Review the Literature

This section provides guidance on how to conduct a review of writings and other resources on your selected research topics. It is meant to provide guidance on several different review types to answer clinical questions. This is distinguished from describing the epidemiology of a health condition, describing provincial trends, or describing the pathophysiology of a health condition by reviewing published literature, websites or other sources. It also gives an overview of major types/methods of reviewing the literature and how to choose the method that works best for your topic.

Once you have narrowed down your area of interest and have identified key words that describe the issue, you need to go to the literature.

Using your MACID, you have access to the McMaster Health Science Library. Use your key words to search the literature to see if any studies related to your issue have already been published. This process of discovery serves several purposes: It will let you know what is already known about the topic; how it has been investigated; whether there is an answer available that can be used immediately and whether there are any gaps in the literature; etc.

Deciding on the type of review

Recommended Resources (Basic literature search to explore your area of interest)

  • Presentation: The process of searching the literature for research by Jo-Anne Petropoulos, HHS McMaster Site Librarian, Research Knowledge and Skill Builder [Video | Slides]
  • McMaster resource: Searching the Literature: The Basics – Health Sciences Library

Additional Resources (Resources for advanced literature review methods)

Systematic reviews

Scoping Reviews

Writing a literature review

Critical Appraisal

Recommended Resources

  • Presentation: Critically Appraising Literature by Jennifer Lawson – Research Knowledge and Skill Builder [Video]
  • Journal Article: Majid, U. & Vanstone, M. (2018). Appraising qualitative research for evidence syntheses: a compendium of quality appraisal toolsQualitative health research28(13), 2115-2131.*
  • Checklists:  CASP Checklists – Public Health Resource Unit, NHS, England
    • CASP Checklists are a set of eight critical appraisal tools designed to be used when reading research. They are designed for use with Systematic Reviews, Randomized Controlled Trials, Cohort Studies, Case-Control Studies, Economic Evaluations, Diagnostic Studies, Qualitative studies, and Clinical Prediction Rule.

Additional Resources

  • McMaster Resource: National Collaborating Centre for Methods and Tools
    • Their site has online learning modules, skills assessment tools, and other guides to aid in critical appraisal. They also provide links to useful knowledge repositories of high-quality studies and reviews relevant to public health.
  • External resource: Centre for Evidence Based Medicine – University of Oxford
    • On this site you can find appraisal tools, study designs, levels of evidence, and other resources and downloads for the critical appraisal of different types of medical evidence.

Additional Tools

*DFM faculty members can access full text articles from the McMaster Health Sciences Library using your MacID. To request your MacID, or if you’re having issues, please email Faculty Relations at

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