Comparison/Control

O  Outcome

(T) Timeframe

An answerable question would ask: In P how does I compared with C affect the O?

Step 3: Prepare for Searching

Identify the Search Terms

  • Consider what the main concepts of the question are
  • Identify keywords and synonyms

 Combine your search terms using Boolean Operators

AND   Look for articles that include all identified keywords

OR     Look for articles that include any identified keywords

NOT   Exclude articles that contain this specific keyword

Step 4: Effective Searching

MeSH - Medical Subject Headings
Is a controlled vocabulary and is used for the purpose of indexing journals and books. They are pre-determined concepts/terms which describe content in
discipline specific, indexing databases

PubMed, Medline and Cinahl
databases include MeSH Headings or Cinhal Subject Headings, which can also serve as a Thesaurus.
Searching the databases using MeSH terms allows for terms to be searched as a
Major Concept (the search will return only records for which the subject heading is a major point of the article) and also provides the ability to
Explode (expands the subject heading to retrieve all references indexed to that term, plus any narrower terms that are connected)

Discipline specific Databases

Medline:  One of the most acknowledged biomedicine databases, Medline's coverage includes basic research in the biomedical and clinical sciences as well as major health related subjects including nursing and allied health. Its records are indexed using MeSH. PubMed is the publicly accessible version of Medline.

Cochrane Library:   Provides access to a collection of databases that contain high-quality, independent evidence to inform health care decision-making. These databases include: Cochrane Reviews, Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects - DARE (Other Reviews), Clinical Trials and NHS Economic Evaluation Database.

PubMed: PubMed Clinical Queries allows you to find critically appraised information indexed in MEDLINE. PubMed uses a broad definition of systematic reviews. It includes systematic reviews, meta-analyses, reviews of clinical trials, evidence-based medicine, consensus development conferences, and guidelines.

Scopus:  Offers peer-reviewed journals in the scientific, technical, medical and social science fields. An excellent source for locating Authors' works.


Step 5: Critical Appraisal

Critical appraisal is applying a systematic approach to analyse and identify unbiased/biased and valid literature.
A literature review should not be a list summarising each article retrieved. Instead, it should appear as organised sections into themes or concepts, synthesised and evaluated, according to the research question.

Set your criteria to assist in critically appraising the literature e.g.,

  • Does the literature directly relate to the question?
  • What are the strengths and limitations of the literature and how does it contribute to the study?

Read more about Critical Appraisal under the Evidence Based Nursing tab

Use CASP (Critical Appraisal Skills Program) to analyse and critique the literature

Step 6: Research Planner

Use the Research Planner to assist in developing a recordable framework for the Literature Review

Tools to Manage References

Students are required to use APA Style referencing

      Recite - APA 

EndNote is software that allows you to record, organise and use references and PDF files. It assists in producing bibliographies and will generate citations and bibliographies in specific styles (e.g. APA 6th) into word documents. Read more about EndNote