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Physician Assistant Capstone Project: PA Capstone Assignment

What is a Literature Review?

In brief, a literature review is "a comprehensive survey of the works published in a particular field of study or line of research, usually over a specific period of time, in the form of an in-depth, critical bibliographic essay or annotated list in which attention is drawn to the most significant works" [1].

A basic literature review in the health sciences "provides an examination of current literature; can cover wide range of subjects at various levels of completeness and comprehensiveness; and may include research findings" [2].

  • A literature review synthesizes information
    • A literature review is not just a summary, but it is a synthesis. This means that it is a re-organization, or reshuffling, of that information with the purpose of, in your case, evaluating sources and advising the reader on an answer to a clinical question.
  • Why read literature reviews?
    • If you have limited time to read the most recent articles, you can read a literature review someone else has already written.
  • Why write literature reviews?
    • On its own, it can be a paper that synthesizes the body of literature on a certain topic that you can share with your colleagues.
    • It can also be a section that is part of a larger paper. When performing research, (and writing a longer paper), your literature review provides you with a solid background for your project. It can provide a rationale for why you are undertaking the specific topic you have chosen to investigate.

What You Have Been Asked To Do...

  • One purpose of this assignment is to gain and understanding (by doing) of how medical research is performed and eventually translated into the standard of care you deliver in your everyday practice.
  • You are not being asked to write a systematic review. Even though a systematic review is the ideal form of a synthesis, doing one is not realistic for this class. Writing a systematic review is an intensive process that requires a lot of time and the collaboration between many professionals.
  • You are, however, being asked to write a synthesis based on a substantial enough number of primary studies (as determined by your capstone faculty advisor) to address a clinical question.
    • ‚ÄčIf you have more than 6 articles that address your question, speak to your faculty capstone adviser.

How the Library Can Help...

  • Topic Selection: we can help you determine if there is enough published primary literature on your topic in order for you to write a substantive review (i.e., checking multiple databases to make sure you're not missing something). You may find yourself revising your topic when you start seeing what is and is not out there in the literature). 
  • Background Section: we can direct you to the large variety of resources you need, including some general reference sources like encyclopedias, textbooks, monographs, seminal articles and peer-reviewed articles so that you can describe the condition you are writing about to your readers, explain the history of medical knowledge about the condition, and set the stage for the aspect of the condition that you will be exploring with your literature review.
  • Methodology Section: we can show you how to document and explain your search strategy including which search engines/ databases you used, your keywords, subject headings, sub-headings, and other controlled vocabulary.  You will also need to explain your inclusion/exclusion criteria and why you chose the type of literature (RCT, case report, literature review, book chapter, systematic review, meta-analysis, etc…) that you ultimately used in your paper.
  • Reference Section: we can point you to resources to properly format your in-text citations, reference list, and appendix in the AMA (American Medical Association) Citation Style. We can also show you tools that automate the process for you.

Topic Selection

  • We can help you determine if there is enough published primary literature on your topic in order for you to write a substantive review. We'll help you formulate a comprehensive search query and check multiple databases to make sure you're not missing something.
  • You may find yourself revising your topic when you start seeing what is and is not out there in the literature. 
  • Research is an iterative process. Your final search strategy will usually be different the than your first one. 
  • Please keep the following in mind:
    • We can help you complete a comprehensive search (i.e. which resources to search including databases like PubMed/MEDLINE, Embase, CINAHL, Cochrane, Trip, Accessss, ClinicalKey, as well as journals, professional association websites, etc...) and what search strategies to use (keywords, phrases, specialized search terms, filters, limits, etc...)
    • We cannot approve your topic.  It is up to your course coordinator and content advisors to tell you if the topic is appropriate (i.e., has enough literature to write about, and if that literature is relevant in scope)

Background Section

  • We can help you find "authoritative" references to include in your paper. 
  • Avoid study aids, text review material, and point-of-care reference tools. While they are often peer-reviewed and provide reliable definitions and information about symptoms, diagnoses, treatment options and more, they are not "formal" or original enough (a primary source) to be used in your academic assignments.
  • You can learn more authoritative background resources on the section of this guide dedicated to this topic. We include examples of good resources to consult.

Methodology Section

  • The methodology section should be the easiest part of the paper you write.  It should mention which resources you used to find your literature, your search terms, and how you screened your results. The way you screened your results could be as simple as limiting yourself to articles that, for example, were in English and published in the last five years. 
  • You may, however, have also chosen to eliminate articles upon reading their abstracts. For example, you may have determined that the quality of the research was not good or that the study only touched on part of what you were discussing, (i.e. compared one of your interventions to another intervention that you are not considering in your paper).
  • This section does not have to be very long. Keep it brief and concise.

Reference Section

  • To  some extent, we can help you to understand how to use the AMA Citation Style when writing your paper.
  • Please keep the following in mind:
    • We can point you to the AMA Citation Style Manual which is available online as an E-book. we can also give you some insight into how to format your reference lists and in-text citations where the AMA Citation Manual is not ver clear (see the tabs about Reference Lists and In-Text Citations). Finally, we can also show you how to use tools (called citation or reference managers) that will automatically format your in-text citations and reference lists for you
    • We cannot individually look at your paper and determine if your citations are correct. If you make an appointment with the writing center (see below), they can help you with that.

Items Cited

  1. Grant MJ, Booth A. A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. Health Information & Libraries Journal. 2009;26(2):91-108. 10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x
  2. Reitz JM. Online Dictionary of Library and Information Science. Published 2004. Accessed June 21, 2019.
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