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STARLITE refers to the standards for reporting literature searches (Sampling strategy, Type of study, Approaches, Range of years, Limits, Inclusion and exclusions, Terms used, Electronic sources)

S= Sampling Strategy

  • Comprehensive: attempts to identify all relevant studies
  • Selective: attempts to identify all relevant studies but only within a specific limit
  • Purposive: samples from specific disciplines, years, journals

T= Type of Study

  • Fully reported: describes actual study types [e.g., grounded theory] or study designs to be included; 
  • Partially reported: uses an ‘‘umbrella’’ category such as ‘‘qualitative studies’’ without defining what this means

A: Approaches

  • Approaches that go beyond electronic subject searches like hand-searching or citation snowballing

R= Range of Years

  • Fully Reported: includes start and end dates with justification for time period chosen; 
  • Partially reported: includes start and end dates but only determined by available coverage of databases

L= LImits

  •  Functional limits that are applied for logistic reasons but do not alter the topic conceptually (e.g., human, English etc.)

I= Inclusion and exclusions

  • Conceptual limitations that mediate the scope of the topic area such as geographical location, setting, or a specific focus of study

T=Terms used

  • Fully present: example of a sample search strategy from one or more of the main database; 
  • Partially present: reports terminology used but without evidence of search syntax and operators

E=Electronic sources

  • Reports databases used and, search platforms used

Booth A. ‘‘Brimful of STARLITE’’: toward standards for reporting literature searches. J Med Libr Assoc 2006 Oct;94(4):421–9, e20

Example of Search Statement for Methods Section- Search Strategy (from Curtin Universtity)

Multiple database searches were conducted to identify recent publications.

Results were limited by……..

All identified documents were examined and those that were relevant were retrieved for inclusion in the review. Reference lists and citations of retrieved documents were examined to identify additional publications. A summary of search terms and databases searched follows.



Why Use Literature Reviews

Any research begins with a question.  Literature reviews are an important place to start your research because:

  • The give an overview/summary of the research that has been done in a specific field
  • They point out key points of current knowledge
  • List seminal articles of the key researchers in the field.

Different Styles of Literature Reviews

Keep in mind that there is more than one way to do literature review. Here are two common examples you will see in CINAHL

1. Papers that inclue a literature review section just after the introduction. These are articles that include a literature review to bring the reader up to speed on past research and then usually introduce their own work.

Changing Essay Writing in Undergraduate Nursing Education Through Action Research

2.    Papers that are entirely literature review from start to finish. These are articles that examine the past literature and bring the reader up to date on a particular concept or topic.

General nurses' experiences of end-of-life care in the acute hospital setting: a literature review

Finding Grey Literature

Grey Literature

Grey literature is not found in "traditional publishing cycles". Grey literature is produced by universities, government agencies and non profits to name a few.

Finding the Hard to Find: searching for Grey Literature (2006) by Dean Giustini UBC Biomedical Librarian

Grey Literature for the Health Sciences. UBC Library

Grey Matters (CADTH)


Tips for Searching for Reviews in Databases


  • choose Review or Systematic Review as Publication Type
  • Type in Literature Review as a keyword

Academic Search Premier and HealthSource Nursing

  • search Literature Reviews in the Subject Terms field on the search page


  • EBM- Cochrane databases include the most reviews, systematic reviews, and reviews of effects.
  • open the limits tab and select review or stytematic review after you have done your inital search

Medline Full Text

  • from the Advanced Search page, choose Review Article box
  • You can also choose Nursing Journals from the Subsets box.
  • choose Classical Article in the Publication Type  limit box to access articles which are identified as a classic/seminal article for your topic.
  • Try these tips separatley if you are getting no results

In all these databases:

  • for quantitative studies try the keyword meta-analysis and for qualitative studies try meta-synthesis
  • add literature review* as a search term along with your subject
  • try searching the term literature in the title field

How to do a Literature Review

Search Strategy Example for a Qualitative Systematic Review


Here is an example search strategy from Cochrane for the following research question:

Is cognitive behaviour therapy a useful intervention in the prevention of postnatal depression?

The strategy will search for qualitative systematic reviews of Condition OR Intervention. 

  1. qualitative systematic review* OR (systematic review AND qualitative)
  2. evidence synthesis OR realist synthesis
  3. qualitative AND synthesis
  4. meta-synthesis* OR meta synthesis* OR metasynthesis
  5. meta-ethnograph* OR metaethnograph* OR meta ethnograph*
  6. meta-study OR metastudy OR meta study
  7. OR/1-6 {combining qualitative systematic review synonyms}
  8. 7 AND postnatal depression {combining review terms 1-6 with Condition}
  9. 7 AND cognitive behaviour therapy {combining review terms 1-6 with Intervention}
  10. 8 OR 9 {Reviews of postnatal depression or  reviews of cognitive behaviour therapy}

Booth A. Chapter 3: Searching for Studies. In: Noyes J, Booth A, Hannes K, Harden A, Harris J, Lewin S, Lockwood C (editors), Supplementary Guidance for Inclusion of Qualitative Research in Cochrane Systematic Reviews of Interventions.

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