methodological literature review sample

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What is a Literature Review? How to Write It (with Examples)

literature review

A literature review is a critical analysis and synthesis of existing research on a particular topic. It provides an overview of the current state of knowledge, identifies gaps, and highlights key findings in the literature. 1 The purpose of a literature review is to situate your own research within the context of existing scholarship, demonstrating your understanding of the topic and showing how your work contributes to the ongoing conversation in the field. Learning how to write a literature review is a critical tool for successful research. Your ability to summarize and synthesize prior research pertaining to a certain topic demonstrates your grasp on the topic of study, and assists in the learning process. 

Table of Contents

  • What is the purpose of literature review? 
  • a. Habitat Loss and Species Extinction: 
  • b. Range Shifts and Phenological Changes: 
  • c. Ocean Acidification and Coral Reefs: 
  • d. Adaptive Strategies and Conservation Efforts: 

How to write a good literature review 

  • Choose a Topic and Define the Research Question: 
  • Decide on the Scope of Your Review: 
  • Select Databases for Searches: 
  • Conduct Searches and Keep Track: 
  • Review the Literature: 
  • Organize and Write Your Literature Review: 
  • How to write a literature review faster with Paperpal? 
  • Frequently asked questions 

What is a literature review?

A well-conducted literature review demonstrates the researcher’s familiarity with the existing literature, establishes the context for their own research, and contributes to scholarly conversations on the topic. One of the purposes of a literature review is also to help researchers avoid duplicating previous work and ensure that their research is informed by and builds upon the existing body of knowledge.

methodological literature review sample

What is the purpose of literature review?

A literature review serves several important purposes within academic and research contexts. Here are some key objectives and functions of a literature review: 2  

1. Contextualizing the Research Problem: The literature review provides a background and context for the research problem under investigation. It helps to situate the study within the existing body of knowledge. 

2. Identifying Gaps in Knowledge: By identifying gaps, contradictions, or areas requiring further research, the researcher can shape the research question and justify the significance of the study. This is crucial for ensuring that the new research contributes something novel to the field. 

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3. Understanding Theoretical and Conceptual Frameworks: Literature reviews help researchers gain an understanding of the theoretical and conceptual frameworks used in previous studies. This aids in the development of a theoretical framework for the current research. 

4. Providing Methodological Insights: Another purpose of literature reviews is that it allows researchers to learn about the methodologies employed in previous studies. This can help in choosing appropriate research methods for the current study and avoiding pitfalls that others may have encountered. 

5. Establishing Credibility: A well-conducted literature review demonstrates the researcher’s familiarity with existing scholarship, establishing their credibility and expertise in the field. It also helps in building a solid foundation for the new research. 

6. Informing Hypotheses or Research Questions: The literature review guides the formulation of hypotheses or research questions by highlighting relevant findings and areas of uncertainty in existing literature. 

Literature review example

Let’s delve deeper with a literature review example: Let’s say your literature review is about the impact of climate change on biodiversity. You might format your literature review into sections such as the effects of climate change on habitat loss and species extinction, phenological changes, and marine biodiversity. Each section would then summarize and analyze relevant studies in those areas, highlighting key findings and identifying gaps in the research. The review would conclude by emphasizing the need for further research on specific aspects of the relationship between climate change and biodiversity. The following literature review template provides a glimpse into the recommended literature review structure and content, demonstrating how research findings are organized around specific themes within a broader topic. 

Literature Review on Climate Change Impacts on Biodiversity:

Climate change is a global phenomenon with far-reaching consequences, including significant impacts on biodiversity. This literature review synthesizes key findings from various studies: 

a. Habitat Loss and Species Extinction:

Climate change-induced alterations in temperature and precipitation patterns contribute to habitat loss, affecting numerous species (Thomas et al., 2004). The review discusses how these changes increase the risk of extinction, particularly for species with specific habitat requirements. 

b. Range Shifts and Phenological Changes:

Observations of range shifts and changes in the timing of biological events (phenology) are documented in response to changing climatic conditions (Parmesan & Yohe, 2003). These shifts affect ecosystems and may lead to mismatches between species and their resources. 

c. Ocean Acidification and Coral Reefs:

The review explores the impact of climate change on marine biodiversity, emphasizing ocean acidification’s threat to coral reefs (Hoegh-Guldberg et al., 2007). Changes in pH levels negatively affect coral calcification, disrupting the delicate balance of marine ecosystems. 

d. Adaptive Strategies and Conservation Efforts:

Recognizing the urgency of the situation, the literature review discusses various adaptive strategies adopted by species and conservation efforts aimed at mitigating the impacts of climate change on biodiversity (Hannah et al., 2007). It emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary approaches for effective conservation planning. 

methodological literature review sample

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Writing a literature review involves summarizing and synthesizing existing research on a particular topic. A good literature review format should include the following elements. 

Introduction: The introduction sets the stage for your literature review, providing context and introducing the main focus of your review. 

  • Opening Statement: Begin with a general statement about the broader topic and its significance in the field. 
  • Scope and Purpose: Clearly define the scope of your literature review. Explain the specific research question or objective you aim to address. 
  • Organizational Framework: Briefly outline the structure of your literature review, indicating how you will categorize and discuss the existing research. 
  • Significance of the Study: Highlight why your literature review is important and how it contributes to the understanding of the chosen topic. 
  • Thesis Statement: Conclude the introduction with a concise thesis statement that outlines the main argument or perspective you will develop in the body of the literature review. 

Body: The body of the literature review is where you provide a comprehensive analysis of existing literature, grouping studies based on themes, methodologies, or other relevant criteria. 

  • Organize by Theme or Concept: Group studies that share common themes, concepts, or methodologies. Discuss each theme or concept in detail, summarizing key findings and identifying gaps or areas of disagreement. 
  • Critical Analysis: Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each study. Discuss the methodologies used, the quality of evidence, and the overall contribution of each work to the understanding of the topic. 
  • Synthesis of Findings: Synthesize the information from different studies to highlight trends, patterns, or areas of consensus in the literature. 
  • Identification of Gaps: Discuss any gaps or limitations in the existing research and explain how your review contributes to filling these gaps. 
  • Transition between Sections: Provide smooth transitions between different themes or concepts to maintain the flow of your literature review. 

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Conclusion: The conclusion of your literature review should summarize the main findings, highlight the contributions of the review, and suggest avenues for future research. 

  • Summary of Key Findings: Recap the main findings from the literature and restate how they contribute to your research question or objective. 
  • Contributions to the Field: Discuss the overall contribution of your literature review to the existing knowledge in the field. 
  • Implications and Applications: Explore the practical implications of the findings and suggest how they might impact future research or practice. 
  • Recommendations for Future Research: Identify areas that require further investigation and propose potential directions for future research in the field. 
  • Final Thoughts: Conclude with a final reflection on the importance of your literature review and its relevance to the broader academic community. 

what is a literature review

Conducting a literature review

Conducting a literature review is an essential step in research that involves reviewing and analyzing existing literature on a specific topic. It’s important to know how to do a literature review effectively, so here are the steps to follow: 1  

Choose a Topic and Define the Research Question:

  • Select a topic that is relevant to your field of study. 
  • Clearly define your research question or objective. Determine what specific aspect of the topic do you want to explore? 

Decide on the Scope of Your Review:

  • Determine the timeframe for your literature review. Are you focusing on recent developments, or do you want a historical overview? 
  • Consider the geographical scope. Is your review global, or are you focusing on a specific region? 
  • Define the inclusion and exclusion criteria. What types of sources will you include? Are there specific types of studies or publications you will exclude? 

Select Databases for Searches:

  • Identify relevant databases for your field. Examples include PubMed, IEEE Xplore, Scopus, Web of Science, and Google Scholar. 
  • Consider searching in library catalogs, institutional repositories, and specialized databases related to your topic. 

Conduct Searches and Keep Track:

  • Develop a systematic search strategy using keywords, Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT), and other search techniques. 
  • Record and document your search strategy for transparency and replicability. 
  • Keep track of the articles, including publication details, abstracts, and links. Use citation management tools like EndNote, Zotero, or Mendeley to organize your references. 

Review the Literature:

  • Evaluate the relevance and quality of each source. Consider the methodology, sample size, and results of studies. 
  • Organize the literature by themes or key concepts. Identify patterns, trends, and gaps in the existing research. 
  • Summarize key findings and arguments from each source. Compare and contrast different perspectives. 
  • Identify areas where there is a consensus in the literature and where there are conflicting opinions. 
  • Provide critical analysis and synthesis of the literature. What are the strengths and weaknesses of existing research? 

Organize and Write Your Literature Review:

  • Literature review outline should be based on themes, chronological order, or methodological approaches. 
  • Write a clear and coherent narrative that synthesizes the information gathered. 
  • Use proper citations for each source and ensure consistency in your citation style (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.). 
  • Conclude your literature review by summarizing key findings, identifying gaps, and suggesting areas for future research. 

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How to write a literature review faster with Paperpal?

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Here’s how to use the Research feature:  

  • Ask a question: Get started with a new document on Click on the “Research” feature and type your question in plain English. Paperpal will scour over 250 million research articles, including conference papers and preprints, to provide you with accurate insights and citations. 
  • Review and Save: Paperpal summarizes the information, while citing sources and listing relevant reads. You can quickly scan the results to identify relevant references and save these directly to your built-in citations library for later access. 
  • Cite with Confidence: Paperpal makes it easy to incorporate relevant citations and references into your writing, ensuring your arguments are well-supported by credible sources. This translates to a polished, well-researched literature review. 

The literature review sample and detailed advice on writing and conducting a review will help you produce a well-structured report. But remember that a good literature review is an ongoing process, and it may be necessary to revisit and update it as your research progresses. By combining effortless research with an easy citation process, Paperpal Research streamlines the literature review process and empowers you to write faster and with more confidence. Try Paperpal Research now and see for yourself.  

Frequently asked questions

A literature review is a critical and comprehensive analysis of existing literature (published and unpublished works) on a specific topic or research question and provides a synthesis of the current state of knowledge in a particular field. A well-conducted literature review is crucial for researchers to build upon existing knowledge, avoid duplication of efforts, and contribute to the advancement of their field. It also helps researchers situate their work within a broader context and facilitates the development of a sound theoretical and conceptual framework for their studies.

Literature review is a crucial component of research writing, providing a solid background for a research paper’s investigation. The aim is to keep professionals up to date by providing an understanding of ongoing developments within a specific field, including research methods, and experimental techniques used in that field, and present that knowledge in the form of a written report. Also, the depth and breadth of the literature review emphasizes the credibility of the scholar in his or her field.  

Before writing a literature review, it’s essential to undertake several preparatory steps to ensure that your review is well-researched, organized, and focused. This includes choosing a topic of general interest to you and doing exploratory research on that topic, writing an annotated bibliography, and noting major points, especially those that relate to the position you have taken on the topic. 

Literature reviews and academic research papers are essential components of scholarly work but serve different purposes within the academic realm. 3 A literature review aims to provide a foundation for understanding the current state of research on a particular topic, identify gaps or controversies, and lay the groundwork for future research. Therefore, it draws heavily from existing academic sources, including books, journal articles, and other scholarly publications. In contrast, an academic research paper aims to present new knowledge, contribute to the academic discourse, and advance the understanding of a specific research question. Therefore, it involves a mix of existing literature (in the introduction and literature review sections) and original data or findings obtained through research methods. 

Literature reviews are essential components of academic and research papers, and various strategies can be employed to conduct them effectively. If you want to know how to write a literature review for a research paper, here are four common approaches that are often used by researchers.  Chronological Review: This strategy involves organizing the literature based on the chronological order of publication. It helps to trace the development of a topic over time, showing how ideas, theories, and research have evolved.  Thematic Review: Thematic reviews focus on identifying and analyzing themes or topics that cut across different studies. Instead of organizing the literature chronologically, it is grouped by key themes or concepts, allowing for a comprehensive exploration of various aspects of the topic.  Methodological Review: This strategy involves organizing the literature based on the research methods employed in different studies. It helps to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of various methodologies and allows the reader to evaluate the reliability and validity of the research findings.  Theoretical Review: A theoretical review examines the literature based on the theoretical frameworks used in different studies. This approach helps to identify the key theories that have been applied to the topic and assess their contributions to the understanding of the subject.  It’s important to note that these strategies are not mutually exclusive, and a literature review may combine elements of more than one approach. The choice of strategy depends on the research question, the nature of the literature available, and the goals of the review. Additionally, other strategies, such as integrative reviews or systematic reviews, may be employed depending on the specific requirements of the research.

The literature review format can vary depending on the specific publication guidelines. However, there are some common elements and structures that are often followed. Here is a general guideline for the format of a literature review:  Introduction:   Provide an overview of the topic.  Define the scope and purpose of the literature review.  State the research question or objective.  Body:   Organize the literature by themes, concepts, or chronology.  Critically analyze and evaluate each source.  Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the studies.  Highlight any methodological limitations or biases.  Identify patterns, connections, or contradictions in the existing research.  Conclusion:   Summarize the key points discussed in the literature review.  Highlight the research gap.  Address the research question or objective stated in the introduction.  Highlight the contributions of the review and suggest directions for future research.

Both annotated bibliographies and literature reviews involve the examination of scholarly sources. While annotated bibliographies focus on individual sources with brief annotations, literature reviews provide a more in-depth, integrated, and comprehensive analysis of existing literature on a specific topic. The key differences are as follows: 

 Annotated Bibliography Literature Review 
Purpose List of citations of books, articles, and other sources with a brief description (annotation) of each source. Comprehensive and critical analysis of existing literature on a specific topic. 
Focus Summary and evaluation of each source, including its relevance, methodology, and key findings. Provides an overview of the current state of knowledge on a particular subject and identifies gaps, trends, and patterns in existing literature. 
Structure Each citation is followed by a concise paragraph (annotation) that describes the source’s content, methodology, and its contribution to the topic. The literature review is organized thematically or chronologically and involves a synthesis of the findings from different sources to build a narrative or argument. 
Length Typically 100-200 words Length of literature review ranges from a few pages to several chapters 
Independence Each source is treated separately, with less emphasis on synthesizing the information across sources. The writer synthesizes information from multiple sources to present a cohesive overview of the topic. 


  • Denney, A. S., & Tewksbury, R. (2013). How to write a literature review.  Journal of criminal justice education ,  24 (2), 218-234. 
  • Pan, M. L. (2016).  Preparing literature reviews: Qualitative and quantitative approaches . Taylor & Francis. 
  • Cantero, C. (2019). How to write a literature review.  San José State University Writing Center . 

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methodological literature review sample

Which review is that? A guide to review types

  • Which review is that?
  • Review Comparison Chart
  • Decision Tool
  • Critical Review
  • Integrative Review
  • Narrative Review
  • State of the Art Review
  • Narrative Summary
  • Systematic Review
  • Meta-analysis
  • Comparative Effectiveness Review
  • Diagnostic Systematic Review
  • Network Meta-analysis
  • Prognostic Review
  • Psychometric Review
  • Review of Economic Evaluations
  • Systematic Review of Epidemiology Studies
  • Living Systematic Reviews
  • Umbrella Review
  • Review of Reviews
  • Rapid Review
  • Rapid Evidence Assessment
  • Rapid Realist Review
  • Qualitative Evidence Synthesis
  • Qualitative Interpretive Meta-synthesis
  • Qualitative Meta-synthesis
  • Qualitative Research Synthesis
  • Framework Synthesis - Best-fit Framework Synthesis
  • Meta-aggregation
  • Meta-ethnography
  • Meta-interpretation
  • Meta-narrative Review
  • Meta-summary
  • Thematic Synthesis
  • Mixed Methods Synthesis
  • Narrative Synthesis
  • Bayesian Meta-analysis
  • EPPI-Centre Review
  • Critical Interpretive Synthesis
  • Realist Synthesis - Realist Review
  • Scoping Review
  • Mapping Review
  • Systematised Review
  • Concept Synthesis
  • Expert Opinion - Policy Review
  • Technology Assessment Review

Methodological Review

  • Systematic Search and Review

A methodological review is a type of systematic secondary research (i.e., research synthesis) which focuses on summarising the state-of-the-art methodological practices of research in a substantive field or topic" (Chong et al, 2021).

Methodological reviews "can be performed to examine any methodological issues relating to the design, conduct and review of research studies and also evidence syntheses". Munn et al, 2018)

Further Reading/Resources

Clarke, M., Oxman, A. D., Paulsen, E., Higgins, J. P. T., & Green, S. (2011). Appendix A: Guide to the contents of a Cochrane Methodology protocol and review. Cochrane Handbook for systematic reviews of interventions . Full Text PDF

Aguinis, H., Ramani, R. S., & Alabduljader, N. (2023). Best-Practice Recommendations for Producers, Evaluators, and Users of Methodological Literature Reviews. Organizational Research Methods, 26(1), 46-76. Full Text

Jha, C. K., & Kolekar, M. H. (2021). Electrocardiogram data compression techniques for cardiac healthcare systems: A methodological review. IRBM . Full Text

References Munn, Z., Stern, C., Aromataris, E., Lockwood, C., & Jordan, Z. (2018). What kind of systematic review should I conduct? A proposed typology and guidance for systematic reviewers in the medical and health sciences. BMC medical research methodology , 18 (1), 1-9. Full Text Chong, S. W., & Reinders, H. (2021). A methodological review of qualitative research syntheses in CALL: The state-of-the-art. System , 103 , 102646. Full Text

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  • What is a Literature Review? | Guide, Template, & Examples

What is a Literature Review? | Guide, Template, & Examples

Published on 22 February 2022 by Shona McCombes . Revised on 7 June 2022.

What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research.

There are five key steps to writing a literature review:

  • Search for relevant literature
  • Evaluate sources
  • Identify themes, debates and gaps
  • Outline the structure
  • Write your literature review

A good literature review doesn’t just summarise sources – it analyses, synthesises, and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.

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Table of contents

Why write a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1: search for relevant literature, step 2: evaluate and select sources, step 3: identify themes, debates and gaps, step 4: outline your literature review’s structure, step 5: write your literature review, frequently asked questions about literature reviews, introduction.

  • Quick Run-through
  • Step 1 & 2

When you write a dissertation or thesis, you will have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:

  • Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and scholarly context
  • Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
  • Position yourself in relation to other researchers and theorists
  • Show how your dissertation addresses a gap or contributes to a debate

You might also have to write a literature review as a stand-alone assignment. In this case, the purpose is to evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of scholarly debates around a topic.

The content will look slightly different in each case, but the process of conducting a literature review follows the same steps. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.

Literature review guide

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methodological literature review sample

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Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.

  • Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
  • Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
  • Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
  • Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)

You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.

Download Word doc Download Google doc

Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .

If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research objectives and questions .

If you are writing a literature review as a stand-alone assignment, you will have to choose a focus and develop a central question to direct your search. Unlike a dissertation research question, this question has to be answerable without collecting original data. You should be able to answer it based only on a review of existing publications.

Make a list of keywords

Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research topic. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list if you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.

  • Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
  • Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
  • Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth

Search for relevant sources

Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some databases to search for journals and articles include:

  • Your university’s library catalogue
  • Google Scholar
  • Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
  • Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
  • EconLit (economics)
  • Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)

You can use boolean operators to help narrow down your search:

Read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.

To identify the most important publications on your topic, take note of recurring citations. If the same authors, books or articles keep appearing in your reading, make sure to seek them out.

You probably won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on the topic – you’ll have to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your questions.

For each publication, ask yourself:

  • What question or problem is the author addressing?
  • What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
  • What are the key theories, models and methods? Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
  • What are the results and conclusions of the study?
  • How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
  • How does the publication contribute to your understanding of the topic? What are its key insights and arguments?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?

Make sure the sources you use are credible, and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.

You can find out how many times an article has been cited on Google Scholar – a high citation count means the article has been influential in the field, and should certainly be included in your literature review.

The scope of your review will depend on your topic and discipline: in the sciences you usually only review recent literature, but in the humanities you might take a long historical perspective (for example, to trace how a concept has changed in meaning over time).

Remember that you can use our template to summarise and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using!

Take notes and cite your sources

As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.

It’s important to keep track of your sources with references to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography, where you compile full reference information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.

You can use our free APA Reference Generator for quick, correct, consistent citations.

To begin organising your literature review’s argument and structure, you need to understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:

  • Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
  • Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
  • Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
  • Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
  • Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?

This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.

  • Most research has focused on young women.
  • There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
  • But there is still a lack of robust research on highly-visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat – this is a gap that you could address in your own research.

There are various approaches to organising the body of a literature review. You should have a rough idea of your strategy before you start writing.

Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).


The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarising sources in order.

Try to analyse patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.

If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organise your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.

For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.


If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:

  • Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources


A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.

You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.

Like any other academic text, your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.

The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.

If you are writing the literature review as part of your dissertation or thesis, reiterate your central problem or research question and give a brief summary of the scholarly context. You can emphasise the timeliness of the topic (“many recent studies have focused on the problem of x”) or highlight a gap in the literature (“while there has been much research on x, few researchers have taken y into consideration”).

Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.

As you write, make sure to follow these tips:

  • Summarise and synthesise: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole.
  • Analyse and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers – add your own interpretations, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole.
  • Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources.
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transitions and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts.

In the conclusion, you should summarise the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasise their significance.

If the literature review is part of your dissertation or thesis, reiterate how your research addresses gaps and contributes new knowledge, or discuss how you have drawn on existing theories and methods to build a framework for your research. This can lead directly into your methodology section.

A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .

It is often written as part of a dissertation , thesis, research paper , or proposal .

There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:

  • To familiarise yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
  • To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
  • To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
  • To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
  • To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic

Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.

The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your  dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .

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How To Write A Literature Review - A Complete Guide

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Table of Contents

A literature review is much more than just another section in your research paper. It forms the very foundation of your research. It is a formal piece of writing where you analyze the existing theoretical framework, principles, and assumptions and use that as a base to shape your approach to the research question.

Curating and drafting a solid literature review section not only lends more credibility to your research paper but also makes your research tighter and better focused. But, writing literature reviews is a difficult task. It requires extensive reading, plus you have to consider market trends and technological and political changes, which tend to change in the blink of an eye.

Now streamline your literature review process with the help of SciSpace Copilot. With this AI research assistant, you can efficiently synthesize and analyze a vast amount of information, identify key themes and trends, and uncover gaps in the existing research. Get real-time explanations, summaries, and answers to your questions for the paper you're reviewing, making navigating and understanding the complex literature landscape easier.

Perform Literature reviews using SciSpace Copilot

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore everything from the definition of a literature review, its appropriate length, various types of literature reviews, and how to write one.

What is a literature review?

A literature review is a collation of survey, research, critical evaluation, and assessment of the existing literature in a preferred domain.

Eminent researcher and academic Arlene Fink, in her book Conducting Research Literature Reviews , defines it as the following:

“A literature review surveys books, scholarly articles, and any other sources relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory, and by so doing, provides a description, summary, and critical evaluation of these works in relation to the research problem being investigated.

Literature reviews are designed to provide an overview of sources you have explored while researching a particular topic, and to demonstrate to your readers how your research fits within a larger field of study.”

Simply put, a literature review can be defined as a critical discussion of relevant pre-existing research around your research question and carving out a definitive place for your study in the existing body of knowledge. Literature reviews can be presented in multiple ways: a section of an article, the whole research paper itself, or a chapter of your thesis.

A literature review paper

A literature review does function as a summary of sources, but it also allows you to analyze further, interpret, and examine the stated theories, methods, viewpoints, and, of course, the gaps in the existing content.

As an author, you can discuss and interpret the research question and its various aspects and debate your adopted methods to support the claim.

What is the purpose of a literature review?

A literature review is meant to help your readers understand the relevance of your research question and where it fits within the existing body of knowledge. As a researcher, you should use it to set the context, build your argument, and establish the need for your study.

What is the importance of a literature review?

The literature review is a critical part of research papers because it helps you:

  • Gain an in-depth understanding of your research question and the surrounding area
  • Convey that you have a thorough understanding of your research area and are up-to-date with the latest changes and advancements
  • Establish how your research is connected or builds on the existing body of knowledge and how it could contribute to further research
  • Elaborate on the validity and suitability of your theoretical framework and research methodology
  • Identify and highlight gaps and shortcomings in the existing body of knowledge and how things need to change
  • Convey to readers how your study is different or how it contributes to the research area

How long should a literature review be?

Ideally, the literature review should take up 15%-40% of the total length of your manuscript. So, if you have a 10,000-word research paper, the minimum word count could be 1500.

Your literature review format depends heavily on the kind of manuscript you are writing — an entire chapter in case of doctoral theses, a part of the introductory section in a research article, to a full-fledged review article that examines the previously published research on a topic.

Another determining factor is the type of research you are doing. The literature review section tends to be longer for secondary research projects than primary research projects.

What are the different types of literature reviews?

All literature reviews are not the same. There are a variety of possible approaches that you can take. It all depends on the type of research you are pursuing.

Here are the different types of literature reviews:

Argumentative review

It is called an argumentative review when you carefully present literature that only supports or counters a specific argument or premise to establish a viewpoint.

Integrative review

It is a type of literature review focused on building a comprehensive understanding of a topic by combining available theoretical frameworks and empirical evidence.

Methodological review

This approach delves into the ''how'' and the ''what" of the research question —  you cannot look at the outcome in isolation; you should also review the methodology used.

Systematic review

This form consists of an overview of existing evidence pertinent to a clearly formulated research question, which uses pre-specified and standardized methods to identify and critically appraise relevant research and collect, report, and analyze data from the studies included in the review.

Meta-analysis review

Meta-analysis uses statistical methods to summarize the results of independent studies. By combining information from all relevant studies, meta-analysis can provide more precise estimates of the effects than those derived from the individual studies included within a review.

Historical review

Historical literature reviews focus on examining research throughout a period, often starting with the first time an issue, concept, theory, or phenomenon emerged in the literature, then tracing its evolution within the scholarship of a discipline. The purpose is to place research in a historical context to show familiarity with state-of-the-art developments and identify future research's likely directions.

Theoretical Review

This form aims to examine the corpus of theory accumulated regarding an issue, concept, theory, and phenomenon. The theoretical literature review helps to establish what theories exist, the relationships between them, the degree the existing approaches have been investigated, and to develop new hypotheses to be tested.

Scoping Review

The Scoping Review is often used at the beginning of an article, dissertation, or research proposal. It is conducted before the research to highlight gaps in the existing body of knowledge and explains why the project should be greenlit.

State-of-the-Art Review

The State-of-the-Art review is conducted periodically, focusing on the most recent research. It describes what is currently known, understood, or agreed upon regarding the research topic and highlights where there are still disagreements.

Can you use the first person in a literature review?

When writing literature reviews, you should avoid the usage of first-person pronouns. It means that instead of "I argue that" or "we argue that," the appropriate expression would be "this research paper argues that."

Do you need an abstract for a literature review?

Ideally, yes. It is always good to have a condensed summary that is self-contained and independent of the rest of your review. As for how to draft one, you can follow the same fundamental idea when preparing an abstract for a literature review. It should also include:

  • The research topic and your motivation behind selecting it
  • A one-sentence thesis statement
  • An explanation of the kinds of literature featured in the review
  • Summary of what you've learned
  • Conclusions you drew from the literature you reviewed
  • Potential implications and future scope for research

Here's an example of the abstract of a literature review


Is a literature review written in the past tense?

Yes, the literature review should ideally be written in the past tense. You should not use the present or future tense when writing one. The exceptions are when you have statements describing events that happened earlier than the literature you are reviewing or events that are currently occurring; then, you can use the past perfect or present perfect tenses.

How many sources for a literature review?

There are multiple approaches to deciding how many sources to include in a literature review section. The first approach would be to look level you are at as a researcher. For instance, a doctoral thesis might need 60+ sources. In contrast, you might only need to refer to 5-15 sources at the undergraduate level.

The second approach is based on the kind of literature review you are doing — whether it is merely a chapter of your paper or if it is a self-contained paper in itself. When it is just a chapter, sources should equal the total number of pages in your article's body. In the second scenario, you need at least three times as many sources as there are pages in your work.

Quick tips on how to write a literature review

To know how to write a literature review, you must clearly understand its impact and role in establishing your work as substantive research material.

You need to follow the below-mentioned steps, to write a literature review:

  • Outline the purpose behind the literature review
  • Search relevant literature
  • Examine and assess the relevant resources
  • Discover connections by drawing deep insights from the resources
  • Structure planning to write a good literature review

1. Outline and identify the purpose of  a literature review

As a first step on how to write a literature review, you must know what the research question or topic is and what shape you want your literature review to take. Ensure you understand the research topic inside out, or else seek clarifications. You must be able to the answer below questions before you start:

  • How many sources do I need to include?
  • What kind of sources should I analyze?
  • How much should I critically evaluate each source?
  • Should I summarize, synthesize or offer a critique of the sources?
  • Do I need to include any background information or definitions?

Additionally, you should know that the narrower your research topic is, the swifter it will be for you to restrict the number of sources to be analyzed.

2. Search relevant literature

Dig deeper into search engines to discover what has already been published around your chosen topic. Make sure you thoroughly go through appropriate reference sources like books, reports, journal articles, government docs, and web-based resources.

You must prepare a list of keywords and their different variations. You can start your search from any library’s catalog, provided you are an active member of that institution. The exact keywords can be extended to widen your research over other databases and academic search engines like:

  • Google Scholar
  • Microsoft Academic

Besides, it is not advisable to go through every resource word by word. Alternatively, what you can do is you can start by reading the abstract and then decide whether that source is relevant to your research or not.

Additionally, you must spend surplus time assessing the quality and relevance of resources. It would help if you tried preparing a list of citations to ensure that there lies no repetition of authors, publications, or articles in the literature review.

3. Examine and assess the sources

It is nearly impossible for you to go through every detail in the research article. So rather than trying to fetch every detail, you have to analyze and decide which research sources resemble closest and appear relevant to your chosen domain.

While analyzing the sources, you should look to find out answers to questions like:

  • What question or problem has the author been describing and debating?
  • What is the definition of critical aspects?
  • How well the theories, approach, and methodology have been explained?
  • Whether the research theory used some conventional or new innovative approach?
  • How relevant are the key findings of the work?
  • In what ways does it relate to other sources on the same topic?
  • What challenges does this research paper pose to the existing theory
  • What are the possible contributions or benefits it adds to the subject domain?

Be always mindful that you refer only to credible and authentic resources. It would be best if you always take references from different publications to validate your theory.

Always keep track of important information or data you can present in your literature review right from the beginning. It will help steer your path from any threats of plagiarism and also make it easier to curate an annotated bibliography or reference section.

4. Discover connections

At this stage, you must start deciding on the argument and structure of your literature review. To accomplish this, you must discover and identify the relations and connections between various resources while drafting your abstract.

A few aspects that you should be aware of while writing a literature review include:

  • Rise to prominence: Theories and methods that have gained reputation and supporters over time.
  • Constant scrutiny: Concepts or theories that repeatedly went under examination.
  • Contradictions and conflicts: Theories, both the supporting and the contradictory ones, for the research topic.
  • Knowledge gaps: What exactly does it fail to address, and how to bridge them with further research?
  • Influential resources: Significant research projects available that have been upheld as milestones or perhaps, something that can modify the current trends

Once you join the dots between various past research works, it will be easier for you to draw a conclusion and identify your contribution to the existing knowledge base.

5. Structure planning to write a good literature review

There exist different ways towards planning and executing the structure of a literature review. The format of a literature review varies and depends upon the length of the research.

Like any other research paper, the literature review format must contain three sections: introduction, body, and conclusion. The goals and objectives of the research question determine what goes inside these three sections.

Nevertheless, a good literature review can be structured according to the chronological, thematic, methodological, or theoretical framework approach.

Literature review samples

1. Standalone


2. As a section of a research paper


How SciSpace Discover makes literature review a breeze?

SciSpace Discover is a one-stop solution to do an effective literature search and get barrier-free access to scientific knowledge. It is an excellent repository where you can find millions of only peer-reviewed articles and full-text PDF files. Here’s more on how you can use it:

Find the right information


Find what you want quickly and easily with comprehensive search filters that let you narrow down papers according to PDF availability, year of publishing, document type, and affiliated institution. Moreover, you can sort the results based on the publishing date, citation count, and relevance.

Assess credibility of papers quickly


When doing the literature review, it is critical to establish the quality of your sources. They form the foundation of your research. SciSpace Discover helps you assess the quality of a source by providing an overview of its references, citations, and performance metrics.

Get the complete picture in no time


SciSpace Discover’s personalized suggestion engine helps you stay on course and get the complete picture of the topic from one place. Every time you visit an article page, it provides you links to related papers. Besides that, it helps you understand what’s trending, who are the top authors, and who are the leading publishers on a topic.

Make referring sources super easy


To ensure you don't lose track of your sources, you must start noting down your references when doing the literature review. SciSpace Discover makes this step effortless. Click the 'cite' button on an article page, and you will receive preloaded citation text in multiple styles — all you've to do is copy-paste it into your manuscript.

Final tips on how to write a literature review

A massive chunk of time and effort is required to write a good literature review. But, if you go about it systematically, you'll be able to save a ton of time and build a solid foundation for your research.

We hope this guide has helped you answer several key questions you have about writing literature reviews.

Would you like to explore SciSpace Discover and kick off your literature search right away? You can get started here .

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. how to start a literature review.

• What questions do you want to answer?

• What sources do you need to answer these questions?

• What information do these sources contain?

• How can you use this information to answer your questions?

2. What to include in a literature review?

• A brief background of the problem or issue

• What has previously been done to address the problem or issue

• A description of what you will do in your project

• How this study will contribute to research on the subject

3. Why literature review is important?

The literature review is an important part of any research project because it allows the writer to look at previous studies on a topic and determine existing gaps in the literature, as well as what has already been done. It will also help them to choose the most appropriate method for their own study.

4. How to cite a literature review in APA format?

To cite a literature review in APA style, you need to provide the author's name, the title of the article, and the year of publication. For example: Patel, A. B., & Stokes, G. S. (2012). The relationship between personality and intelligence: A meta-analysis of longitudinal research. Personality and Individual Differences, 53(1), 16-21

5. What are the components of a literature review?

• A brief introduction to the topic, including its background and context. The introduction should also include a rationale for why the study is being conducted and what it will accomplish.

• A description of the methodologies used in the study. This can include information about data collection methods, sample size, and statistical analyses.

• A presentation of the findings in an organized format that helps readers follow along with the author's conclusions.

6. What are common errors in writing literature review?

• Not spending enough time to critically evaluate the relevance of resources, observations and conclusions.

• Totally relying on secondary data while ignoring primary data.

• Letting your personal bias seep into your interpretation of existing literature.

• No detailed explanation of the procedure to discover and identify an appropriate literature review.

7. What are the 5 C's of writing literature review?

• Cite - the sources you utilized and referenced in your research.

• Compare - existing arguments, hypotheses, methodologies, and conclusions found in the knowledge base.

• Contrast - the arguments, topics, methodologies, approaches, and disputes that may be found in the literature.

• Critique - the literature and describe the ideas and opinions you find more convincing and why.

• Connect - the various studies you reviewed in your research.

8. How many sources should a literature review have?

When it is just a chapter, sources should equal the total number of pages in your article's body. if it is a self-contained paper in itself, you need at least three times as many sources as there are pages in your work.

9. Can literature review have diagrams?

• To represent an abstract idea or concept

• To explain the steps of a process or procedure

• To help readers understand the relationships between different concepts

10. How old should sources be in a literature review?

Sources for a literature review should be as current as possible or not older than ten years. The only exception to this rule is if you are reviewing a historical topic and need to use older sources.

11. What are the types of literature review?

• Argumentative review

• Integrative review

• Methodological review

• Systematic review

• Meta-analysis review

• Historical review

• Theoretical review

• Scoping review

• State-of-the-Art review

12. Is a literature review mandatory?

Yes. Literature review is a mandatory part of any research project. It is a critical step in the process that allows you to establish the scope of your research, and provide a background for the rest of your work.

But before you go,

  • Six Online Tools for Easy Literature Review
  • Evaluating literature review: systematic vs. scoping reviews
  • Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review
  • Writing Integrative Literature Reviews: Guidelines and Examples

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The literature review can serve various functions in the contexts of education and research. It aids in identifying knowledge gaps, informing research methodology, and developing a theoretical framework during the planning stages of a research study or project, as well as reporting of review findings in the context of the existing literature. This chapter discusses the methodological approaches to conducting a literature review and offers an overview of different types of reviews. There are various types of reviews, including narrative reviews, scoping reviews, and systematic reviews with reporting strategies such as meta-analysis and meta-synthesis. Review authors should consider the scope of the literature review when selecting a type and method. Being focused is essential for a successful review; however, this must be balanced against the relevance of the review to a broad audience.

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Thomas, D., Zairina, E., George, J. (2023). Methodological Approaches to Literature Review. In: Encyclopedia of Evidence in Pharmaceutical Public Health and Health Services Research in Pharmacy. Springer, Cham.

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Writing a Literature Review

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A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other (also called synthesis ). The lit review is an important genre in many disciplines, not just literature (i.e., the study of works of literature such as novels and plays). When we say “literature review” or refer to “the literature,” we are talking about the research ( scholarship ) in a given field. You will often see the terms “the research,” “the scholarship,” and “the literature” used mostly interchangeably.

Where, when, and why would I write a lit review?

There are a number of different situations where you might write a literature review, each with slightly different expectations; different disciplines, too, have field-specific expectations for what a literature review is and does. For instance, in the humanities, authors might include more overt argumentation and interpretation of source material in their literature reviews, whereas in the sciences, authors are more likely to report study designs and results in their literature reviews; these differences reflect these disciplines’ purposes and conventions in scholarship. You should always look at examples from your own discipline and talk to professors or mentors in your field to be sure you understand your discipline’s conventions, for literature reviews as well as for any other genre.

A literature review can be a part of a research paper or scholarly article, usually falling after the introduction and before the research methods sections. In these cases, the lit review just needs to cover scholarship that is important to the issue you are writing about; sometimes it will also cover key sources that informed your research methodology.

Lit reviews can also be standalone pieces, either as assignments in a class or as publications. In a class, a lit review may be assigned to help students familiarize themselves with a topic and with scholarship in their field, get an idea of the other researchers working on the topic they’re interested in, find gaps in existing research in order to propose new projects, and/or develop a theoretical framework and methodology for later research. As a publication, a lit review usually is meant to help make other scholars’ lives easier by collecting and summarizing, synthesizing, and analyzing existing research on a topic. This can be especially helpful for students or scholars getting into a new research area, or for directing an entire community of scholars toward questions that have not yet been answered.

What are the parts of a lit review?

Most lit reviews use a basic introduction-body-conclusion structure; if your lit review is part of a larger paper, the introduction and conclusion pieces may be just a few sentences while you focus most of your attention on the body. If your lit review is a standalone piece, the introduction and conclusion take up more space and give you a place to discuss your goals, research methods, and conclusions separately from where you discuss the literature itself.


  • An introductory paragraph that explains what your working topic and thesis is
  • A forecast of key topics or texts that will appear in the review
  • Potentially, a description of how you found sources and how you analyzed them for inclusion and discussion in the review (more often found in published, standalone literature reviews than in lit review sections in an article or research paper)
  • Summarize and synthesize: Give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: Don’t just paraphrase other researchers – add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically Evaluate: Mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: Use transition words and topic sentence to draw connections, comparisons, and contrasts.


  • Summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance
  • Connect it back to your primary research question

How should I organize my lit review?

Lit reviews can take many different organizational patterns depending on what you are trying to accomplish with the review. Here are some examples:

  • Chronological : The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time, which helps familiarize the audience with the topic (for instance if you are introducing something that is not commonly known in your field). If you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order. Try to analyze the patterns, turning points, and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred (as mentioned previously, this may not be appropriate in your discipline — check with a teacher or mentor if you’re unsure).
  • Thematic : If you have found some recurring central themes that you will continue working with throughout your piece, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic. For example, if you are reviewing literature about women and religion, key themes can include the role of women in churches and the religious attitude towards women.
  • Qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the research by sociological, historical, or cultural sources
  • Theoretical : In many humanities articles, the literature review is the foundation for the theoretical framework. You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts. You can argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach or combine various theorical concepts to create a framework for your research.

What are some strategies or tips I can use while writing my lit review?

Any lit review is only as good as the research it discusses; make sure your sources are well-chosen and your research is thorough. Don’t be afraid to do more research if you discover a new thread as you’re writing. More info on the research process is available in our "Conducting Research" resources .

As you’re doing your research, create an annotated bibliography ( see our page on the this type of document ). Much of the information used in an annotated bibliography can be used also in a literature review, so you’ll be not only partially drafting your lit review as you research, but also developing your sense of the larger conversation going on among scholars, professionals, and any other stakeholders in your topic.

Usually you will need to synthesize research rather than just summarizing it. This means drawing connections between sources to create a picture of the scholarly conversation on a topic over time. Many student writers struggle to synthesize because they feel they don’t have anything to add to the scholars they are citing; here are some strategies to help you:

  • It often helps to remember that the point of these kinds of syntheses is to show your readers how you understand your research, to help them read the rest of your paper.
  • Writing teachers often say synthesis is like hosting a dinner party: imagine all your sources are together in a room, discussing your topic. What are they saying to each other?
  • Look at the in-text citations in each paragraph. Are you citing just one source for each paragraph? This usually indicates summary only. When you have multiple sources cited in a paragraph, you are more likely to be synthesizing them (not always, but often
  • Read more about synthesis here.

The most interesting literature reviews are often written as arguments (again, as mentioned at the beginning of the page, this is discipline-specific and doesn’t work for all situations). Often, the literature review is where you can establish your research as filling a particular gap or as relevant in a particular way. You have some chance to do this in your introduction in an article, but the literature review section gives a more extended opportunity to establish the conversation in the way you would like your readers to see it. You can choose the intellectual lineage you would like to be part of and whose definitions matter most to your thinking (mostly humanities-specific, but this goes for sciences as well). In addressing these points, you argue for your place in the conversation, which tends to make the lit review more compelling than a simple reporting of other sources.

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Literature Review – Types Writing Guide and Examples

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Literature Review

Literature Review


A literature review is a comprehensive and critical analysis of the existing literature on a particular topic or research question. It involves identifying, evaluating, and synthesizing relevant literature, including scholarly articles, books, and other sources, to provide a summary and critical assessment of what is known about the topic.

Types of Literature Review

Types of Literature Review are as follows:

  • Narrative literature review : This type of review involves a comprehensive summary and critical analysis of the available literature on a particular topic or research question. It is often used as an introductory section of a research paper.
  • Systematic literature review: This is a rigorous and structured review that follows a pre-defined protocol to identify, evaluate, and synthesize all relevant studies on a specific research question. It is often used in evidence-based practice and systematic reviews.
  • Meta-analysis: This is a quantitative review that uses statistical methods to combine data from multiple studies to derive a summary effect size. It provides a more precise estimate of the overall effect than any individual study.
  • Scoping review: This is a preliminary review that aims to map the existing literature on a broad topic area to identify research gaps and areas for further investigation.
  • Critical literature review : This type of review evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of the existing literature on a particular topic or research question. It aims to provide a critical analysis of the literature and identify areas where further research is needed.
  • Conceptual literature review: This review synthesizes and integrates theories and concepts from multiple sources to provide a new perspective on a particular topic. It aims to provide a theoretical framework for understanding a particular research question.
  • Rapid literature review: This is a quick review that provides a snapshot of the current state of knowledge on a specific research question or topic. It is often used when time and resources are limited.
  • Thematic literature review : This review identifies and analyzes common themes and patterns across a body of literature on a particular topic. It aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the literature and identify key themes and concepts.
  • Realist literature review: This review is often used in social science research and aims to identify how and why certain interventions work in certain contexts. It takes into account the context and complexities of real-world situations.
  • State-of-the-art literature review : This type of review provides an overview of the current state of knowledge in a particular field, highlighting the most recent and relevant research. It is often used in fields where knowledge is rapidly evolving, such as technology or medicine.
  • Integrative literature review: This type of review synthesizes and integrates findings from multiple studies on a particular topic to identify patterns, themes, and gaps in the literature. It aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the current state of knowledge on a particular topic.
  • Umbrella literature review : This review is used to provide a broad overview of a large and diverse body of literature on a particular topic. It aims to identify common themes and patterns across different areas of research.
  • Historical literature review: This type of review examines the historical development of research on a particular topic or research question. It aims to provide a historical context for understanding the current state of knowledge on a particular topic.
  • Problem-oriented literature review : This review focuses on a specific problem or issue and examines the literature to identify potential solutions or interventions. It aims to provide practical recommendations for addressing a particular problem or issue.
  • Mixed-methods literature review : This type of review combines quantitative and qualitative methods to synthesize and analyze the available literature on a particular topic. It aims to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the research question by combining different types of evidence.

Parts of Literature Review

Parts of a literature review are as follows:


The introduction of a literature review typically provides background information on the research topic and why it is important. It outlines the objectives of the review, the research question or hypothesis, and the scope of the review.

Literature Search

This section outlines the search strategy and databases used to identify relevant literature. The search terms used, inclusion and exclusion criteria, and any limitations of the search are described.

Literature Analysis

The literature analysis is the main body of the literature review. This section summarizes and synthesizes the literature that is relevant to the research question or hypothesis. The review should be organized thematically, chronologically, or by methodology, depending on the research objectives.

Critical Evaluation

Critical evaluation involves assessing the quality and validity of the literature. This includes evaluating the reliability and validity of the studies reviewed, the methodology used, and the strength of the evidence.

The conclusion of the literature review should summarize the main findings, identify any gaps in the literature, and suggest areas for future research. It should also reiterate the importance of the research question or hypothesis and the contribution of the literature review to the overall research project.

The references list includes all the sources cited in the literature review, and follows a specific referencing style (e.g., APA, MLA, Harvard).

How to write Literature Review

Here are some steps to follow when writing a literature review:

  • Define your research question or topic : Before starting your literature review, it is essential to define your research question or topic. This will help you identify relevant literature and determine the scope of your review.
  • Conduct a comprehensive search: Use databases and search engines to find relevant literature. Look for peer-reviewed articles, books, and other academic sources that are relevant to your research question or topic.
  • Evaluate the sources: Once you have found potential sources, evaluate them critically to determine their relevance, credibility, and quality. Look for recent publications, reputable authors, and reliable sources of data and evidence.
  • Organize your sources: Group the sources by theme, method, or research question. This will help you identify similarities and differences among the literature, and provide a structure for your literature review.
  • Analyze and synthesize the literature : Analyze each source in depth, identifying the key findings, methodologies, and conclusions. Then, synthesize the information from the sources, identifying patterns and themes in the literature.
  • Write the literature review : Start with an introduction that provides an overview of the topic and the purpose of the literature review. Then, organize the literature according to your chosen structure, and analyze and synthesize the sources. Finally, provide a conclusion that summarizes the key findings of the literature review, identifies gaps in knowledge, and suggests areas for future research.
  • Edit and proofread: Once you have written your literature review, edit and proofread it carefully to ensure that it is well-organized, clear, and concise.

Examples of Literature Review

Here’s an example of how a literature review can be conducted for a thesis on the topic of “ The Impact of Social Media on Teenagers’ Mental Health”:

  • Start by identifying the key terms related to your research topic. In this case, the key terms are “social media,” “teenagers,” and “mental health.”
  • Use academic databases like Google Scholar, JSTOR, or PubMed to search for relevant articles, books, and other publications. Use these keywords in your search to narrow down your results.
  • Evaluate the sources you find to determine if they are relevant to your research question. You may want to consider the publication date, author’s credentials, and the journal or book publisher.
  • Begin reading and taking notes on each source, paying attention to key findings, methodologies used, and any gaps in the research.
  • Organize your findings into themes or categories. For example, you might categorize your sources into those that examine the impact of social media on self-esteem, those that explore the effects of cyberbullying, and those that investigate the relationship between social media use and depression.
  • Synthesize your findings by summarizing the key themes and highlighting any gaps or inconsistencies in the research. Identify areas where further research is needed.
  • Use your literature review to inform your research questions and hypotheses for your thesis.

For example, after conducting a literature review on the impact of social media on teenagers’ mental health, a thesis might look like this:

“Using a mixed-methods approach, this study aims to investigate the relationship between social media use and mental health outcomes in teenagers. Specifically, the study will examine the effects of cyberbullying, social comparison, and excessive social media use on self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. Through an analysis of survey data and qualitative interviews with teenagers, the study will provide insight into the complex relationship between social media use and mental health outcomes, and identify strategies for promoting positive mental health outcomes in young people.”

Reference: Smith, J., Jones, M., & Lee, S. (2019). The effects of social media use on adolescent mental health: A systematic review. Journal of Adolescent Health, 65(2), 154-165. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2019.03.024

Reference Example: Author, A. A., Author, B. B., & Author, C. C. (Year). Title of article. Title of Journal, volume number(issue number), page range. doi:0000000/000000000000 or URL

Applications of Literature Review

some applications of literature review in different fields:

  • Social Sciences: In social sciences, literature reviews are used to identify gaps in existing research, to develop research questions, and to provide a theoretical framework for research. Literature reviews are commonly used in fields such as sociology, psychology, anthropology, and political science.
  • Natural Sciences: In natural sciences, literature reviews are used to summarize and evaluate the current state of knowledge in a particular field or subfield. Literature reviews can help researchers identify areas where more research is needed and provide insights into the latest developments in a particular field. Fields such as biology, chemistry, and physics commonly use literature reviews.
  • Health Sciences: In health sciences, literature reviews are used to evaluate the effectiveness of treatments, identify best practices, and determine areas where more research is needed. Literature reviews are commonly used in fields such as medicine, nursing, and public health.
  • Humanities: In humanities, literature reviews are used to identify gaps in existing knowledge, develop new interpretations of texts or cultural artifacts, and provide a theoretical framework for research. Literature reviews are commonly used in fields such as history, literary studies, and philosophy.

Role of Literature Review in Research

Here are some applications of literature review in research:

  • Identifying Research Gaps : Literature review helps researchers identify gaps in existing research and literature related to their research question. This allows them to develop new research questions and hypotheses to fill those gaps.
  • Developing Theoretical Framework: Literature review helps researchers develop a theoretical framework for their research. By analyzing and synthesizing existing literature, researchers can identify the key concepts, theories, and models that are relevant to their research.
  • Selecting Research Methods : Literature review helps researchers select appropriate research methods and techniques based on previous research. It also helps researchers to identify potential biases or limitations of certain methods and techniques.
  • Data Collection and Analysis: Literature review helps researchers in data collection and analysis by providing a foundation for the development of data collection instruments and methods. It also helps researchers to identify relevant data sources and identify potential data analysis techniques.
  • Communicating Results: Literature review helps researchers to communicate their results effectively by providing a context for their research. It also helps to justify the significance of their findings in relation to existing research and literature.

Purpose of Literature Review

Some of the specific purposes of a literature review are as follows:

  • To provide context: A literature review helps to provide context for your research by situating it within the broader body of literature on the topic.
  • To identify gaps and inconsistencies: A literature review helps to identify areas where further research is needed or where there are inconsistencies in the existing literature.
  • To synthesize information: A literature review helps to synthesize the information from multiple sources and present a coherent and comprehensive picture of the current state of knowledge on the topic.
  • To identify key concepts and theories : A literature review helps to identify key concepts and theories that are relevant to your research question and provide a theoretical framework for your study.
  • To inform research design: A literature review can inform the design of your research study by identifying appropriate research methods, data sources, and research questions.

Characteristics of Literature Review

Some Characteristics of Literature Review are as follows:

  • Identifying gaps in knowledge: A literature review helps to identify gaps in the existing knowledge and research on a specific topic or research question. By analyzing and synthesizing the literature, you can identify areas where further research is needed and where new insights can be gained.
  • Establishing the significance of your research: A literature review helps to establish the significance of your own research by placing it in the context of existing research. By demonstrating the relevance of your research to the existing literature, you can establish its importance and value.
  • Informing research design and methodology : A literature review helps to inform research design and methodology by identifying the most appropriate research methods, techniques, and instruments. By reviewing the literature, you can identify the strengths and limitations of different research methods and techniques, and select the most appropriate ones for your own research.
  • Supporting arguments and claims: A literature review provides evidence to support arguments and claims made in academic writing. By citing and analyzing the literature, you can provide a solid foundation for your own arguments and claims.
  • I dentifying potential collaborators and mentors: A literature review can help identify potential collaborators and mentors by identifying researchers and practitioners who are working on related topics or using similar methods. By building relationships with these individuals, you can gain valuable insights and support for your own research and practice.
  • Keeping up-to-date with the latest research : A literature review helps to keep you up-to-date with the latest research on a specific topic or research question. By regularly reviewing the literature, you can stay informed about the latest findings and developments in your field.

Advantages of Literature Review

There are several advantages to conducting a literature review as part of a research project, including:

  • Establishing the significance of the research : A literature review helps to establish the significance of the research by demonstrating the gap or problem in the existing literature that the study aims to address.
  • Identifying key concepts and theories: A literature review can help to identify key concepts and theories that are relevant to the research question, and provide a theoretical framework for the study.
  • Supporting the research methodology : A literature review can inform the research methodology by identifying appropriate research methods, data sources, and research questions.
  • Providing a comprehensive overview of the literature : A literature review provides a comprehensive overview of the current state of knowledge on a topic, allowing the researcher to identify key themes, debates, and areas of agreement or disagreement.
  • Identifying potential research questions: A literature review can help to identify potential research questions and areas for further investigation.
  • Avoiding duplication of research: A literature review can help to avoid duplication of research by identifying what has already been done on a topic, and what remains to be done.
  • Enhancing the credibility of the research : A literature review helps to enhance the credibility of the research by demonstrating the researcher’s knowledge of the existing literature and their ability to situate their research within a broader context.

Limitations of Literature Review

Limitations of Literature Review are as follows:

  • Limited scope : Literature reviews can only cover the existing literature on a particular topic, which may be limited in scope or depth.
  • Publication bias : Literature reviews may be influenced by publication bias, which occurs when researchers are more likely to publish positive results than negative ones. This can lead to an incomplete or biased picture of the literature.
  • Quality of sources : The quality of the literature reviewed can vary widely, and not all sources may be reliable or valid.
  • Time-limited: Literature reviews can become quickly outdated as new research is published, making it difficult to keep up with the latest developments in a field.
  • Subjective interpretation : Literature reviews can be subjective, and the interpretation of the findings can vary depending on the researcher’s perspective or bias.
  • Lack of original data : Literature reviews do not generate new data, but rather rely on the analysis of existing studies.
  • Risk of plagiarism: It is important to ensure that literature reviews do not inadvertently contain plagiarism, which can occur when researchers use the work of others without proper attribution.

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Literature Review: Conducting & Writing

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What’s Included: Literature Review Template

This template is structure is based on the tried and trusted best-practice format for formal academic research projects such as dissertations and theses. The literature review template includes the following sections:

  • Before you start – essential groundwork to ensure you’re ready
  • The introduction section
  • The core/body section
  • The conclusion /summary
  • Extra free resources

Each section is explained in plain, straightforward language , followed by an overview of the key elements that you need to cover. We’ve also included practical examples and links to more free videos and guides to help you understand exactly what’s required in each section.

The cleanly-formatted Google Doc can be downloaded as a fully editable MS Word Document (DOCX format), so you can use it as-is or convert it to LaTeX.

PS – if you’d like a high-level template for the entire thesis, you can we’ve got that too .

FAQs: Literature Review Template

What format is the template (doc, pdf, ppt, etc.).

The literature review chapter template is provided as a Google Doc. You can download it in MS Word format or make a copy to your Google Drive. You’re also welcome to convert it to whatever format works best for you, such as LaTeX or PDF.

What types of literature reviews can this template be used for?

The template follows the standard format for academic literature reviews, which means it will be suitable for the vast majority of academic research projects (especially those within the sciences), whether they are qualitative or quantitative in terms of design.

Keep in mind that the exact requirements for the literature review chapter will vary between universities and degree programs. These are typically minor, but it’s always a good idea to double-check your university’s requirements before you finalize your structure.

Is this template for an undergrad, Master or PhD-level thesis?

This template can be used for a literature review at any level of study. Doctoral-level projects typically require the literature review to be more extensive/comprehensive, but the structure will typically remain the same.

Can I modify the template to suit my topic/area?

Absolutely. While the template provides a general structure, you should adapt it to fit the specific requirements and focus of your literature review.

What structural style does this literature review template use?

The template assumes a thematic structure (as opposed to a chronological or methodological structure), as this is the most common approach. However, this is only one dimension of the template, so it will still be useful if you are adopting a different structure.

Does this template include the Excel literature catalog?

No, that is a separate template, which you can download for free here . This template is for the write-up of the actual literature review chapter, whereas the catalog is for use during the literature sourcing and sorting phase.

How long should the literature review chapter be?

This depends on your university’s specific requirements, so it’s best to check with them. As a general ballpark, literature reviews for Masters-level projects are usually 2,000 – 3,000 words in length, while Doctoral-level projects can reach multiples of this.

Can I include literature that contradicts my hypothesis?

Yes, it’s important to acknowledge and discuss literature that presents different viewpoints or contradicts your hypothesis. So, don’t shy away from existing research that takes an opposing view to yours.

How do I avoid plagiarism in my literature review?

Always cite your sources correctly and paraphrase ideas in your own words while maintaining the original meaning. You can always check our plagiarism score before submitting your work to help ease your mind. 

Do you have an example of a populated template?

We provide a walkthrough of the template and review an example of a high-quality literature research chapter here .

Can I share this literature review template with my friends/colleagues?

Yes, you’re welcome to share this template in its original format (no editing allowed). If you want to post about it on your blog or social media, all we ask is that you reference this page as your source.

Do you have templates for the other dissertation/thesis chapters?

Yes, we do. You can find our full collection of templates here .

Can Grad Coach help me with my literature review?

Yes, you’re welcome to get in touch with us to discuss our private coaching services , where we can help you work through the literature review chapter (and any other chapters).

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15 Literature Review Examples

15 Literature Review Examples

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literature review examples, types, and definition, explained below

Literature reviews are a necessary step in a research process and often required when writing your research proposal . They involve gathering, analyzing, and evaluating existing knowledge about a topic in order to find gaps in the literature where future studies will be needed.

Ideally, once you have completed your literature review, you will be able to identify how your research project can build upon and extend existing knowledge in your area of study.

Generally, for my undergraduate research students, I recommend a narrative review, where themes can be generated in order for the students to develop sufficient understanding of the topic so they can build upon the themes using unique methods or novel research questions.

If you’re in the process of writing a literature review, I have developed a literature review template for you to use – it’s a huge time-saver and walks you through how to write a literature review step-by-step:

Get your time-saving templates here to write your own literature review.

Literature Review Examples

For the following types of literature review, I present an explanation and overview of the type, followed by links to some real-life literature reviews on the topics.

1. Narrative Review Examples

Also known as a traditional literature review, the narrative review provides a broad overview of the studies done on a particular topic.

It often includes both qualitative and quantitative studies and may cover a wide range of years.

The narrative review’s purpose is to identify commonalities, gaps, and contradictions in the literature .

I recommend to my students that they should gather their studies together, take notes on each study, then try to group them by themes that form the basis for the review (see my step-by-step instructions at the end of the article).

Example Study

Title: Communication in healthcare: a narrative review of the literature and practical recommendations

Citation: Vermeir, P., Vandijck, D., Degroote, S., Peleman, R., Verhaeghe, R., Mortier, E., … & Vogelaers, D. (2015). Communication in healthcare: a narrative review of the literature and practical recommendations. International journal of clinical practice , 69 (11), 1257-1267.


Overview: This narrative review analyzed themes emerging from 69 articles about communication in healthcare contexts. Five key themes were found in the literature: poor communication can lead to various negative outcomes, discontinuity of care, compromise of patient safety, patient dissatisfaction, and inefficient use of resources. After presenting the key themes, the authors recommend that practitioners need to approach healthcare communication in a more structured way, such as by ensuring there is a clear understanding of who is in charge of ensuring effective communication in clinical settings.

Other Examples

  • Burnout in United States Healthcare Professionals: A Narrative Review (Reith, 2018) – read here
  • Examining the Presence, Consequences, and Reduction of Implicit Bias in Health Care: A Narrative Review (Zestcott, Blair & Stone, 2016) – read here
  • A Narrative Review of School-Based Physical Activity for Enhancing Cognition and Learning (Mavilidi et al., 2018) – read here
  • A narrative review on burnout experienced by medical students and residents (Dyrbye & Shanafelt, 2015) – read here

2. Systematic Review Examples

This type of literature review is more structured and rigorous than a narrative review. It involves a detailed and comprehensive plan and search strategy derived from a set of specified research questions.

The key way you’d know a systematic review compared to a narrative review is in the methodology: the systematic review will likely have a very clear criteria for how the studies were collected, and clear explanations of exclusion/inclusion criteria. 

The goal is to gather the maximum amount of valid literature on the topic, filter out invalid or low-quality reviews, and minimize bias. Ideally, this will provide more reliable findings, leading to higher-quality conclusions and recommendations for further research.

You may note from the examples below that the ‘method’ sections in systematic reviews tend to be much more explicit, often noting rigid inclusion/exclusion criteria and exact keywords used in searches.

Title: The importance of food naturalness for consumers: Results of a systematic review  

Citation: Roman, S., Sánchez-Siles, L. M., & Siegrist, M. (2017). The importance of food naturalness for consumers: Results of a systematic review. Trends in food science & technology , 67 , 44-57.


Overview: This systematic review included 72 studies of food naturalness to explore trends in the literature about its importance for consumers. Keywords used in the data search included: food, naturalness, natural content, and natural ingredients. Studies were included if they examined consumers’ preference for food naturalness and contained empirical data. The authors found that the literature lacks clarity about how naturalness is defined and measured, but also found that food consumption is significantly influenced by perceived naturalness of goods.

  • A systematic review of research on online teaching and learning from 2009 to 2018 (Martin, Sun & Westine, 2020) – read here
  • Where Is Current Research on Blockchain Technology? (Yli-Huumo et al., 2016) – read here
  • Universities—industry collaboration: A systematic review (Ankrah & Al-Tabbaa, 2015) – read here
  • Internet of Things Applications: A Systematic Review (Asghari, Rahmani & Javadi, 2019) – read here

3. Meta-analysis

This is a type of systematic review that uses statistical methods to combine and summarize the results of several studies.

Due to its robust methodology, a meta-analysis is often considered the ‘gold standard’ of secondary research , as it provides a more precise estimate of a treatment effect than any individual study contributing to the pooled analysis.

Furthermore, by aggregating data from a range of studies, a meta-analysis can identify patterns, disagreements, or other interesting relationships that may have been hidden in individual studies.

This helps to enhance the generalizability of findings, making the conclusions drawn from a meta-analysis particularly powerful and informative for policy and practice.

Title: Cholesterol and Alzheimer’s Disease Risk: A Meta-Meta-Analysis

Citation: Sáiz-Vazquez, O., Puente-Martínez, A., Ubillos-Landa, S., Pacheco-Bonrostro, J., & Santabárbara, J. (2020). Cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease risk: a meta-meta-analysis. Brain sciences, 10(6), 386.


O verview: This study examines the relationship between cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Researchers conducted a systematic search of meta-analyses and reviewed several databases, collecting 100 primary studies and five meta-analyses to analyze the connection between cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease. They find that the literature compellingly demonstrates that low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) levels significantly influence the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

  • The power of feedback revisited: A meta-analysis of educational feedback research (Wisniewski, Zierer & Hattie, 2020) – read here
  • How Much Does Education Improve Intelligence? A Meta-Analysis (Ritchie & Tucker-Drob, 2018) – read here
  • A meta-analysis of factors related to recycling (Geiger et al., 2019) – read here
  • Stress management interventions for police officers and recruits (Patterson, Chung & Swan, 2014) – read here

Other Types of Reviews

  • Scoping Review: This type of review is used to map the key concepts underpinning a research area and the main sources and types of evidence available. It can be undertaken as stand-alone projects in their own right, or as a precursor to a systematic review.
  • Rapid Review: This type of review accelerates the systematic review process in order to produce information in a timely manner. This is achieved by simplifying or omitting stages of the systematic review process.
  • Integrative Review: This review method is more inclusive than others, allowing for the simultaneous inclusion of experimental and non-experimental research. The goal is to more comprehensively understand a particular phenomenon.
  • Critical Review: This is similar to a narrative review but requires a robust understanding of both the subject and the existing literature. In a critical review, the reviewer not only summarizes the existing literature, but also evaluates its strengths and weaknesses. This is common in the social sciences and humanities .
  • State-of-the-Art Review: This considers the current level of advancement in a field or topic and makes recommendations for future research directions. This type of review is common in technological and scientific fields but can be applied to any discipline.

How to Write a Narrative Review (Tips for Undergrad Students)

Most undergraduate students conducting a capstone research project will be writing narrative reviews. Below is a five-step process for conducting a simple review of the literature for your project.

  • Search for Relevant Literature: Use scholarly databases related to your field of study, provided by your university library, along with appropriate search terms to identify key scholarly articles that have been published on your topic.
  • Evaluate and Select Sources: Filter the source list by selecting studies that are directly relevant and of sufficient quality, considering factors like credibility , objectivity, accuracy, and validity.
  • Analyze and Synthesize: Review each source and summarize the main arguments  in one paragraph (or more, for postgrad). Keep these summaries in a table.
  • Identify Themes: With all studies summarized, group studies that share common themes, such as studies that have similar findings or methodologies.
  • Write the Review: Write your review based upon the themes or subtopics you have identified. Give a thorough overview of each theme, integrating source data, and conclude with a summary of the current state of knowledge then suggestions for future research based upon your evaluation of what is lacking in the literature.

Literature reviews don’t have to be as scary as they seem. Yes, they are difficult and require a strong degree of comprehension of academic studies. But it can be feasibly done through following a structured approach to data collection and analysis. With my undergraduate research students (who tend to conduct small-scale qualitative studies ), I encourage them to conduct a narrative literature review whereby they can identify key themes in the literature. Within each theme, students can critique key studies and their strengths and limitations , in order to get a lay of the land and come to a point where they can identify ways to contribute new insights to the existing academic conversation on their topic.

Ankrah, S., & Omar, A. T. (2015). Universities–industry collaboration: A systematic review. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 31(3), 387-408.

Asghari, P., Rahmani, A. M., & Javadi, H. H. S. (2019). Internet of Things applications: A systematic review. Computer Networks , 148 , 241-261.

Dyrbye, L., & Shanafelt, T. (2016). A narrative review on burnout experienced by medical students and residents. Medical education , 50 (1), 132-149.

Geiger, J. L., Steg, L., Van Der Werff, E., & Ünal, A. B. (2019). A meta-analysis of factors related to recycling. Journal of environmental psychology , 64 , 78-97.

Martin, F., Sun, T., & Westine, C. D. (2020). A systematic review of research on online teaching and learning from 2009 to 2018. Computers & education , 159 , 104009.

Mavilidi, M. F., Ruiter, M., Schmidt, M., Okely, A. D., Loyens, S., Chandler, P., & Paas, F. (2018). A narrative review of school-based physical activity for enhancing cognition and learning: The importance of relevancy and integration. Frontiers in psychology , 2079.

Patterson, G. T., Chung, I. W., & Swan, P. W. (2014). Stress management interventions for police officers and recruits: A meta-analysis. Journal of experimental criminology , 10 , 487-513.

Reith, T. P. (2018). Burnout in United States healthcare professionals: a narrative review. Cureus , 10 (12).

Ritchie, S. J., & Tucker-Drob, E. M. (2018). How much does education improve intelligence? A meta-analysis. Psychological science , 29 (8), 1358-1369.

Roman, S., Sánchez-Siles, L. M., & Siegrist, M. (2017). The importance of food naturalness for consumers: Results of a systematic review. Trends in food science & technology , 67 , 44-57.

Sáiz-Vazquez, O., Puente-Martínez, A., Ubillos-Landa, S., Pacheco-Bonrostro, J., & Santabárbara, J. (2020). Cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease risk: a meta-meta-analysis. Brain sciences, 10(6), 386.

Vermeir, P., Vandijck, D., Degroote, S., Peleman, R., Verhaeghe, R., Mortier, E., … & Vogelaers, D. (2015). Communication in healthcare: a narrative review of the literature and practical recommendations. International journal of clinical practice , 69 (11), 1257-1267.

Wisniewski, B., Zierer, K., & Hattie, J. (2020). The power of feedback revisited: A meta-analysis of educational feedback research. Frontiers in Psychology , 10 , 3087.

Yli-Huumo, J., Ko, D., Choi, S., Park, S., & Smolander, K. (2016). Where is current research on blockchain technology?—a systematic review. PloS one , 11 (10), e0163477.

Zestcott, C. A., Blair, I. V., & Stone, J. (2016). Examining the presence, consequences, and reduction of implicit bias in health care: a narrative review. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations , 19 (4), 528-542


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Research Methods: Literature Reviews

  • Annotated Bibliographies
  • Literature Reviews
  • Scoping Reviews
  • Systematic Reviews
  • Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
  • Persuasive Arguments
  • Subject Specific Methodology

A literature review involves researching, reading, analyzing, evaluating, and summarizing scholarly literature (typically journals and articles) about a specific topic. The results of a literature review may be an entire report or article OR may be part of a article, thesis, dissertation, or grant proposal. A literature review helps the author learn about the history and nature of their topic, and identify research gaps and problems.

Steps & Elements

Problem formulation

  • Determine your topic and its components by asking a question
  • Research: locate literature related to your topic to identify the gap(s) that can be addressed
  • Read: read the articles or other sources of information
  • Analyze: assess the findings for relevancy
  • Evaluating: determine how the article are relevant to your research and what are the key findings
  • Synthesis: write about the key findings and how it is relevant to your research

Elements of a Literature Review

  • Summarize subject, issue or theory under consideration, along with objectives of the review
  • Divide works under review into categories (e.g. those in support of a particular position, those against, those offering alternative theories entirely)
  • Explain how each work is similar to and how it varies from the others
  • Conclude which pieces are best considered in their argument, are most convincing of their opinions, and make the greatest contribution to the understanding and development of an area of research

Writing a Literature Review Resources

  • How to Write a Literature Review From the Wesleyan University Library
  • Write a Literature Review From the University of California Santa Cruz Library. A Brief overview of a literature review, includes a list of stages for writing a lit review.
  • Literature Reviews From the University of North Carolina Writing Center. Detailed information about writing a literature review.
  • Undertaking a literature review: a step-by-step approach Cronin, P., Ryan, F., & Coughan, M. (2008). Undertaking a literature review: A step-by-step approach. British Journal of Nursing, 17(1), p.38-43

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Literature Review Tutorial

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  • Systematic Review | Definition, Example, & Guide

Systematic Review | Definition, Example & Guide

Published on June 15, 2022 by Shaun Turney . Revised on November 20, 2023.

A systematic review is a type of review that uses repeatable methods to find, select, and synthesize all available evidence. It answers a clearly formulated research question and explicitly states the methods used to arrive at the answer.

They answered the question “What is the effectiveness of probiotics in reducing eczema symptoms and improving quality of life in patients with eczema?”

In this context, a probiotic is a health product that contains live microorganisms and is taken by mouth. Eczema is a common skin condition that causes red, itchy skin.

Table of contents

What is a systematic review, systematic review vs. meta-analysis, systematic review vs. literature review, systematic review vs. scoping review, when to conduct a systematic review, pros and cons of systematic reviews, step-by-step example of a systematic review, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about systematic reviews.

A review is an overview of the research that’s already been completed on a topic.

What makes a systematic review different from other types of reviews is that the research methods are designed to reduce bias . The methods are repeatable, and the approach is formal and systematic:

  • Formulate a research question
  • Develop a protocol
  • Search for all relevant studies
  • Apply the selection criteria
  • Extract the data
  • Synthesize the data
  • Write and publish a report

Although multiple sets of guidelines exist, the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews is among the most widely used. It provides detailed guidelines on how to complete each step of the systematic review process.

Systematic reviews are most commonly used in medical and public health research, but they can also be found in other disciplines.

Systematic reviews typically answer their research question by synthesizing all available evidence and evaluating the quality of the evidence. Synthesizing means bringing together different information to tell a single, cohesive story. The synthesis can be narrative ( qualitative ), quantitative , or both.

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methodological literature review sample

Systematic reviews often quantitatively synthesize the evidence using a meta-analysis . A meta-analysis is a statistical analysis, not a type of review.

A meta-analysis is a technique to synthesize results from multiple studies. It’s a statistical analysis that combines the results of two or more studies, usually to estimate an effect size .

A literature review is a type of review that uses a less systematic and formal approach than a systematic review. Typically, an expert in a topic will qualitatively summarize and evaluate previous work, without using a formal, explicit method.

Although literature reviews are often less time-consuming and can be insightful or helpful, they have a higher risk of bias and are less transparent than systematic reviews.

Similar to a systematic review, a scoping review is a type of review that tries to minimize bias by using transparent and repeatable methods.

However, a scoping review isn’t a type of systematic review. The most important difference is the goal: rather than answering a specific question, a scoping review explores a topic. The researcher tries to identify the main concepts, theories, and evidence, as well as gaps in the current research.

Sometimes scoping reviews are an exploratory preparation step for a systematic review, and sometimes they are a standalone project.

A systematic review is a good choice of review if you want to answer a question about the effectiveness of an intervention , such as a medical treatment.

To conduct a systematic review, you’ll need the following:

  • A precise question , usually about the effectiveness of an intervention. The question needs to be about a topic that’s previously been studied by multiple researchers. If there’s no previous research, there’s nothing to review.
  • If you’re doing a systematic review on your own (e.g., for a research paper or thesis ), you should take appropriate measures to ensure the validity and reliability of your research.
  • Access to databases and journal archives. Often, your educational institution provides you with access.
  • Time. A professional systematic review is a time-consuming process: it will take the lead author about six months of full-time work. If you’re a student, you should narrow the scope of your systematic review and stick to a tight schedule.
  • Bibliographic, word-processing, spreadsheet, and statistical software . For example, you could use EndNote, Microsoft Word, Excel, and SPSS.

A systematic review has many pros .

  • They minimize research bias by considering all available evidence and evaluating each study for bias.
  • Their methods are transparent , so they can be scrutinized by others.
  • They’re thorough : they summarize all available evidence.
  • They can be replicated and updated by others.

Systematic reviews also have a few cons .

  • They’re time-consuming .
  • They’re narrow in scope : they only answer the precise research question.

The 7 steps for conducting a systematic review are explained with an example.

Step 1: Formulate a research question

Formulating the research question is probably the most important step of a systematic review. A clear research question will:

  • Allow you to more effectively communicate your research to other researchers and practitioners
  • Guide your decisions as you plan and conduct your systematic review

A good research question for a systematic review has four components, which you can remember with the acronym PICO :

  • Population(s) or problem(s)
  • Intervention(s)
  • Comparison(s)

You can rearrange these four components to write your research question:

  • What is the effectiveness of I versus C for O in P ?

Sometimes, you may want to include a fifth component, the type of study design . In this case, the acronym is PICOT .

  • Type of study design(s)
  • The population of patients with eczema
  • The intervention of probiotics
  • In comparison to no treatment, placebo , or non-probiotic treatment
  • The outcome of changes in participant-, parent-, and doctor-rated symptoms of eczema and quality of life
  • Randomized control trials, a type of study design

Their research question was:

  • What is the effectiveness of probiotics versus no treatment, a placebo, or a non-probiotic treatment for reducing eczema symptoms and improving quality of life in patients with eczema?

Step 2: Develop a protocol

A protocol is a document that contains your research plan for the systematic review. This is an important step because having a plan allows you to work more efficiently and reduces bias.

Your protocol should include the following components:

  • Background information : Provide the context of the research question, including why it’s important.
  • Research objective (s) : Rephrase your research question as an objective.
  • Selection criteria: State how you’ll decide which studies to include or exclude from your review.
  • Search strategy: Discuss your plan for finding studies.
  • Analysis: Explain what information you’ll collect from the studies and how you’ll synthesize the data.

If you’re a professional seeking to publish your review, it’s a good idea to bring together an advisory committee . This is a group of about six people who have experience in the topic you’re researching. They can help you make decisions about your protocol.

It’s highly recommended to register your protocol. Registering your protocol means submitting it to a database such as PROSPERO or .

Step 3: Search for all relevant studies

Searching for relevant studies is the most time-consuming step of a systematic review.

To reduce bias, it’s important to search for relevant studies very thoroughly. Your strategy will depend on your field and your research question, but sources generally fall into these four categories:

  • Databases: Search multiple databases of peer-reviewed literature, such as PubMed or Scopus . Think carefully about how to phrase your search terms and include multiple synonyms of each word. Use Boolean operators if relevant.
  • Handsearching: In addition to searching the primary sources using databases, you’ll also need to search manually. One strategy is to scan relevant journals or conference proceedings. Another strategy is to scan the reference lists of relevant studies.
  • Gray literature: Gray literature includes documents produced by governments, universities, and other institutions that aren’t published by traditional publishers. Graduate student theses are an important type of gray literature, which you can search using the Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations (NDLTD) . In medicine, clinical trial registries are another important type of gray literature.
  • Experts: Contact experts in the field to ask if they have unpublished studies that should be included in your review.

At this stage of your review, you won’t read the articles yet. Simply save any potentially relevant citations using bibliographic software, such as Scribbr’s APA or MLA Generator .

  • Databases: EMBASE, PsycINFO, AMED, LILACS, and ISI Web of Science
  • Handsearch: Conference proceedings and reference lists of articles
  • Gray literature: The Cochrane Library, the metaRegister of Controlled Trials, and the Ongoing Skin Trials Register
  • Experts: Authors of unpublished registered trials, pharmaceutical companies, and manufacturers of probiotics

Step 4: Apply the selection criteria

Applying the selection criteria is a three-person job. Two of you will independently read the studies and decide which to include in your review based on the selection criteria you established in your protocol . The third person’s job is to break any ties.

To increase inter-rater reliability , ensure that everyone thoroughly understands the selection criteria before you begin.

If you’re writing a systematic review as a student for an assignment, you might not have a team. In this case, you’ll have to apply the selection criteria on your own; you can mention this as a limitation in your paper’s discussion.

You should apply the selection criteria in two phases:

  • Based on the titles and abstracts : Decide whether each article potentially meets the selection criteria based on the information provided in the abstracts.
  • Based on the full texts: Download the articles that weren’t excluded during the first phase. If an article isn’t available online or through your library, you may need to contact the authors to ask for a copy. Read the articles and decide which articles meet the selection criteria.

It’s very important to keep a meticulous record of why you included or excluded each article. When the selection process is complete, you can summarize what you did using a PRISMA flow diagram .

Next, Boyle and colleagues found the full texts for each of the remaining studies. Boyle and Tang read through the articles to decide if any more studies needed to be excluded based on the selection criteria.

When Boyle and Tang disagreed about whether a study should be excluded, they discussed it with Varigos until the three researchers came to an agreement.

Step 5: Extract the data

Extracting the data means collecting information from the selected studies in a systematic way. There are two types of information you need to collect from each study:

  • Information about the study’s methods and results . The exact information will depend on your research question, but it might include the year, study design , sample size, context, research findings , and conclusions. If any data are missing, you’ll need to contact the study’s authors.
  • Your judgment of the quality of the evidence, including risk of bias .

You should collect this information using forms. You can find sample forms in The Registry of Methods and Tools for Evidence-Informed Decision Making and the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluations Working Group .

Extracting the data is also a three-person job. Two people should do this step independently, and the third person will resolve any disagreements.

They also collected data about possible sources of bias, such as how the study participants were randomized into the control and treatment groups.

Step 6: Synthesize the data

Synthesizing the data means bringing together the information you collected into a single, cohesive story. There are two main approaches to synthesizing the data:

  • Narrative ( qualitative ): Summarize the information in words. You’ll need to discuss the studies and assess their overall quality.
  • Quantitative : Use statistical methods to summarize and compare data from different studies. The most common quantitative approach is a meta-analysis , which allows you to combine results from multiple studies into a summary result.

Generally, you should use both approaches together whenever possible. If you don’t have enough data, or the data from different studies aren’t comparable, then you can take just a narrative approach. However, you should justify why a quantitative approach wasn’t possible.

Boyle and colleagues also divided the studies into subgroups, such as studies about babies, children, and adults, and analyzed the effect sizes within each group.

Step 7: Write and publish a report

The purpose of writing a systematic review article is to share the answer to your research question and explain how you arrived at this answer.

Your article should include the following sections:

  • Abstract : A summary of the review
  • Introduction : Including the rationale and objectives
  • Methods : Including the selection criteria, search method, data extraction method, and synthesis method
  • Results : Including results of the search and selection process, study characteristics, risk of bias in the studies, and synthesis results
  • Discussion : Including interpretation of the results and limitations of the review
  • Conclusion : The answer to your research question and implications for practice, policy, or research

To verify that your report includes everything it needs, you can use the PRISMA checklist .

Once your report is written, you can publish it in a systematic review database, such as the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews , and/or in a peer-reviewed journal.

In their report, Boyle and colleagues concluded that probiotics cannot be recommended for reducing eczema symptoms or improving quality of life in patients with eczema. Note Generative AI tools like ChatGPT can be useful at various stages of the writing and research process and can help you to write your systematic review. However, we strongly advise against trying to pass AI-generated text off as your own work.

If you want to know more about statistics , methodology , or research bias , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Student’s  t -distribution
  • Normal distribution
  • Null and Alternative Hypotheses
  • Chi square tests
  • Confidence interval
  • Quartiles & Quantiles
  • Cluster sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Data cleansing
  • Reproducibility vs Replicability
  • Peer review
  • Prospective cohort study

Research bias

  • Implicit bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Placebo effect
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Hindsight bias
  • Affect heuristic
  • Social desirability bias

A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .

It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.

A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other  academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .

An  annotated bibliography is a list of  source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a  paper .  

A systematic review is secondary research because it uses existing research. You don’t collect new data yourself.

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Literature Review Outline: Structure, Format & Examples


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A literature review outline is a structured plan of the key elements that should be included in your overview of existing literature. The outline helps to organize the literature review and ensure that all relevant information is covered.

Creating an outline for a literature review is a skill that every student or researcher should possess. If you are new to preparing research outlines, do not know their main parts, or are wondering about ways of organizing information in them, read this article and learn about how to write a literature review outline. The guide also discusses the definition, structure, approaches, and tips relevant to composing a literature review outline. Additionally, you will reinforce your understanding of key concepts through various examples of literature review outlines that are offered. Don’t have time for reading, but the deadline is around the corner? Rely on our literature review services and have no worries.

What Is a Literature Review Outline?

A literature review outline is a sketch highlighting how you will convey information about your findings after evaluating and interpreting studies. In other words, it offers a rough overview of the sources you have analyzed in the paper.  Think of a literature outline as a general skeleton of what your full review should look like including the specifics of each part. Its purpose is to assist you in developing ideas, performing research and presenting your findings logically. Specifically, a literary review outline helps you sum up the arguments that you want to emphasize or what you will talk about in your study.

Elements of Literature Review Outline

Now that you know what a literature review outline means, you need to understand the major parts that must be incorporated. In general, it is organized in a similar way to a standard academic essay outline template with three key elements including an introduction, body, and conclusion. You may include subheadings within each part to divide them up into meaningful segments. An outline of a literature review has:

  • Introduction Hooks the reader and offers an overview of your topic.
  • Body Comprises headings, subheadings, and paragraphs for mapping out your argument.
  • Conclusion Summarizes your key points.

Introduction  To create an effective introduction for a literature review, attract readers with a hook . This can be a quotation, example, or question. Introduce the research topic by briefly mentioning key concepts and describing your perspective. Discuss the literature you will review and provide hints about your fundamental concept. Overall, the introduction should bring interest to your research topic and provide readers with an understanding of what to expect in the text. In addition to outlining the key components of your literature review, it's important to address any debates or concerns related to your topic. This provides context and helps readers understand the significance of your exploration. Be sure to mention the importance of your research in your literature review outline and articulate your problem statement or research question .  Keep in mind that references should be included in the subsequent sections of your review.

Body The body of your review is where you analyze and interpret results to support your argument. This section should be well-organized and provide a clear and thorough analysis of the gathered studies.  Structure the information consistently and synthesize the main points while also evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of your sources.  You can use one of the approaches described in the next section to structure your information in body paragraphs . Ensure your work flows systematically and is easier to understand by using transitions words , headings, and subheadings. In your literature review outline, introduce each article you have used for the project and provide a brief description. Briefly explain the relationship between the texts and your dissertation topic , and highlight how the papers are interrelated.

The conclusion is where you present your final evaluation. Begin by identifying the main themes you have discovered and their line of research. Then, mention any strengths and weaknesses you have found in the literature and highlight your work’s significance to existing knowledge. In general, the conclusion of your outline for a literature review should briefly:

  • Identify major agreements and disagreements in the studies reviewed.
  • Provide an in-depth explanation of your findings.
  • Describe any gaps or areas that require further research.
  • Offer recommendations for future study.
  • Provide your overall perspective on the issue.
  • Clarify the importance of the topic within the current academic discourse.

Once you build an outline, your next step is to create a literature review itself. Check out our helpful blog with step-by-step guidance on how to write a literature review . 

Literary Review Outline: Main Approaches

Before composing the outline of a literary review, you should think about the various ways of arranging your points. Generally, there are 4 major options for organizing information when writing a literature review outline. The format you choose depends on your specific inquiry, aims, and other requirements. These approaches include:

  • Theoretical
  • Chronological
  • Methodological.

Putting together your work well simplifies the entire process. Also remember to follow one structure consistently to avoid confusions with your flow. For example, if you decide to organize your work chronologically, make sure that you use this layout across your paper.

Theoretical Approach

A theoretical approach to literature review involves examining existing literature through a specific theoretical framework . Here, you need to view the literature through the lens of a particular theory or theories to gain a deeper understanding of your research question.  Theoretical approach can help identify patterns and inconsistencies not apparent through other methods. It’s especially useful if you are dealing with multiple theories or perspectives.  Divide your discussion into headings or subheadings following a particular order as shown below in the example:

  • Brief description.
  • Brief description, etc.

This is accompanied with brief discussions of each framework and their relevance to your paper. Look at this diagram for better understanding:

Theoretical Approach to a Literature Review Outline

Chronological Approach

Chronological approach (linear approach) is the simplest way of structuring your body section. Start with older studies and work towards more recent ones. This streamlines the analysis of debates about your topic over time as you write your literature review outline. Additionally, the linear organization enables you to identify those texts that have had a profound impact on your field. Arrange your sources in a chronological order to understand how your theme has changed over time. Using this approach, you focus on important turning points rather than all events.  Here is a pictorial illustration of this model.

Chronological Approach to a Literature Review Outline

Thematic Approach

Thematic approach to an outline for a literature review involves grouping your works by themes. Here, researchers determine specific patterns or subjects to arrange sources thematically.  Use the themes you have identified as headings or subheadings in your body paragraphs.Then, summarize the relevant information under each theme to keep your discussion organized and easy-to-follow. This allows you to place all sources focusing on a similar topic together which makes it easier to ascertain where differences in opinions or perspectives arise. It is a commonly used structure across diverse fields. Consider the following diagram for further explanation.

Thematic Approach to a Literature Review Outline

Methodological Approach

With the methodological approach, your literature review outline is organized based on specific research methodologies applied in the studies. This model is useful when you need to investigate research questions related to particular methods, such as qualitative or quantitative study .  This approach allows researchers to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of various methods, and identify any gaps or areas where further investigation is needed. You will later use your revelations when designing a research study and writing a methodology .  Have a look at the diagram below to organize your review methodologically:

Methodological Approach to a Literature Review Outline

Literature Review Outline Template

If creating an outline is still challenging for you at this point, don’t worry because you can use a ready-made literature review outline template. Most institutions usually provide completed models. This makes your work easier because you will just fill in the details for each section.  The format can be APA, MLA, Chicago, or Harvard, which is generally specified in the task instructions. Thus, you should not face any difficulties finding a particular layout that may be applied to literature review when writing a dissertation .  Still, you can use the following outline for literature review template example and include relevant information according to your work.

  • Identify your topic and its importance in the field
  • Describe your reasons for conducting the review
  • Explain how your appraisal is organized
  • Highlight your work’s objective i.e., what you will cover
  • You can use the same studies whenever they are needed to explain a specific subject
  • Repeat the major themes and their underlying topics until you have fully described each one of them
  • Explain what your review contributes to the field
  • Identify the strengths and weaknesses of studies
  • Describe the gaps you have located
  • State the next steps for research to solve the identified issues

How to Write a Literature Review Outline

It is not easy to write an outline for a literature review, particularly if this is your first time. However, don’t be discouraged because like all other formal tasks you have done up to now, preparing an outline successfully necessitates following a correct procedure and organization.  With that in mind, we offer a step-by-step guideline on how to outline a literature review. Follow the process below to create an excellent piece.

  • Select a topic. The initial step entails picking a topic of interest or a theme you are knowledgeable about. Choosing something you know helps in identifying relevant studies, which makes the writing process easier and more exciting. Focus on current and well-researched subjects as this makes finding sources less stressful. Also, be certain that you narrow down your issue to ensure it is specific and can be reviewed meaningfully.
  • Search the body of literature. When you have a theme, the next step is identifying relevant studies related to your topic as you continue preparing your literature review outline. Limit your exploration to reliable databases such as JSTOR , NCBI , EBSCO , or Elsevier among others to find trusted sources. Your school library is also a very good place for searching manuscripts. If you are unsure about this process, ask a librarian or your professor for assistance. Remember to focus on useful and recent manuscripts not older than 5 years unless the instructions state otherwise or your topic requires earlier articles. The number of documents depends on your task guidelines. After selecting documents for your outline, evaluate them to see if they are applicable to your subject.
  • Create a structure. To write a literature review outline effectively, you need to develop a well-organized and proper structure. Use one of the approaches discussed previously to organize your information. However, before starting, ensure that you understand how to begin your outline by using the created sketch to identify the main arguments to be included in it.
  • Identify key concepts and themes. You also need to understand the arguments presented in your sources. Achieving this requires that you read all the texts you found repeatedly to digest and grasp their arguments. Be selective at first by looking at important sections such as abstracts , summaries, discussions , and conclusions to get an idea of point of views. Take notes of the main facts you find as this will assist in incorporating relevant texts into your work. After gaining insights into the major points of a study, you can now engage in deeper reading by covering all sections in detail.
  • Compose an outline for a literature review. At this point, you can fill in your details to the sketch you created earlier by figuring out the arguments that are applicable to various sections. Your work now is simply to follow and maintain the structure you developed and draft your outline. Remember to proofread your plan and eliminate grammatical or other errors. Note that the aforementioned stages are described in a linear fashion. In reality, you may need to reformulate, reorganize, or recheck information and make several adjustments to your lit review outline. Thus, it may be necessary to revise specific parts of your paper regularly before delivering the best piece.

Literature Review Outline Examples

Reading a literature review outline sample to grasp the key ideas about this type of work is also important. Carefully examining these examples helps you gain insights into how well-structured pieces are prepared. Remember to check samples concerning your field of study to avoid confusion when developing your own. Additionally, your institution may have specific requirements for what you should cover. Thus, use the following samples of literature review outlines to augment your knowledge. Literature review outline example 1

Literature review outline example

Literature review outline sample 2

Sample of a literature review outline

Example of literature review outline 3

Example of a literature review outline

Literature Review Outline Writing Tips

Now that you have a good idea about developing an outline for a literature review, it is important to provide you with additional useful information. Remember that you must cover everything stated in your instructions and clarify things you are not sure of. Here are the essential tips to keep in mind:

  • Structure Develop a cohesive and logical structure as this allows you and others to easily understand which points are covered.
  • Topic Highlight your topic first to demonstrate what your work is about.
  • Format Ensure that you use an appropriate listing format to highlight major sections and their subheadings when writing a literature review outline. You can use different number layouts for the main sections and different listing designs for their subheadings. Regardless of your choice, be consistent throughout the paper.
  • Ideas Each bullet list or paragraph should deal with one idea.
  • Sections Ensure that all sections are linked to each other logically or your paper flows coherently.
  • Citations Include in-text citations of information borrowed from outside studies to support your points.
  • Sources Use only peer-reviewed articles as evidence for your arguments.

Bottom Line on Literature Review Outline

This guide has shared various tips and steps on how to do a literature review outline. Generally, these kinds of scholarly papers offer a clear logical structure of your work’s main sections. They help you to establish an effective blueprint by demonstrating the relevant parts and points to be covered later when creating an actual project. Use the information provided to write an outline for a literature review based on your case and objectives. If you face any challenges while completing your piece, remember to read the examples offered here for further insights or go back to specific sections for clarifications.


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FAQ About Literature Review Outline

1. how long is a literature review outline.

The length of a literature review outline depends on your work’s scope, type, and needed details. Comprehensive works such as thesis and dissertations may necessitate lengthier plans than class assignments. Generally, an outline takes a single page. However, there is no formula for how long this section should be. Use your judgment and consult your instructor regarding what is expected.

2. How to write a good literature review outline?

An outline for a literature review should not just summarize essential information. Rather, it should develop an argument by identifying ideas about your topic and their evolution in the academic discourse of relevant studies. A good outline should also mention any theoretical conflicts and methodological weaknesses found in sources.

3. What is a literature review outline purpose?

A literature review outline offers an overview of readings on a specific topic to help you establish a stand in your study field. Another purpose of this writing is to provide a reader with a view of past research. This shows your audience which direction the scholarly debate about a particular theme is heading in the context of current studies.


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Dissertation methodology

  • Open access
  • Published: 03 July 2024

The impact of evidence-based nursing leadership in healthcare settings: a mixed methods systematic review

  • Maritta Välimäki 1 , 2 ,
  • Shuang Hu 3 ,
  • Tella Lantta 1 ,
  • Kirsi Hipp 1 , 4 ,
  • Jaakko Varpula 1 ,
  • Jiarui Chen 3 ,
  • Gaoming Liu 5 ,
  • Yao Tang 3 ,
  • Wenjun Chen 3 &
  • Xianhong Li 3  

BMC Nursing volume  23 , Article number:  452 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

535 Accesses

Metrics details

The central component in impactful healthcare decisions is evidence. Understanding how nurse leaders use evidence in their own managerial decision making is still limited. This mixed methods systematic review aimed to examine how evidence is used to solve leadership problems and to describe the measured and perceived effects of evidence-based leadership on nurse leaders and their performance, organizational, and clinical outcomes.

We included articles using any type of research design. We referred nurses, nurse managers or other nursing staff working in a healthcare context when they attempt to influence the behavior of individuals or a group in an organization using an evidence-based approach. Seven databases were searched until 11 November 2021. JBI Critical Appraisal Checklist for Quasi-experimental studies, JBI Critical Appraisal Checklist for Case Series, Mixed Methods Appraisal Tool were used to evaluate the Risk of bias in quasi-experimental studies, case series, mixed methods studies, respectively. The JBI approach to mixed methods systematic reviews was followed, and a parallel-results convergent approach to synthesis and integration was adopted.

Thirty-one publications were eligible for the analysis: case series ( n  = 27), mixed methods studies ( n  = 3) and quasi-experimental studies ( n  = 1). All studies were included regardless of methodological quality. Leadership problems were related to the implementation of knowledge into practice, the quality of nursing care and the resource availability. Organizational data was used in 27 studies to understand leadership problems, scientific evidence from literature was sought in 26 studies, and stakeholders’ views were explored in 24 studies. Perceived and measured effects of evidence-based leadership focused on nurses’ performance, organizational outcomes, and clinical outcomes. Economic data were not available.


This is the first systematic review to examine how evidence is used to solve leadership problems and to describe its measured and perceived effects from different sites. Although a variety of perceptions and effects were identified on nurses’ performance as well as on organizational and clinical outcomes, available knowledge concerning evidence-based leadership is currently insufficient. Therefore, more high-quality research and clinical trial designs are still needed.

Trail registration

The study was registered (PROSPERO CRD42021259624).

Peer Review reports

Global health demands have set new roles for nurse leaders [ 1 ].Nurse leaders are referred to as nurses, nurse managers, or other nursing staff working in a healthcare context who attempt to influence the behavior of individuals or a group based on goals that are congruent with organizational goals [ 2 ]. They are seen as professionals “armed with data and evidence, and a commitment to mentorship and education”, and as a group in which “leaders innovate, transform, and achieve quality outcomes for patients, health care professionals, organizations, and communities” [ 3 ]. Effective leadership occurs when team members critically follow leaders and are motivated by a leader’s decisions based on the organization’s requests and targets [ 4 ]. On the other hand, problems caused by poor leadership may also occur, regarding staff relations, stress, sickness, or retention [ 5 ]. Therefore, leadership requires an understanding of different problems to be solved using synthesizing evidence from research, clinical expertise, and stakeholders’ preferences [ 6 , 7 ]. If based on evidence, leadership decisions, also referred as leadership decision making [ 8 ], could ensure adequate staffing [ 7 , 9 ] and to produce sufficient and cost-effective care [ 10 ]. However, nurse leaders still rely on their decision making on their personal [ 11 ] and professional experience [ 10 ] over research evidence, which can lead to deficiencies in the quality and safety of care delivery [ 12 , 13 , 14 ]. As all nurses should demonstrate leadership in their profession, their leadership competencies should be strengthened [ 15 ].

Evidence-informed decision-making, referred to as evidence appraisal and application, and evaluation of decisions [ 16 ], has been recognized as one of the core competencies for leaders [ 17 , 18 ]. The role of evidence in nurse leaders’ managerial decision making has been promoted by public authorities [ 19 , 20 , 21 ]. Evidence-based management, another concept related to evidence-based leadership, has been used as the potential to improve healthcare services [ 22 ]. It can guide nursing leaders, in developing working conditions, staff retention, implementation practices, strategic planning, patient care, and success of leadership [ 13 ]. Collins and Holton [ 23 ] in their systematic review and meta-analysis examined 83 studies regarding leadership development interventions. They found that leadership training can result in significant improvement in participants’ skills, especially in knowledge level, although the training effects varied across studies. Cummings et al. [ 24 ] reviewed 100 papers (93 studies) and concluded that participation in leadership interventions had a positive impact on the development of a variety of leadership styles. Clavijo-Chamorro et al. [ 25 ] in their review of 11 studies focused on leadership-related factors that facilitate evidence implementation: teamwork, organizational structures, and transformational leadership. The role of nurse managers was to facilitate evidence-based practices by transforming contexts to motivate the staff and move toward a shared vision of change.

As far as we are aware, however, only a few systematic reviews have focused on evidence-based leadership or related concepts in the healthcare context aiming to analyse how nurse leaders themselves uses evidence in the decision-making process. Young [ 26 ] targeted definitions and acceptance of evidence-based management (EBMgt) in healthcare while Hasanpoor et al. [ 22 ] identified facilitators and barriers, sources of evidence used, and the role of evidence in the process of decision making. Both these reviews concluded that EBMgt was of great importance but used limitedly in healthcare settings due to a lack of time, a lack of research management activities, and policy constraints. A review by Williams [ 27 ] showed that the usage of evidence to support management in decision making is marginal due to a shortage of relevant evidence. Fraser [ 28 ] in their review further indicated that the potential evidence-based knowledge is not used in decision making by leaders as effectively as it could be. Non-use of evidence occurs and leaders base their decisions mainly on single studies, real-world evidence, and experts’ opinions [ 29 ]. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses rarely provide evidence of management-related interventions [ 30 ]. Tate et al. [ 31 ] concluded based on their systematic review and meta-analysis that the ability of nurse leaders to use and critically appraise research evidence may influence the way policy is enacted and how resources and staff are used to meet certain objectives set by policy. This can further influence staff and workforce outcomes. It is therefore important that nurse leaders have the capacity and motivation to use the strongest evidence available to effect change and guide their decision making [ 27 ].

Despite of a growing body of evidence, we found only one review focusing on the impact of evidence-based knowledge. Geert et al. [ 32 ] reviewed literature from 2007 to 2016 to understand the elements of design, delivery, and evaluation of leadership development interventions that are the most reliably linked to outcomes at the level of the individual and the organization, and that are of most benefit to patients. The authors concluded that it is possible to improve individual-level outcomes among leaders, such as knowledge, motivation, skills, and behavior change using evidence-based approaches. Some of the most effective interventions included, for example, interactive workshops, coaching, action learning, and mentoring. However, these authors found limited research evidence describing how nurse leaders themselves use evidence to support their managerial decisions in nursing and what the outcomes are.

To fill the knowledge gap and compliment to existing knowledgebase, in this mixed methods review we aimed to (1) examine what leadership problems nurse leaders solve using an evidence-based approach and (2) how they use evidence to solve these problems. We also explored (3) the measured and (4) perceived effects of the evidence-based leadership approach in healthcare settings. Both qualitative and quantitative components of the effects of evidence-based leadership were examined to provide greater insights into the available literature [ 33 ]. Together with the evidence-based leadership approach, and its impact on nursing [ 34 , 35 ], this knowledge gained in this review can be used to inform clinical policy or organizational decisions [ 33 ]. The study is registered (PROSPERO CRD42021259624). The methods used in this review were specified in advance and documented in a priori in a published protocol [ 36 ]. Key terms of the review and the search terms are defined in Table  1 (population, intervention, comparison, outcomes, context, other).

In this review, we used a mixed methods approach [ 37 ]. A mixed methods systematic review was selected as this approach has the potential to produce direct relevance to policy makers and practitioners [ 38 ]. Johnson and Onwuegbuzie [ 39 ] have defined mixed methods research as “the class of research in which the researcher mixes or combines quantitative and qualitative research techniques, methods, approaches, concepts or language into a single study.” Therefore, we combined quantitative and narrative analysis to appraise and synthesize empirical evidence, and we held them as equally important in informing clinical policy or organizational decisions [ 34 ]. In this review, a comprehensive synthesis of quantitative and qualitative data was performed first and then discussed in discussion part (parallel-results convergent design) [ 40 ]. We hoped that different type of analysis approaches could complement each other and deeper picture of the topic in line with our research questions could be gained [ 34 ].

Inclusion and exclusion criteria

Inclusion and exclusion criteria of the study are described in Table  1 .

Search strategy

A three-step search strategy was utilized. First, an initial limited search with #MEDLINE was undertaken, followed by analysis of the words used in the title, abstract, and the article’s key index terms. Second, the search strategy, including identified keywords and index terms, was adapted for each included data base and a second search was undertaken on 11 November 2021. The full search strategy for each database is described in Additional file 1 . Third, the reference list of all studies included in the review were screened for additional studies. No year limits or language restrictions were used.

Information sources

The database search included the following: CINAHL (EBSCO), Cochrane Library (academic database for medicine and health science and nursing), Embase (Elsevier), PsycINFO (EBSCO), PubMed (MEDLINE), Scopus (Elsevier) and Web of Science (academic database across all scientific and technical disciplines, ranging from medicine and social sciences to arts and humanities). These databases were selected as they represent typical databases in health care context. Subject headings from each of the databases were included in the search strategies. Boolean operators ‘AND’ and ‘OR’ were used to combine the search terms. An information specialist from the University of Turku Library was consulted in the formation of the search strategies.

Study selection

All identified citations were collated and uploaded into Covidence software (Covidence systematic review software, Veritas Health Innovation, Melbourne, Australia ), and duplicates were removed by the software. Titles and abstracts were screened and assessed against the inclusion criteria independently by two reviewers out of four, and any discrepancies were resolved by the third reviewer (MV, KH, TL, WC). Studies meeting the inclusion criteria were retrieved in full and archived in Covidence. Access to one full-text article was lacking: the authors for one study were contacted about the missing full text, but no full text was received. All remaining hits of the included studies were retrieved and assessed independently against the inclusion criteria by two independent reviewers of four (MV, KH, TL, WC). Studies that did not meet the inclusion criteria were excluded, and the reasons for exclusion were recorded in Covidence. Any disagreements that arose between the reviewers were resolved through discussions with XL.

Assessment of methodological quality

Eligible studies were critically appraised by two independent reviewers (YT, SH). Standardized critical appraisal instruments based on the study design were used. First, quasi-experimental studies were assessed using the JBI Critical Appraisal Checklist for Quasi-experimental studies [ 44 ]. Second, case series were assessed using the JBI Critical Appraisal Checklist for Case Series [ 45 ]. Third, mixed methods studies were appraised using the Mixed Methods Appraisal Tool [ 46 ].

To increase inter-reviewer reliability, the review agreement was calculated (SH) [ 47 ]. A kappa greater than 0.8 was considered to represent a high level of agreement (0–0.1). In our data, the agreement was 0.75. Discrepancies raised between two reviewers were resolved through discussion and modifications and confirmed by XL. As an outcome, studies that met the inclusion criteria were proceeded to critical appraisal and assessed as suitable for inclusion in the review. The scores for each item and overall critical appraisal scores were presented.

Data extraction

For data extraction, specific tables were created. First, study characteristics (author(s), year, country, design, number of participants, setting) were extracted by two authors independently (JC, MV) and reviewed by TL. Second, descriptions of the interventions were extracted by two reviewers (JV, JC) using the structure of the TIDIeR (Template for Intervention Description and Replication) checklist (brief name, the goal of the intervention, material and procedure, models of delivery and location, dose, modification, adherence and fidelity) [ 48 ]. The extractions were confirmed (MV).

Third, due to a lack of effectiveness data and a wide heterogeneity between study designs and presentation of outcomes, no attempt was made to pool the quantitative data statistically; the findings of the quantitative data were presented in narrative form only [ 44 ]. The separate data extraction tables for each research question were designed specifically for this study. For both qualitative (and a qualitative component of mixed-method studies) and quantitative studies, the data were extracted and tabulated into text format according to preplanned research questions [ 36 ]. To test the quality of the tables and the data extraction process, three authors independently extracted the data from the first five studies (in alphabetical order). After that, the authors came together to share and determine whether their approaches of the data extraction were consistent with each other’s output and whether the content of each table was in line with research question. No reason was found to modify the data extraction tables or planned process. After a consensus of the data extraction process was reached, the data were extracted in pairs by independent reviewers (WC, TY, SH, GL). Any disagreements that arose between the reviewers were resolved through discussion and with a third reviewer (MV).

Data analysis

We were not able to conduct a meta-analysis due to a lack of effectiveness data based on clinical trials. Instead, we used inductive thematic analysis with constant comparison to answer the research question [ 46 , 49 ] using tabulated primary data from qualitative and quantitative studies as reported by the original authors in narrative form only [ 47 ]. In addition, the qualitizing process was used to transform quantitative data to qualitative data; this helped us to convert the whole data into themes and categories. After that we used the thematic analysis for the narrative data as follows. First, the text was carefully read, line by line, to reveal topics answering each specific review question (MV). Second, the data coding was conducted, and the themes in the data were formed by data categorization. The process of deriving the themes was inductive based on constant comparison [ 49 ]. The results of thematic analysis and data categorization was first described in narrative format and then the total number of studies was calculated where the specific category was identified (%).

Stakeholder involvement

The method of reporting stakeholders’ involvement follows the key components by [ 50 ]: (1) people involved, (2) geographical location, (3) how people were recruited, (4) format of involvement, (5) amount of involvement, (6) ethical approval, (7) financial compensation, and (8) methods for reporting involvement.

In our review, stakeholder involvement targeted nurses and nurse leader in China. Nurse Directors of two hospitals recommended potential participants who received a personal invitation letter from researchers to participate in a discussion meeting. Stakeholders’ participation was based on their own free will. Due to COVID-19, one online meeting (1 h) was organized (25 May 2022). Eleven participants joined the meeting. Ethical approval was not applied and no financial compensation was offered. At the end of the meeting, experiences of stakeholders’ involvement were explored.

The meeting started with an introductory presentation with power points. The rationale, methods, and preliminary review results were shared with the participants [ 51 ].The meeting continued with general questions for the participants: (1) Are you aware of the concepts of evidence-based practice or evidence-based leadership?; (2) How important is it to use evidence to support decisions among nurse leaders?; (3) How is the evidence-based approach used in hospital settings?; and (4) What type of evidence is currently used to support nurse leaders’ decision making (e.g. scientific literature, organizational data, stakeholder views)?

Two people took notes on the course and content of the conversation. The notes were later transcripted in verbatim, and the key points of the discussions were summarised. Although answers offered by the stakeholders were very short, the information was useful to validate the preliminary content of the results, add the rigorousness of the review, and obtain additional perspectives. A recommendation of the stakeholders was combined in the Discussion part of this review increasing the applicability of the review in the real world [ 50 ]. At the end of the discussion, the value of stakeholders’ involvement was asked. Participants shared that the experience of participating was unique and the topic of discussion was challenging. Two authors of the review group further represented stakeholders by working together with the research team throughout the review study.

Search results

From seven different electronic databases, 6053 citations were identified as being potentially relevant to the review. Then, 3133 duplicates were removed by an automation tool (Covidence: ), and one was removed manually. The titles and abstracts of 3040 of citations were reviewed, and a total of 110 full texts were included (one extra citation was found on the reference list but later excluded). Based on the eligibility criteria, 31 studies (32 hits) were critically appraised and deemed suitable for inclusion in the review. The search results and selection process are presented in the PRISMA [ 52 ] flow diagram Fig.  1 . The full list of references for included studies can be find in Additional file 2 . To avoid confusion between articles of the reference list and studies included in the analysis, the studies included in the review are referred inside the article using the reference number of each study (e.g. ref 1, ref 2).

figure 1

Search results and study selection and inclusion process [ 52 ]

Characteristics of included studies

The studies had multiple purposes, aiming to develop practice, implement a new approach, improve quality, or to develop a model. The 31 studies (across 32 hits) were case series studies ( n  = 27), mixed methods studies ( n  = 3) and a quasi-experimental study ( n  = 1). All studies were published between the years 2004 and 2021. The highest number of papers was published in year 2020.

Table  2 describes the characteristics of included studies and Additional file 3 offers a narrative description of the studies.

Methodological quality assessment

Quasi-experimental studies.

We had one quasi-experimental study (ref 31). All questions in the critical appraisal tool were applicable. The total score of the study was 8 (out of a possible 9). Only one response of the tool was ‘no’ because no control group was used in the study (see Additional file 4 for the critical appraisal of included studies).

Case series studies . A case series study is typically defined as a collection of subjects with common characteristics. The studies do not include a comparison group and are often based on prevalent cases and on a sample of convenience [ 53 ]. Munn et al. [ 45 ] further claim that case series are best described as observational studies, lacking experimental and randomized characteristics, being descriptive studies, without a control or comparator group. Out of 27 case series studies included in our review, the critical appraisal scores varied from 1 to 9. Five references were conference abstracts with empirical study results, which were scored from 1 to 3. Full reports of these studies were searched in electronic databases but not found. Critical appraisal scores for the remaining 22 studies ranged from 1 to 9 out of a possible score of 10. One question (Q3) was not applicable to 13 studies: “Were valid methods used for identification of the condition for all participants included in the case series?” Only two studies had clearly reported the demographic of the participants in the study (Q6). Twenty studies met Criteria 8 (“Were the outcomes or follow-up results of cases clearly reported?”) and 18 studies met Criteria 7 (“Q7: Was there clear reporting of clinical information of the participants?”) (see Additional file 4 for the critical appraisal of included studies).

Mixed-methods studies

Mixed-methods studies involve a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. This is a common design and includes convergent design, sequential explanatory design, and sequential exploratory design [ 46 ]. There were three mixed-methods studies. The critical appraisal scores for the three studies ranged from 60 to 100% out of a possible 100%. Two studies met all the criteria, while one study fulfilled 60% of the scored criteria due to a lack of information to understand the relevance of the sampling strategy well enough to address the research question (Q4.1) or to determine whether the risk of nonresponse bias was low (Q4.4) (see Additional file 4 for the critical appraisal of included studies).

Intervention or program components

The intervention of program components were categorized and described using the TiDier checklist: name and goal, theory or background, material, procedure, provider, models of delivery, location, dose, modification, and adherence and fidelity [ 48 ]. A description of intervention in each study is described in Additional file 5 and a narrative description in Additional file 6 .

Leadership problems

In line with the inclusion criteria, data for the leadership problems were categorized in all 31 included studies (see Additional file 7 for leadership problems). Three types of leadership problems were identified: implementation of knowledge into practice, the quality of clinical care, and resources in nursing care. A narrative summary of the results is reported below.

Implementing knowledge into practice

Eleven studies (35%) aimed to solve leadership problems related to implementation of knowledge into practice. Studies showed how to support nurses in evidence-based implementation (EBP) (ref 3, ref 5), how to engage nurses in using evidence in practice (ref 4), how to convey the importance of EBP (ref 22) or how to change practice (ref 4). Other problems were how to facilitate nurses to use guideline recommendations (ref 7) and how nurses can make evidence-informed decisions (ref 8). General concerns also included the linkage between theory and practice (ref 1) as well as how to implement the EBP model in practice (ref 6). In addition, studies were motivated by the need for revisions or updates of protocols to improve clinical practice (ref 10) as well as the need to standardize nursing activities (ref 11, ref 14).

The quality of the care

Thirteen (42%) focused on solving problems related to the quality of clinical care. In these studies, a high number of catheter infections led a lack of achievement of organizational goals (ref 2, ref 9). A need to reduce patient symptoms in stem cell transplant patients undergoing high-dose chemotherapy (ref 24) was also one of the problems to be solved. In addition, the projects focused on how to prevent pressure ulcers (ref 26, ref 29), how to enhance the quality of cancer treatment (ref 25) and how to reduce the need for invasive constipation treatment (ref 30). Concerns about patient safety (ref 15), high fall rates (ref 16, ref 19), dissatisfaction of patients (ref 16, ref 18) and nurses (ref 16, ref 30) were also problems that had initiated the projects. Studies addressed concerns about how to promote good contingency care in residential aged care homes (ref 20) and about how to increase recognition of human trafficking problems in healthcare (ref 21).

Resources in nursing care

Nurse leaders identified problems in their resources, especially in staffing problems. These problems were identified in seven studies (23%), which involved concerns about how to prevent nurses from leaving the job (ref 31), how to ensure appropriate recruitment, staffing and retaining of nurses (ref 13) and how to decrease nurses’ burden and time spent on nursing activities (ref 12). Leadership turnover was also reported as a source of dissatisfaction (ref 17); studies addressed a lack of structured transition and training programs, which led to turnover (ref 23), as well as how to improve intershift handoff among nurses (ref 28). Optimal design for new hospitals was also examined (ref 27).

Main features of evidence-based leadership

Out of 31 studies, 17 (55%) included all four domains of an evidence-based leadership approach, and four studies (13%) included evidence of critical appraisal of the results (see Additional file 8 for the main features of evidence-based Leadership) (ref 11, ref 14, ref 23, ref 27).

Organizational evidence

Twenty-seven studies (87%) reported how organizational evidence was collected and used to solve leadership problems (ref 2). Retrospective chart reviews (ref 5), a review of the extent of specific incidents (ref 19), and chart auditing (ref 7, ref 25) were conducted. A gap between guideline recommendations and actual care was identified using organizational data (ref 7) while the percentage of nurses’ working time spent on patient care was analyzed using an electronic charting system (ref 12). Internal data (ref 22), institutional data, and programming metrics were also analyzed to understand the development of the nurse workforce (ref 13).

Surveys (ref 3, ref 25), interviews (ref 3, ref 25) and group reviews (ref 18) were used to better understand the leadership problem to be solved. Employee opinion surveys on leadership (ref 17), a nurse satisfaction survey (ref 30) and a variety of reporting templates were used for the data collection (ref 28) reported. Sometimes, leadership problems were identified by evidence facilitators or a PI’s team who worked with staff members (ref 15, ref 17). Problems in clinical practice were also identified by the Nursing Professional Council (ref 14), managers (ref 26) or nurses themselves (ref 24). Current practices were reviewed (ref 29) and a gap analysis was conducted (ref 4, ref 16, ref 23) together with SWOT analysis (ref 16). In addition, hospital mission and vision statements, research culture established and the proportion of nursing alumni with formal EBP training were analyzed (ref 5). On the other hand, it was stated that no systematic hospital-specific sources of data regarding job satisfaction or organizational commitment were used (ref 31). In addition, statements of organizational analysis were used on a general level only (ref 1).

Scientific evidence identified

Twenty-six studies (84%) reported the use of scientific evidence in their evidence-based leadership processes. A literature search was conducted (ref 21) and questions, PICO, and keywords were identified (ref 4) in collaboration with a librarian. Electronic databases, including PubMed (ref 14, ref 31), Cochrane, and EMBASE (ref 31) were searched. Galiano (ref 6) used Wiley Online Library, Elsevier, CINAHL, Health Source: Nursing/Academic Edition, PubMed, and the Cochrane Library while Hoke (ref 11) conducted an electronic search using CINAHL and PubMed to retrieve articles.

Identified journals were reviewed manually (ref 31). The findings were summarized using ‘elevator speech’ (ref 4). In a study by Gifford et al. (ref 9) evidence facilitators worked with participants to access, appraise, and adapt the research evidence to the organizational context. Ostaszkiewicz (ref 20) conducted a scoping review of literature and identified and reviewed frameworks and policy documents about the topic and the quality standards. Further, a team of nursing administrators, directors, staff nurses, and a patient representative reviewed the literature and made recommendations for practice changes.

Clinical practice guidelines were also used to offer scientific evidence (ref 7, ref 19). Evidence was further retrieved from a combination of nursing policies, guidelines, journal articles, and textbooks (ref 12) as well as from published guidelines and literature (ref 13). Internal evidence, professional practice knowledge, relevant theories and models were synthesized (ref 24) while other study (ref 25) reviewed individual studies, synthesized with systematic reviews or clinical practice guidelines. The team reviewed the research evidence (ref 3, ref 15) or conducted a literature review (ref 22, ref 28, ref 29), a literature search (ref 27), a systematic review (ref 23), a review of the literature (ref 30) or ‘the scholarly literature was reviewed’ (ref 18). In addition, ‘an extensive literature review of evidence-based best practices was carried out’ (ref 10). However, detailed description how the review was conducted was lacking.

Views of stakeholders

A total of 24 studies (77%) reported methods for how the views of stakeholders, i.e., professionals or experts, were considered. Support to run this study was received from nursing leadership and multidisciplinary teams (ref 29). Experts and stakeholders joined the study team in some cases (ref 25, ref 30), and in other studies, their opinions were sought to facilitate project success (ref 3). Sometimes a steering committee was formed by a Chief Nursing Officer and Clinical Practice Specialists (ref 2). More specifically, stakeholders’ views were considered using interviews, workshops and follow-up teleconferences (ref 7). The literature review was discussed with colleagues (ref 11), and feedback and support from physicians as well as the consensus of staff were sought (ref 16).

A summary of the project findings and suggestions for the studies were discussed at 90-minute weekly meetings by 11 charge nurses. Nurse executive directors were consulted over a 10-week period (ref 31). An implementation team (nurse, dietician, physiotherapist, occupational therapist) was formed to support the implementation of evidence-based prevention measures (ref 26). Stakeholders volunteered to join in the pilot implementation (ref 28) or a stakeholder team met to determine the best strategy for change management, shortcomings in evidence-based criteria were discussed, and strategies to address those areas were planned (ref 5). Nursing leaders, staff members (ref 22), ‘process owners (ref 18) and program team members (ref 18, ref 19, ref 24) met regularly to discuss the problems. Critical input was sought from clinical educators, physicians, nutritionists, pharmacists, and nurse managers (ref 24). The unit director and senior nursing staff reviewed the contents of the product, and the final version of clinical pathways were reviewed and approved by the Quality Control Commission of the Nursing Department (ref 12). In addition, two co-design workshops with 18 residential aged care stakeholders were organized to explore their perspectives about factors to include in a model prototype (ref 20). Further, an agreement of stakeholders in implementing continuous quality services within an open relationship was conducted (ref 1).

Critical appraisal

In five studies (16%), a critical appraisal targeting the literature search was carried out. The appraisals were conducted by interns and teams who critiqued the evidence (ref 4). In Hoke’s study, four areas that had emerged in the literature were critically reviewed (ref 11). Other methods were to ‘critically appraise the search results’ (ref 14). Journal club team meetings (ref 23) were organized to grade the level and quality of evidence and the team ‘critically appraised relevant evidence’ (ref 27). On the other hand, the studies lacked details of how the appraisals were done in each study.

The perceived effects of evidence-based leadership

Perceived effects of evidence-based leadership on nurses’ performance.

Eleven studies (35%) described perceived effects of evidence-based leadership on nurses’ performance (see Additional file 9 for perceived effects of evidence-based leadership), which were categorized in four groups: awareness and knowledge, competence, ability to understand patients’ needs, and engagement. First, regarding ‘awareness and knowledge’, different projects provided nurses with new learning opportunities (ref 3). Staff’s knowledge (ref 20, ref 28), skills, and education levels improved (ref 20), as did nurses’ knowledge comprehension (ref 21). Second, interventions and approaches focusing on management and leadership positively influenced participants’ competence level to improve the quality of services. Their confidence level (ref 1) and motivation to change practice increased, self-esteem improved, and they were more positive and enthusiastic in their work (ref 22). Third, some nurses were relieved that they had learned to better handle patients’ needs (ref 25). For example, a systematic work approach increased nurses’ awareness of the patients who were at risk of developing health problems (ref 26). And last, nurse leaders were more engaged with staff, encouraging them to adopt the new practices and recognizing their efforts to change (ref 8).

Perceived effects on organizational outcomes

Nine studies (29%) described the perceived effects of evidence-based leadership on organizational outcomes (see Additional file 9 for perceived effects of evidence-based leadership). These were categorized into three groups: use of resources, staff commitment, and team effort. First, more appropriate use of resources was reported (ref 15, ref 20), and working time was more efficiently used (ref 16). In generally, a structured approach made implementing change more manageable (ref 1). On the other hand, in the beginning of the change process, the feedback from nurses was unfavorable, and they experienced discomfort in the new work style (ref 29). New approaches were also perceived as time consuming (ref 3). Second, nurse leaders believed that fewer nursing staff than expected left the organization over the course of the study (ref 31). Third, the project helped staff in their efforts to make changes, and it validated the importance of working as a team (ref 7). Collaboration and support between the nurses increased (ref 26). On the other hand, new work style caused challenges in teamwork (ref 3).

Perceived effects on clinical outcomes

Five studies (16%) reported the perceived effects of evidence-based leadership on clinical outcomes (see Additional file 9 for perceived effects of evidence-based leadership), which were categorized in two groups: general patient outcomes and specific clinical outcomes. First, in general, the project assisted in connecting the guideline recommendations and patient outcomes (ref 7). The project was good for the patients in general, and especially to improve patient safety (ref 16). On the other hand, some nurses thought that the new working style did not work at all for patients (ref 28). Second, the new approach used assisted in optimizing patients’ clinical problems and person-centered care (ref 20). Bowel management, for example, received very good feedback (ref 30).

The measured effects of evidence-based leadership

The measured effects on nurses’ performance.

Data were obtained from 20 studies (65%) (see Additional file 10 for measured effects of evidence-based leadership) and categorized nurse performance outcomes for three groups: awareness and knowledge, engagement, and satisfaction. First, six studies (19%) measured the awareness and knowledge levels of participants. Internship for staff nurses was beneficial to help participants to understand the process for using evidence-based practice and to grow professionally, to stimulate for innovative thinking, to give knowledge needed to use evidence-based practice to answer clinical questions, and to make possible to complete an evidence-based practice project (ref 3). Regarding implementation program of evidence-based practice, those with formal EBP training showed an improvement in knowledge, attitude, confidence, awareness and application after intervention (ref 3, ref 11, ref 20, ref 23, ref 25). On the contrary, in other study, attitude towards EBP remained stable ( p  = 0.543). and those who applied EBP decreased although no significant differences over the years ( p  = 0.879) (ref 6).

Second, 10 studies (35%) described nurses’ engagement to new practices (ref 5, ref 6, ref 7, ref 10, ref 16, ref 17, ref 18, ref 21, ref 25, ref 27). 9 studies (29%) studies reported that there was an improvement of compliance level of participants (ref 6, ref 7, ref 10, ref 16, ref 17, ref 18, ref 21, ref 25, ref 27). On the contrary, in DeLeskey’s (ref 5) study, although improvement was found in post-operative nausea and vomiting’s (PONV) risk factors documented’ (2.5–63%), and ’risk factors communicated among anaesthesia and surgical staff’ (0–62%), the improvement did not achieve the goal. The reason was a limited improvement was analysed. It was noted that only those patients who had been seen by the pre-admission testing nurse had risk assessments completed. Appropriate treatment/prophylaxis increased from 69 to 77%, and from 30 to 49%; routine assessment for PONV/rescue treatment 97% and 100% was both at 100% following the project. The results were discussed with staff but further reasons for a lack of engagement in nursing care was not reported.

And third, six studies (19%) reported nurses’ satisfaction with project outcomes. The study results showed that using evidence in managerial decisions improved nurses’ satisfaction and attitudes toward their organization ( P  < 0.05) (ref 31). Nurses’ overall job satisfaction improved as well (ref 17). Nurses’ satisfaction with usability of the electronic charting system significantly improved after introduction of the intervention (ref 12). In handoff project in seven hospitals, improvement was reported in all satisfaction indicators used in the study although improvement level varied in different units (ref 28). In addition, positive changes were reported in nurses’ ability to autonomously perform their job (“How satisfied are you with the tools and resources available for you treat and prevent patient constipation?” (54%, n  = 17 vs. 92%, n  = 35, p  < 0.001) (ref 30).

The measured effects on organizational outcomes

Thirteen studies (42%) described the effects of a project on organizational outcomes (see Additional file 10 for measured effects of evidence-based leadership), which were categorized in two groups: staff compliance, and changes in practices. First, studies reported improved organizational outcomes due to staff better compliance in care (ref 4, ref 13, ref 17, ref 23, ref 27, ref 31). Second, changes in organization practices were also described (ref 11) like changes in patient documentation (ref 12, ref 21). Van Orne (ref 30) found a statistically significant reduction in the average rate of invasive medication administration between pre-intervention and post-intervention ( p  = 0.01). Salvador (ref 24) also reported an improvement in a proactive approach to mucositis prevention with an evidence-based oral care guide. On the contrary, concerns were also raised such as not enough time for new bedside report (ref 16) or a lack of improvement of assessment of diabetic ulcer (ref 8).

The measured effects on clinical outcomes

A variety of improvements in clinical outcomes were reported (see Additional file 10 for measured effects of evidence-based leadership): improvement in patient clinical status and satisfaction level. First, a variety of improvement in patient clinical status was reported. improvement in Incidence of CAUTI decreased 27.8% between 2015 and 2019 (ref 2) while a patient-centered quality improvement project reduced CAUTI rates to 0 (ref 10). A significant decrease in transmission rate of MRSA transmission was also reported (ref 27) and in other study incidences of CLABSIs dropped following of CHG bathing (ref 14). Further, it was possible to decrease patient nausea from 18 to 5% and vomiting to 0% (ref 5) while the percentage of patients who left the hospital without being seen was below 2% after the project (ref 17). In addition, a significant reduction in the prevalence of pressure ulcers was found (ref 26, ref 29) and a significant reduction of mucositis severity/distress was achieved (ref 24). Patient falls rate decreased (ref 15, ref 16, ref 19, ref 27).

Second, patient satisfaction level after project implementation improved (ref 28). The scale assessing healthcare providers by consumers showed improvement, but the changes were not statistically significant. Improvement in an emergency department leadership model and in methods of communication with patients improved patient satisfaction scores by 600% (ref 17). In addition, new evidence-based unit improved patient experiences about the unit although not all items improved significantly (ref 18).

Stakeholder involvement in the mixed-method review

To ensure stakeholders’ involvement in the review, the real-world relevance of our research [ 53 ], achieve a higher level of meaning in our review results, and gain new perspectives on our preliminary findings [ 50 ], a meeting with 11 stakeholders was organized. First, we asked if participants were aware of the concepts of evidence-based practice or evidence-based leadership. Responses revealed that participants were familiar with the concept of evidence-based practice, but the topic of evidence-based leadership was totally new. Examples of nurses and nurse leaders’ responses are as follows: “I have heard a concept of evidence-based practice but never a concept of evidence-based leadership.” Another participant described: “I have heard it [evidence-based leadership] but I do not understand what it means.”

Second, as stakeholder involvement is beneficial to the relevance and impact of health research [ 54 ], we asked how important evidence is to them in supporting decisions in health care services. One participant described as follows: “Using evidence in decisions is crucial to the wards and also to the entire hospital.” Third, we asked how the evidence-based approach is used in hospital settings. Participants expressed that literature is commonly used to solve clinical problems in patient care but not to solve leadership problems. “In [patient] medication and care, clinical guidelines are regularly used. However, I am aware only a few cases where evidence has been sought to solve leadership problems.”

And last, we asked what type of evidence is currently used to support nurse leaders’ decision making (e.g. scientific literature, organizational data, stakeholder views)? The participants were aware that different types of information were collected in their organization on a daily basis (e.g. patient satisfaction surveys). However, the information was seldom used to support decision making because nurse leaders did not know how to access this information. Even so, the participants agreed that the use of evidence from different sources was important in approaching any leadership or managerial problems in the organization. Participants also suggested that all nurse leaders should receive systematic training related to the topic; this could support the daily use of the evidence-based approach.

To our knowledge, this article represents the first mixed-methods systematic review to examine leadership problems, how evidence is used to solve these problems and what the perceived and measured effects of evidence-based leadership are on nurse leaders and their performance, organizational, and clinical outcomes. This review has two key findings. First, the available research data suggests that evidence-based leadership has potential in the healthcare context, not only to improve knowledge and skills among nurses, but also to improve organizational outcomes and the quality of patient care. Second, remarkably little published research was found to explore the effects of evidence-based leadership with an efficient trial design. We validated the preliminary results with nurse stakeholders, and confirmed that nursing staff, especially nurse leaders, were not familiar with the concept of evidence-based leadership, nor were they used to implementing evidence into their leadership decisions. Our data was based on many databases, and we screened a large number of studies. We also checked existing registers and databases and found no registered or ongoing similar reviews being conducted. Therefore, our results may not change in the near future.

We found that after identifying the leadership problems, 26 (84%) studies out of 31 used organizational data, 25 (81%) studies used scientific evidence from the literature, and 21 (68%) studies considered the views of stakeholders in attempting to understand specific leadership problems more deeply. However, only four studies critically appraised any of these findings. Considering previous critical statements of nurse leaders’ use of evidence in their decision making [ 14 , 30 , 31 , 34 , 55 ], our results are still quite promising.

Our results support a previous systematic review by Geert et al. [ 32 ], which concluded that it is possible to improve leaders’ individual-level outcomes, such as knowledge, motivation, skills, and behavior change using evidence-based approaches. Collins and Holton [ 23 ] particularly found that leadership training resulted in significant knowledge and skill improvements, although the effects varied widely across studies. In our study, evidence-based leadership was seen to enable changes in clinical practice, especially in patient care. On the other hand, we understand that not all efforts to changes were successful [ 56 , 57 , 58 ]. An evidence-based approach causes negative attitudes and feelings. Negative emotions in participants have also been reported due to changes, such as discomfort with a new working style [ 59 ]. Another study reported inconvenience in using a new intervention and its potential risks for patient confidentiality. Sometimes making changes is more time consuming than continuing with current practice [ 60 ]. These findings may partially explain why new interventions or program do not always fully achieve their goals. On the other hand, Dubose et al. [ 61 ] state that, if prepared with knowledge of resistance, nurse leaders could minimize the potential negative consequences and capitalize on a powerful impact of change adaptation.

We found that only six studies used a specific model or theory to understand the mechanism of change that could guide leadership practices. Participants’ reactions to new approaches may be an important factor in predicting how a new intervention will be implemented into clinical practice. Therefore, stronger effort should be put to better understanding the use of evidence, how participants’ reactions and emotions or practice changes could be predicted or supported using appropriate models or theories, and how using these models are linked with leadership outcomes. In this task, nurse leaders have an important role. At the same time, more responsibilities in developing health services have been put on the shoulders of nurse leaders who may already be suffering under pressure and increased burden at work. Working in a leadership position may also lead to role conflict. A study by Lalleman et al. [ 62 ] found that nurses were used to helping other people, often in ad hoc situations. The helping attitude of nurses combined with structured managerial role may cause dilemmas, which may lead to stress. Many nurse leaders opt to leave their positions less than 5 years [ 63 ].To better fulfill the requirements of health services in the future, the role of nurse leaders in evidence-based leadership needs to be developed further to avoid ethical and practical dilemmas in their leadership practices.

It is worth noting that the perceived and measured effects did not offer strong support to each other but rather opened a new venue to understand the evidence-based leadership. Specifically, the perceived effects did not support to measured effects (competence, ability to understand patients’ needs, use of resources, team effort, and specific clinical outcomes) while the measured effects could not support to perceived effects (nurse’s performance satisfaction, changes in practices, and clinical outcomes satisfaction). These findings may indicate that different outcomes appear if the effects of evidence-based leadership are looked at using different methodological approach. Future study is encouraged using well-designed study method including mixed-method study to examine the consistency between perceived and measured effects of evidence-based leadership in health care.

There is a potential in nursing to support change by demonstrating conceptual and operational commitment to research-based practices [ 64 ]. Nurse leaders are well positioned to influence and lead professional governance, quality improvement, service transformation, change and shared governance [ 65 ]. In this task, evidence-based leadership could be a key in solving deficiencies in the quality, safety of care [ 14 ] and inefficiencies in healthcare delivery [ 12 , 13 ]. As WHO has revealed, there are about 28 million nurses worldwide, and the demand of nurses will put nurse resources into the specific spotlight [ 1 ]. Indeed, evidence could be used to find solutions for how to solve economic deficits or other problems using leadership skills. This is important as, when nurses are able to show leadership and control in their own work, they are less likely to leave their jobs [ 66 ]. On the other hand, based on our discussions with stakeholders, nurse leaders are not used to using evidence in their own work. Further, evidence-based leadership is not possible if nurse leaders do not have access to a relevant, robust body of evidence, adequate funding, resources, and organizational support, and evidence-informed decision making may only offer short-term solutions [ 55 ]. We still believe that implementing evidence-based strategies into the work of nurse leaders may create opportunities to protect this critical workforce from burnout or leaving the field [ 67 ]. However, the role of the evidence-based approach for nurse leaders in solving these problems is still a key question.


This study aimed to use a broad search strategy to ensure a comprehensive review but, nevertheless, limitations exist: we may have missed studies not included in the major international databases. To keep search results manageable, we did not use specific databases to systematically search grey literature although it is a rich source of evidence used in systematic reviews and meta-analysis [ 68 ]. We still included published conference abstract/proceedings, which appeared in our scientific databases. It has been stated that conference abstracts and proceedings with empirical study results make up a great part of studies cited in systematic reviews [ 69 ]. At the same time, a limited space reserved for published conference publications can lead to methodological issues reducing the validity of the review results [ 68 ]. We also found that the great number of studies were carried out in western countries, restricting the generalizability of the results outside of English language countries. The study interventions and outcomes were too different across studies to be meaningfully pooled using statistical methods. Thus, our narrative synthesis could hypothetically be biased. To increase transparency of the data and all decisions made, the data, its categorization and conclusions are based on original studies and presented in separate tables and can be found in Additional files. Regarding a methodological approach [ 34 ], we used a mixed methods systematic review, with the core intention of combining quantitative and qualitative data from primary studies. The aim was to create a breadth and depth of understanding that could confirm to or dispute evidence and ultimately answer the review question posed [ 34 , 70 ]. Although the method is gaining traction due to its usefulness and practicality, guidance in combining quantitative and qualitative data in mixed methods systematic reviews is still limited at the theoretical stage [ 40 ]. As an outcome, it could be argued that other methodologies, for example, an integrative review, could have been used in our review to combine diverse methodologies [ 71 ]. We still believe that the results of this mixed method review may have an added value when compared with previous systematic reviews concerning leadership and an evidence-based approach.

Our mixed methods review fills the gap regarding how nurse leaders themselves use evidence to guide their leadership role and what the measured and perceived impact of evidence-based leadership is in nursing. Although the scarcity of controlled studies on this topic is concerning, the available research data suggest that evidence-based leadership intervention can improve nurse performance, organizational outcomes, and patient outcomes. Leadership problems are also well recognized in healthcare settings. More knowledge and a deeper understanding of the role of nurse leaders, and how they can use evidence in their own managerial leadership decisions, is still needed. Despite the limited number of studies, we assume that this narrative synthesis can provide a good foundation for how to develop evidence-based leadership in the future.


Based on our review results, several implications can be recommended. First, the future of nursing success depends on knowledgeable, capable, and strong leaders. Therefore, nurse leaders worldwide need to be educated about the best ways to manage challenging situations in healthcare contexts using an evidence-based approach in their decisions. This recommendation was also proposed by nurses and nurse leaders during our discussion meeting with stakeholders.

Second, curriculums in educational organizations and on-the-job training for nurse leaders should be updated to support general understanding how to use evidence in leadership decisions. And third, patients and family members should be more involved in the evidence-based approach. It is therefore important that nurse leaders learn how patients’ and family members’ views as stakeholders are better considered as part of the evidence-based leadership approach.

Future studies should be prioritized as follows: establishment of clear parameters for what constitutes and measures evidence-based leadership; use of theories or models in research to inform mechanisms how to effectively change the practice; conducting robust effectiveness studies using trial designs to evaluate the impact of evidence-based leadership; studying the role of patient and family members in improving the quality of clinical care; and investigating the financial impact of the use of evidence-based leadership approach within respective healthcare systems.

Data availability

The authors obtained all data for this review from published manuscripts.

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We want to thank the funding bodies, the Finnish National Agency of Education, Asia Programme, the Department of Nursing Science at the University of Turku, and Xiangya School of Nursing at the Central South University. We also would like to thank the nurses and nurse leaders for their valuable opinions on the topic.

The work was supported by the Finnish National Agency of Education, Asia Programme (grant number 26/270/2020) and the University of Turku (internal fund 26003424). The funders had no role in the study design and will not have any role during its execution, analysis, interpretation of the data, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

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Maritta Välimäki, Tella Lantta, Kirsi Hipp & Jaakko Varpula

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Maritta Välimäki

Xiangya Nursing, School of Central South University, Changsha, 410013, China

Shuang Hu, Jiarui Chen, Yao Tang, Wenjun Chen & Xianhong Li

School of Health and Social Services, Häme University of Applied Sciences, Hämeenlinna, Finland

Hunan Cancer Hospital, Changsha, 410008, China

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Study design: MV, XL. Literature search and study selection: MV, KH, TL, WC, XL. Quality assessment: YT, SH, XL. Data extraction: JC, MV, JV, WC, YT, SH, GL. Analysis and interpretation: MV, SH. Manuscript writing: MV. Critical revisions for important intellectual content: MV, XL. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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We modified criteria for the included studies: we included published conference abstracts/proceedings, which form a relatively broad knowledge base in scientific knowledge. We originally planned to conduct a survey with open-ended questions followed by a face-to-face meeting to discuss the preliminary results of the review. However, to avoid extra burden in nurses due to COVID-19, we decided to limit the validation process to the online discussion only.

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BMC Nursing

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“Exploring the relationship of organizational virtuousness, citizenship behavior, job performance, and combatting ostracism” through structural equational modeling

  • Eimad Hafeez Gogia 1 ,
  • Zhen Shao 1 ,
  • Karamat Khan 2 ,
  • Mohd Ziaur Rehman 3 ,
  • Hossam Haddad 4 &
  • Nidal Mahmoud Al-Ramahi 5  

BMC Psychology volume  12 , Article number:  384 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

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This theoretical model has been drawn on principles of social exchange theory to scrutinize the connection between organizational virtuousness and job performance with the mediating role of Organizational citizenship behavior and moderating role of workplace ostracism. A survey was conducted in Pakistan, gathering data from 486 employees working for various private and commercial banks.

Soft and hard questionnaires were distributed to the participants, with social media platforms used for the soft questionnaires and meetings with employees for the hard questionnaires. A 7-point Likert scale was employed in data collection, and measures for the variables were adapted from reliable and valid sources. A demographic analysis was performed to summarize the sample collected from participants. The demographics results were analyzed using SPSS, while the measurement model and path analysis were conducted using Structural Equational Modeling with Smart PLS-4.

The study’s findings showed a significant and positive relationship between organizational virtuousness and job performance, with organizational citizenship behavior serving as a mediator. Additionally, a negative moderation of workplace ostracism was observed in the mediation of organizational citizenship behavior toward the relationship between organizational virtuousness and job performance.

The study’s results contribute to the implementation of social exchange theory and related concepts in the banking sector of Pakistan, providing practical guidance for implementing virtuous practices within organizations and discouraging ostracism in banks to enhance overall performance. The study suggests that policies regarding the implementation of virtuous practices in organizations can be established, and workplace ostracism can be avoided by providing a platform for social gatherings and training employees. Managers should adopt appropriate leadership styles and relevant communication patterns to impact the organizational climate which can also help reduce the influence of ostracism in the organization. Additionally, a complaint cell should be established with complete confidentiality to reduce ostracism.

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The banking sector of any country serves a valuable and significant part in the support of economic growth leading to economic development. In the uncertain economic condition of Pakistan with the less developed capital and money markets banking sector has to gain a significant position in the performance [ 1 ]. Due to terrorism and mistrust between the government and foreign donors, the fund’s inflow and foreign capital have been decreased and the only significant way of treatment is to rely on the banks to accommodate the country’s economy through the capital for different sectors of economic needs [ 2 ]. The world has faced unpredicted variations in the economic system position of the world due to the recent occurrence of COVID-19. Lower economic growth has been observed affecting the banking sector of developing countries by COVID-19 leading to uncertainty and reducing credit growth and foreign investment [ 3 ]. Different challenges for management have been provided in these prevailing conditions and it is difficult to find ways for profitability and economic growth in this uncontrollable external environment.

Unique strategies have to be obtained and implemented by the banking sector to tackle the aggressive competition and globalization in the markets to enhance their internal and external performance [ 4 ]. Employees’ job performance (JP) is an important contributor to the banking sector’s financial performance. Due to changes in the working environment, the definition of performance has been changed [ 5 ]. Employee performance is an imperative factor considered by organizations for the achievement of high organizational performance [ 6 ]. However, most banks are facing a significant decline in the performance of individuals [ 7 ]. For the sustainability and survival of the banks, it is necessary to have employees with high performance meeting the expectations of customers and higher management. Amid these challenges, the concept of Organizational Virtuousness (OV) becomes increasingly relevant. Scholars such as Cameron, Bright [ 8 , 9 ], and Wright and Goodstein [ 10 ] have expressed their interest in the idea that cultivating virtues can lead to individual improvement and enhance organizational efficiency and performance.

In the organizational context, organizational virtuousness (OV) refers to the practice, support, dissemination, perpetuation, and nurturing of different dimensions of virtues such as forgiveness, integrity, humanity, and trust through individualistic or collectivist approaches [ 8 ]. Limited attention to the virtuous practices in the organization has been received in the existing literature and has not been implemented prominently in the organizations. Nonetheless, the recent worldwide incidents have caused disruptions to both financial and ethical aspects, which have drawn the interest of various stakeholders, including the business world, mainstream media, and trade publications. Consequently, researchers and managers have come to appreciate the advantages of cultivating virtue at both the individual and organizational levels. One noteworthy and recent example is a study conducted by Meyer [ 11 ], which explored the influence of various organizational virtuousness (OV) concepts on both organizational performance and employee behavior. The research findings revealed a positive impact of OV, with clear associations with improved financial and economic aspects of organizations. Equally significant was the enhancement in the ethical behavior of employees, demonstrating the multifaceted advantages associated with the cultivation of OV within organizational contexts. In this study the mediating impact of OCB has been checked in the relationship of OV and JP.

Organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) can play a potential role of mediation in the organizational virtuousness (OV) and employee job performance (JP) relationship. Organizational virtuousness entails the cultivation of virtuous values and practices within an organization, emphasizing ethical conduct, empathy, and a commitment to the well-being of all stakeholders [ 8 ]. Workers who hold a favorable view of their organization’s virtuous behavior are generally more driven and invested in their work [ 12 ]. The ground for the encouraged behaviors like virtuous practices can be set by organizational culture. Cultures valuing accountability, fairness, and transparency are about virtuous organizations that encourage ethical decision-making by employers. Virtuous culture can reinforce organizational culture and vice versa. Moreover, virtuousness can lead to positive outcomes like performance and satisfaction because it fosters commitment, trust, and cooperation which are the important elements of a positive organizational culture. This positive organizational culture can, in turn, encourage employees to exhibit OCB, which entails going beyond their formal job responsibilities to aid coworkers, support the mission of the organization, and contribute to a harmonious work environment. Organizational culture has a significant impact on the effectiveness of management in getting good outcomes [ 13 ]. One of the strongest elements in exhibiting OCB is the strong organizational culture which can be generated with a strong perception about the organizational or supervisor support. The impact of OCB on worker performance can be substantial [ 14 ]. Employees who engage in OCB often exhibit higher levels of commitment, teamwork, dedication, and hence performance in their roles. They are more likely to collaborate effectively, share knowledge, and proactively solve problems, ultimately leading to improved job performance. OCB can also enhance overall organizational effectiveness by fostering a positive workplace atmosphere and improving relationships among team members [ 15 ].

Several researchers also pointed out the significant role of workplace ostracism as a moderator in the context of OV and employee JP. Workplace ostracism (WO) refers to a form of social exclusion or isolation that occurs within an organizational setting [ 16 ]. It involves individuals or groups intentionally ignoring, excluding, or marginalizing one or more employees, making them feel isolated, unimportant, or invisible within their workplace community. Workplace ostracism often manifests through subtle behaviors, such as ignoring someone in meetings, excluding them from social gatherings, or withholding important information and communication [ 17 ]. This exclusionary behavior can have damaging effects on the target’s well-being, job satisfaction, and overall workplace performance, creating a toxic and emotionally distressing work environment [ 18 ]. There is a disturbance in the physiological and psychological health of employees due to stress at work can have the worst impact on employee health [ 19 ]. When employees experience ostracism, they may perceive a lack of fairness, trust, and respect within the organization, which can undermine their morale and motivation. Employees facing ostracism are less inclined to fully participate in their tasks [ 20 ], even in a virtuous organizational culture. Ostracism can erode employees’ commitment to the organization’s virtuous values and practices. OV often encourages collaboration and teamwork. Ostracism can impede employees’ willingness to collaborate with their colleagues, impacting collective performance [ 16 ]. Workplace ostracism can negatively affect employees’ psychological well-being, leading to stress, anxiety, and decreased job satisfaction [ 21 ]. In summary, the presence of WO can moderate the relationship between OV (organizational virtuousness) and employee JP (job performance) by introducing negative factors that counteract the positive effects of virtuousness.

This study enhances the comprehension of how OV, JP, OCB, and WO are interconnected. There are numerous prominent gaps in the existing literature that this study addresses. First, prior research on organizational virtuousness and its impact on job performance is relatively scarce, particularly within the framework of the banking network of Pakistan. This study fills a gap by exploring this relationship, delivering important knowledge for academics and practitioners alike. Furthermore, the introduction of organizational citizenship behavior as a mediating variable adds depth to the understanding of how virtuousness influences job performance. This insight can inform HR practices and organizational culture development. Finally, the identification of workplace ostracism as a moderating factor is a noteworthy contribution. Recognizing the harmful influence of ostracism on the mediation process underscores the need for organizations to address and mitigate such negative workplace behaviors.

The main purpose of this study done in Pakistan is that people are deeply connected, interdependent, and loyal to each other in an inner circle-like organization which is called collectivism. Most of the organizations in Pakistan are working under a collectivist culture and hierarchical organizational structure in which respecting the authority and social norms can exclude the people not accepting the norms [ 22 ]. Different studies show comparatively higher incidents of ostracism in the workplace than the organizations focusing on individualism [ 23 ]. Most of the complex interactions between different organizations and employee performance have been studied in the banking sector. There is diversity in the banks regarding responsibilities, job roles, and employee engagement making an ideal situation for observing these variables. The influence of virtuous practices on employee performance and OCB can significantly impact the organizational reputation through customer satisfaction which is important for the financial institutions and economic growth. There have been significant transformations and challenges like technological upgradation, regulatory changes, and economic shifts recently. Therefore the banks in Pakistan offer a unique and relevant opportunity for the investigation of these variables.

Organizations are facing moral dilemmas whether it’s the educational institutions or the corporate sector and ostracism in the workplace is one of them. The moral difficulties in the organizations are pushing the business circle to focus on the ethics in the organizations [ 24 ] highlighting the importance of virtuous practices in the workplace [ 10 ]. The relationship between OV and JP with the mediating role of OCB and moderating role of workplace ostracism can be seen through the lens of social exchange theory (SET) which shows that social behaviors can be the results of the exchange process by the organization. The main objective of all exchanges within the organization is to minimize costs and maximize benefits. SET elaborates that when the employee’s perception of the virtuous practice is high, they will be engaged in social behaviors like OCB. However perceived benefits and social cost of engaging in OCB can be outweighed by altering the exchange balance leading to reduced performance.

The remaining sections of this study following the introduction are the literature review in the second section with hypotheses development, methodology, and findings in the third section with the next section having a conclusion and discussion, theoretical and practical implications. At last limitations and recommendations for future research have been elaborated.

Theoretical foundation, literature, and hypothesis

Social exchange theory.

Social exchange theory (SET), as formulated by Richard and Emerson [ 25 ], provides a valuable theoretical and analytical framework for understanding the exchange of resources and the dynamics of social interactions. This theory encompasses both tangible and intangible exchanges between individuals or parties [ 26 ]. In the context of this study, we explore how organizations engage in reciprocal actions, such as OCB and JP, as virtuous exchanges. The model in this article has been underpinned by social exchange theory with the explanation of how positive behaviors (OCB and Virtuous climate) and negative (WO) interact with each other influencing job performance. Feelings of obligations with trust can be fostered by positive exchanges while ostracism at the workplace may erode these feelings reducing positive organizational behaviors and effectiveness [ 27 ]. The fundamental aspect of social exchange theory is reciprocity elaborating that OCB can be a useful and critical pathway through which employee job performance can be impacted by organizational virtuousness. Employees respond positively to virtuous actions within their workplace by aligning their behaviors [ 28 ]. This alignment of behavior can be attributed to the concept of social exchange, where individuals reciprocate in response to received benefits [ 28 ]. It is noteworthy that virtuousness in this context is not solely driven by individual self-interest but is also concerned with the well-being of others, contributing to a sense of moral goodness and social benefits [ 29 ]. SET underscores that exchange processes motivate workers to engage in pro-organizational behaviors and attitudes [ 30 ].

In a workplace context, job performance is a critical outcome that must be carried out efficiently and effectively [ 31 ]. Derived from the social exchange concept, there is the perception of employees about the virtues that are beneficial for them which in turn stimulates them to desire to reciprocate it through enhanced job performance [ 32 ]. Workplace ostracism, as indicated by Ferris, Lian [ 33 ], is associated with inadequate employee performance. This aligns with the core ideas of social exchange theory. When employees experience ostracism, they may reduce their effort and engagement, resulting in suboptimal outcomes [ 34 ]. SET describes that positive exchanges can be undermined in the organization by ostracism can weaken the motivational impact of OCB on employee job performance [ 35 ]. Additionally, the withholding of vital information by employees, as seen in the study by Fatima, Bilal [ 36 ], is consistent with the SET framework. When employees feel ostracized, they may be less inclined to share crucial information necessary for both individual and organizational performance and growth. The mediating impact of OCB is stronger with the low ostracism at the workplace because employees are more likely to engage themselves in productive behaviors when they feel included and supported. Meanwhile, the mediating impact of OCB might be weakened by high levels of ostracism as positive influence can be counteracted by negative social exchanges [ 37 ].

In conclusion, SET provides a valuable framework for understanding how virtuous actions, reciprocation, and workplace ostracism influence organizational behaviors and outcomes. This theoretical perspective highlights the importance of fairness and equitable exchanges in driving positive attitudes and behaviors within the workplace.

Organizational virtuousness and job performance

Organizational virtuousness (OV), though often overlooked by organizations in Pakistan, holds a crucial role, particularly during times of financial and moral crises. Recognized as a best practice, OV has the potential to enhance both individual and organizational efficiency and performance, making it a central agenda for organizational policies [ 38 ]. This concept encompasses individual and collective actions, as well as cultural attributes, that promote and sustain virtuousness within an organization [ 8 ]. Moreover, OV has a noteworthy impact on JP, as established in the study by [ 8 ], which also identified amplifying and buffering effects. These effects not only yield positive results but also safeguard employees from negative impacts.

The connection between OV and employee job performance has been well explained with the SET. SET posits the social interaction within the organization which is based on the reciprocity theory in which there is an exchange of support, resources, and trust. These exchanges are based on the social relationship of employees within the organization impacting the behavioral patterns of employees in the organization. In the previous research, Cameron, Bright [ 8 ] elaborated empirically on the positive relationship between OV and different outcomes like organizational commitment, and employee JP. Therefore the relationship between OV and JP can be analyzed through SET based on trust, social support, and reciprocity.

Numerous studies affirm the significant impact of OV on employee performance, indicating that when workers perceive their organization as caring, trustworthy, and respectful, they tend to perform their duties efficiently and effectively [ 39 ]. Furthermore, OV extends its positive influence to individual self-management, as it significantly enhances JP. Scholars have explored OV’s relationship with various positive job outcomes, such as OCB and commitment, ultimately showing its profound impact on employee job performance [ 40 , 41 , 42 ]. This research emphasis on JP, along with a more recent focus on organizational citizenship behavior, provides a complete consideration of the motivating effects of OV in organizational settings. In conjunction with the definition of JP as actions contributing to organizational goal achievement, the interrelation between OV and performance forms a crucial component of organizational dynamics [ 43 ]. Hence it can be hypothesized that:-.

H1: Organizational virtuousness is significantly and positively related to employee job performance supported by social exchange theory.

Mediation of organizational citizenship behavior

Organizational Citizenship Behavior (OCB) can be defined as individual behavior utilized to enhance an organization’s effectiveness, and it is unrelated to the organizational reward system [ 44 ]. This involves employees going above and beyond the organization’s demands, contributing in a special way known as OCB [ 45 ]. OCB encompasses a range of behaviors such as assisting colleagues, volunteering for extra activities, and motivating others. OCB can be recognized as an acritical mediator in the relationship between OV and JP. Understanding these relationships offers valuable insights for organizations and managers aiming to enhance overall performance through a positive work environment. Many studies have underscored the importance of OCB as a vital function within organizations [ 46 ]. It provides an alternative perspective on performance [ 47 ]. An organization heavily relies on employees’ contributions beyond their assigned tasks, known as citizenship behavior [ 48 ]. Therefore, it is considered a cornerstone of organizational success [ 49 ]. On the other hand, performance is the outcome of the processes that employees have undertaken, or it can be quantified in terms of quality [ 50 ]. Therefore, performance is measurable primarily based on results, and it reflects how effectively employees have achieved organizational goals [ 51 ]. This underlines the crucial distinction between OCB, which is an employee’s extra-role contribution, and performance, which is primarily outcome-driven.

When employees perceive the virtuousness of their organization positively, it motivates them to exhibit positive behaviors and emotions, fostering employee engagement and their overall impression of the organization [ 52 ]. Employees perceiving virtuous practices from the organization are more likely to engage themselves in citizenship behavior motivated by intrinsic satisfaction [ 40 ]. These behaviors directly contribute to better cooperation, coordination, and a supportive working environment conducive to good performance. Employee loyalty and voluntary behavior can be enhanced to strengthen the positive image through the positive perception of OCB [ 53 ]. Ethical standards and moral climate can be enhanced by OV within the organization fostering integrity and trust. This positive climate and ethical practices encourage workers to engage in OCB driven by commitment and motivation towards organizational goals. In-turn OCB can improve employee job performance fostering cooperation and organizational efficiency and reducing conflicts.

The role of OV has been predicted in the citizenship behavior of employees with the support of SET in the study done by Mayer, Kuenzi [ 54 ]. Findings show a positive relationship among the variables. When the employees perceive positively the virtuous practices in the organization show good citizenship behavior in the organization. In another study, Wieseke, Ahearne [ 55 ] explained the findings of different studies showing the positive impact of Organizational Identification and perceived organizational support which is also an important element of OV on employee JP in the light of SET. Findings suggested that if there is a positive perception about the organization, there will be good performance by the employees.

It has been suggested in different research that OV helps induce positive outcomes through pro-organizational attitudes and behaviors. Employees facing positive organizational experiences related to different forms of virtuous practices mostly show helping behaviors towards colleagues, and clients, suggesting constructive points, and protecting the organization from external stakeholders [ 8 ]. In the context of OCB, five dimensions have been identified: altruism, courtesy, sportsmanship, conscientiousness, and civic virtue. Studying these extra-role behaviors and their impact on employee performance contributes significantly to organizational effectiveness [ 56 ]. Studies provided empirical evidence suggesting a positive relationship between OV and OCB [ 40 ]. Another stream of research has also examined the OCB as a mediator between leadership styles and individual job performance, confirming that OCB indeed plays a mediating role between ethical leadership and employee performance [ 57 ]. Overall, the existing literature reinforces the idea that OCB is a vital aspect of employee behavior and it significantly influence the individual and organizational performance and effectiveness. Hence it can be hypothesized that:-.

H2: OCB is significantly and positively mediating the relationship between Organizational Virtuousness and job performance.

Moderation of workplace ostracism

Workplace ostracism (WO) refers to the feeling of being ignored by everyone in an organization [ 58 ] and can have significant negative effects on individual and organization performance. Employees who experience chronic rejection may suffer from issues like depression, isolation, and anxiety, which can hinder their ability to meet their goals and fulfill their needs [ 59 ]. Ostracism also reduces social communication, making it difficult for individuals to fulfill their psychological needs and negatively affecting their mental and physical health [ 60 ]. It can even cause employees to feel disconnected from the organization and its members [ 61 ].

Workplace ostracism is all about the exclusion and isolation of employees within the organization also having a detrimental impact on productivity, wellbeing, and overall organizational culture. HR practices should be aligned with the organizational interventions to handle the issue of WO. Training and awareness is one of the valuable HR practices that can recognize and handle WO problems. Empathy, diversity awareness, and communication skills should be included in the training and awareness program [ 62 ]. Transparent communication policies can be the second important step in handling WO. Regular meetings with employees and an anonymous suggestion box bridge the gap between employer and employee can reduce the chance of WO [ 63 ]. Moreover, the development and enforcement of a zero-tolerance policy with disciplinary measures against WO can help employees enhance their productivity and performance [ 64 ]. Team building creates a sense of belonging and camaraderie between workers helping the employer to reduce WO. Mutual support and collaboration in the volunteer projects and different organizational workshops is the key to promoting interpersonal relationships among employees which breaks down the barriers among workers [ 65 ].

Employees tend to act in line with their perception of the organization and are more likely to support their co-workers when the organization acknowledges their efforts or when employees positively perceive organizational virtuousness [ 40 ]. However, WO makes it challenging for senior management to implement positive practices and prevents employees from engaging in positive behaviors like OCB and JP. Therefore, when the needs of individuals suffering from workplace ostracism are ignored, it can lead to negative consequences such as retaliation and reluctance to share knowledge [ 60 ]. It can also result in counterproductive work behavior if employees feel ostracized within the organization [ 66 ].

The moderating role of WO has been examined before in many studies which will strongly justify the moderating role of WO in the relationship between OV and OCB. The impact of WO on OV and OCB can be moderated by organizational culture and leadership. Leadership can help employees accept the change quickly [ 67 ] and mitigate the impact of ostracism. Similarly, the detrimental effect of ostracism on discretionary efforts and virtuous behaviors can be buffered by the organizational culture which has been characterized by empathy, fairness, and inclusivity. Social affiliation and belongingness are necessary for every employee for a better outcome. As an individual everyone is seeking social affiliation, inclusion, and belongingness [ 68 ]. Most of the part of an individual is filled with interpersonal relationships and can have significant personal implications. Virtuous practices in the organization can help employees build interpersonal relationships within the workplace. The accomplishment of collective goals with a sense of support is due to the good relationships at the workplace [ 69 ]. However one of the ubiquitous elements in the workplace is ostracism. Some kind of ostracism has been faced by most of the employees in the workplace [ 70 ]. Emotional stress can be generated and a sense of belongingness can be hurt by workplace ostracism [ 69 ]. The most significant threat of workplace ostracism is the individual and organizational outcomes gaining much attention from scholars. There are behavioral consequences like OCB, workplace deviance, and job performance [ 69 ]. The negative relationship between WO and extra-role behaviour has been highlighted by O’Reilly, Robinson [ 71 ]. This also aligns with the study of Sahoo, Sia [ 72 ] and Mao, Liu [ 73 ] which shows that WO can lead to unfavorable work behaviors and attitudes.

The moderating role of ostracism can be studied in the light of SET which shows the reciprocal of social interactions. Focusing on workplace ostracism employees may have a perception of the breach in the social contract [ 74 ] and may show less OCB and performance experiencing a lack of fairness and reciprocity. In the previous study, Li, Xu [ 75 ] investigated the consequences of WO on the relationship between OV and employee job performance. The study revealed the negative impact of workplace ostracism on the outcomes and it can be mitigated through virtuous practices within an organization.

Different studies are providing empirical evidence of OCB, in the light of WO. In the study presented by Rong, Zheng-Rong [ 76 ] the relationship of WO with In-role and extra-role behaviors (OCB) has been found negative. In another study, the impact of co-worker ostracism has been checked on OCB with the moderating role of ethical leadership [ 77 ]. Findings show that ethical leadership can reduce the harmful impact of WO on OCB. Different studies are focusing on the detrimental impact of workplace outcomes like task performance and OCB [ 78 , 79 ] The above studies provide empirical evidence of the negative influence of WO on OCB. Ostracized employees not only show negative performance but also show less citizenship behavior by employees further influencing organizational outcomes.

Recent studies show that there can be many negative consequences of WO, like low satisfaction, emotional exhaustion, reduction of prosocial behavior, low OCB, and an increase in deviant behaviors within the organization [ 80 ]. It has also been notable that WO and employee JP have a negative relationship [ 81 ]. Previously the impact of WO has been checked on the performance with the moderation of perceived organizational support and found significant results and a strong negative relationship among variables [ 82 ]. Some studies have shown the negative impact and moderation of WO in the way of employee and organizational outcomes. In the study done by Yang and Wei [ 83 ], the impact of ethical leadership has been checked on OCB with the mediating role of organizational commitment and the moderating role of WO. The findings elaborate that workplace ostracism mitigates the relationship between ethical leadership and OCB. In another study, the relationship between workplace spirituality has been checked on OCB with the mediation of organizational commitment and the moderating role of WO representing a mediated moderation relationship [ 84 ]. The study revealed that the relationship between workplace spirituality and OCB has been mediated by organizational commitment and the impact has been reduced by the moderating impact of WO. Most of the research shows showing negative impact of workplace ostracism. In the study done by Ametepe, Otuaga [ 85 ], the moderating impact of workplace ostracism has been checked in the relationship between workplace climate (employee participation and training) and organizational commitment. The finding revealed the negative moderation of workplace ostracism in the relationship between organizational climate and organizational commitment.

The intricate dynamics of the organizational settings are helpful for the development of the proposed mechanism in this study which shows the moderating role of WO on the mediation of OCB in the relationship of OV and JP. Research shows that the perception of OV among employees impacts engagement in OCB positively. When employees’ perception is positive about the virtuous practices within the organization, they may show positive behavior voluntarily which can contribute to the well-being of the organization [ 86 ]. Therefore OCB can play a significant role in the relationship between OV and JP.

WO can impact the employee’s behaviors and perceptions. Employees may feel less motivated, disengaged, and less committed when they feel ostracism in the workplace. The negative impact of WO may lead to a reduced OCB and they fail to establish and maintain better relationships with their colleagues [ 87 ]. Therefore WO attenuates the positive influence of OV and OCB and moderates the relationship.

On the relationship of OV-OCB, the moderating role of WO has implications for job performance. Ostracism diminishes the employee’s engagement in OCB and also affects their job performance. Less OCB means less contribution to the organizational functions and effectiveness leading to poor employee performance and other outcomes. Therefore it can concluded that there is a negative moderation of WO in the mediation of OCB in the relationship of OV and JP. Hence it can be hypothesized that:

H3: Workplace ostracism significantly and negatively moderates the mediation of organizational citizenship behavior in the relationship between organizational virtuousness and job performance.

In the study conducted by Magnier-Watanabe, Uchida [ 38 ], researchers examined the impact of organizational virtuousness on employee job performance, considering subjective well-being as a mediating factor. The study also highlighted certain limitations and provided recommendations for future research. One such recommendation was to explore additional outcomes of organizational virtuousness, such as OCB. Building on this, the current framework introduces OCB as a mediator in the relationship between OV and JP, thereby adding novelty to the research. In another study by Arshad, Arshad [ 88 ], the effects of organizational virtuousness and emotional intelligence on in-role and extra-role performance were investigated, with work-related subjective well-being serving as a mediator. The authors suggested examining the role of moderators in the direct relationship. Addressing this, the current model introduces workplace ostracism as a moderator in the mediation process of OCB, particularly focusing on collectivist societies like Pakistan. This addition aims to bring new insights into the model. Furthermore, a study by Sun and Yoon [ 89 ] explored the impact of OV on OCB, with work engagement as a mediator and proactive personality and organizational support as moderators. However, this study was limited to Korean employees, raising questions about its generalizability. To address this limitation, the current research investigates the impact of organizational virtuousness on employee job performance, considering OCB as a mediator and workplace ostracism as a moderator, thereby expanding the scope of the research beyond the initial context (Fig. 1 ).

figure 1

Conceptual framework

Methodology and findings

Research setting and data collection.

Data for this study was collected through questionnaires distributed to bank employees working in various private and commercial banks in Pakistan. A 7-point Likert scale has been used in this study with the value 1 for strongly disagree to 7 for strongly agree. The questionnaire has been distributed by visiting different banks and using different social media platforms like Facebook, Linkedin, WhatsApp, etc. A soft copy of the questionnaire has been prepared in Google Forms and links have been shared with respondents. The printed questionnaires have been distributed to the employees. The participants were informed about responding to the questionnaire voluntarily. The valuable expertise of my references has been harnessed for the curation of comprehensive data collection ensuring the accuracy and depth of findings. Different banks have different social media groups of their employees through which the questionnaire can reach the broader population. Moreover, data confidentiality and privacy have been ensured by not asking for their name, designations, contact numbers, or emails in the questionnaire. Convenient sampling has been used in this study. The main reason for choosing the convenient sampling is because the population of interest was difficult to access and the sample has been taken from private and commercial banks of Pakistan. Moreover, convenience sampling is cost-effective in terms of resources and time. The other methods sometimes required planning and coordination and sometimes financial requirements to collect data from participants.

To minimize the biases in the data collection, data has been collected from different locations in Pakistan to focus on a broader range of perspectives. This also enhances the generalizability of the study. Moreover, data has been collected using different methods (social media and in-person) which also reduces biases in the study. Randomization has been used in collecting the data which has an equal chance of sample inclusion. Transparency has been ensured in the data collection which is also helpful in the reduction of biases.

A total of 510 responses were initially received, with invalid and incomplete responses subsequently removed, resulting in a final dataset of 486 valid responses. This sample size aligns with the guideline that suggests it should exceed the total number of items, given that this study includes 24 items in the questionnaire [ 90 ]. Additionally, the sample size adheres to the general rule of having 10 to 30 respondents on behalf of each independent variable [ 91 ]. The questionnaire comprises five different parts, with the first part focusing on the respondent’s demographics.

For more justification regarding sample selection, G-Power has been used for the sample size calculation. G power analysis is significant by using multiple predictors. In this model, the balancing power of 0.80 has been used with the significant level of 0.05 having sufficient statistical power to calculate the sample size [ 92 ]. Usually, 0.80 Power (1 - β err prob) has been chosen which is suitable for quantitative study [ 93 ]. As it’s a moderated mediation model with one independent variable, one mediator, one moderator, and one dependent variable and the analysis has been done on Smart PLS 4, therefore the number of predictors is three because Smart PLS treats the interaction term between mediator and moderator as a single predictor [ 94 ]. The calculated minimum sample size is 77 which justifies the sample selection in this study.

Table  1 displays the frequency distribution of the study’s respondents. The majority of respondents, accounting for 78.8% of the total sample, are male. Female respondents make up 21.2% of the total. In terms of age, the largest group falls within the 26–30 age bracket, comprising 31.1% of the total sample, followed by the 36–40 age group, representing 24.5%. Conversely, the smallest group consists of employees aged 46 and above, constituting only 0.4% of the total sample. Regarding work experience, most employees have 6–10 years of experience, accounting for 30.0% of the total, while the second largest group has 0–5 years of experience at 24.3%. The least represented group has 21 or more years of experience, making up 5.1% of the total. In terms of educational qualifications, the majority of employees hold a Bachelor’s degree, making up 34.6% of the respondents, while the second largest group holds a Master’s degree, representing 28.8% of the total respondents.


The second segment of the survey focuses on organizational virtuousness and includes five items adapted from Cameron, Bright [ 8 ] to assess this construct. An example of a construct of OV is “People are treated with courtesy, consideration, and respect in this organization”. The third section elaborates on OCB and encompasses nine items adapted from the research of [ 95 ] to measure this particular aspect of employee behavior. One of the items of OCB is “I voluntarily help others who have work-related problems”. Subsequently, the questionnaire addresses workplace ostracism, featuring five items that have been adapted from the work of [ 35 ] to evaluate employees’ experiences of exclusion or neglect within the workplace. One of the important items of WO is “Others ignored you at work”. The final part of the questionnaire pertains to employee job performance and incorporates five items adapted from the research conducted by Janssen and Van Yperen [ 96 ] to assess this critical aspect of employee contribution. An example of the item is “I (employee) consistently complete the duties specified in my job description”. The shorter questionnaire has been adapted due to the potential of survey fatigue and respondent time limitations to achieve a high number and accurate responses [ 97 ]. Adapting the items are relevant to the culture and objectives representing each dimension of variables. The survey reliability and validity of the survey can be improved by using validating questionnaires by reducing time and cross-validation of the results [ 98 ]. To maintain the applicability, specificity, and conciseness of the survey, a limited number of items have been chosen. The items have been chosen after a careful study with the relevance of research objectives and design. A focused set of items allows the researcher to align their measurement approach with the hypothesis and specific research objectives [ 99 ]. Research suggests that the long questionnaire is difficult to fill by the respondents and can lead to decreased motivation, and response fatigue and can enhance the response errors [ 100 ]. The concise set of well-designed items has been selected to prioritize the quality of data based on the factor loading. Moreover, research suggests that a shorter version of the questionnaire helps reduce measurement errors [ 101 ].

A questionnaire has been designed on the careful observation of pilot testing and reliability. A pilot study has been done on a small sample size of almost 70 samples. The reason for conducting the pilot testing is the reduction of items of OV and WO. Previously OV had 15 items with 5 dimensions. Further ten items have been used for workplace ostracism and reduced to 5 items. Pilot testing has been done to handle the issues of redundant items and response bias. Most of the items have been deleted due to less understanding of items exhibiting poor performance and less factor loading. Items showing factor loading below 0.7 have been removed in the pilot testing procedure [ 102 , 103 , 104 ].

Structural equation modeling

Following the demographic analysis, the study employed structural equation modeling to analyze the dataset. This analysis included both the measurement model and the path coefficient model. To minimize the problem of common method variance, confidentiality and anonymity have been assured which motivates participants to be more honest and give unbiased responses. Moreover, SEM (Structural Equation Modelling), or method factor loading can also help control the common method variance during data analysis [ 105 ]. Therefore in this study, Structural Equation Modelling and measurement models have been used. The basic partial least squares (PLS-SEM) model was utilized to estimate the model, and hypotheses were evaluated for acceptance or rejection. SMART PLS 4 was the chosen tool for data analysis due to its established effectiveness in assessing reliability, validity, and confirming or refuting hypotheses. The most popular choice in analyzing structural equational modeling is Smart PLS (Partial Least Squares) including the moderated mediation models. While other software packages like SPSS also offer capabilities for structural equational modeling, there are different reasons for considering Smart PLS stronger to analyze moderated mediation models. The reason for selecting Smart PLS can be drawn on certain important characteristics specifically for moderated mediation models. Those capabilities and characteristics have been acknowledged in the previous articles and are advantageous for SEM (structural equational modeling) and specifically moderated mediation modeling. Smart PLS is the most important tool for reliability and structural equational modeling. Smart PLS 4 has been selected to analyze measurement model and path analysis because the advanced methodology of Partial Least Square has been used in this study which is particularly for exploratory studies and complex models. Non-normal data and small sample sizes are preferred in Smart PLs [ 104 ]. Bootstrapping techniques have been used as a default technique in Smart Pls 4 for default resampling and estimating standard errors, and significant levels of confident intervals. Detailed analysis of the measurement model can be done through reliability, validity, composite reliability, and average variance extracted providing a detailed report for the data [ 102 ].

In Smart PLS, there is flexibility in the specification of the model because it allows both formative and reflective measurement models as compared to traditional software like SPSS. Through this flexibility complex constructs can be handled or when the measurement model needs to be modified according to the specific research context [ 106 ]. Moreover, non-normal data and small sample sizes can be handled by Smart PLS robustly which makes the analysis suitable for data deviating from the normality and limited sample size. This methodology is specifically important for moderated mediation models in which complex models are being investigated [ 107 ].

In most cases, predictive modeling can be analyzed through the Smart PLS through which outcomes can be predicted rather than analyzing the complex theoretical models [ 104 ]. Many research contexts related to business and social sciences have been aligned in the Smart PLS. A variance-based approach has been used by Smart PLS which handles multi-collinearity relying on latent variables [ 108 ]. This can help handle multi-collinearity which is frequently a concern in the moderated mediation model specifically when there is interaction term analysis.

The initial step involved the measurement model, which aimed to assess the quality of the constructs through evaluations of reliability and validity. Discriminant validity was established using the Heterotrait-Monotrait ratio (HTMT) table. Subsequently, factor loadings were scrutinized to evaluate the strength of the underlying constructs. The table also provided valuable information on Cronbach’s Alpha values and composite reliability. The subsequent phase, the structural model, was employed to explore relationships between variables. This model allowed for the investigation of mediation, moderation, and moderated mediation through the utilization of the bootstrapping method.

Analysis of the measurement model

In the measurement model, we assessed discriminant validity based on criteria from prior research, which presented thresholds of 0.85 or 0.90. For our study, we adopted the more stringent criterion of 0.85 [ 109 ]. Table  2 presents the results, demonstrating that all values are below 0.85 and thus considered valid for further analysis.

Factor loading and path coefficient

The most crucial aspect of the measurement model involves assessing the factor loading of each item within a construct and determining the overall reliability of each variable. Reliability and validity can be checked by Smart PLS with the most robust procedure, particularly in the field of social sciences and business research. Reliability can be checked through internal consistent reliability and indicator reliability [ 94 ]. In this study, internal consistent reliability has been focused on calculating composite reliability for each latent variable. Validity has been checked through convergent validity [ 102 ], Discriminant validity, and cross-loading. In this study, convergent validity and discriminant validity have been used with a high loading of ideally higher than 0.7 and Ave more than 0.5. Reliability can be analyzed by factor loading with a value of more than 0.6 which shows the substantial relationship between the latent factor and observed variable showing a meaningful contribution.

The study was done by [ 38 ] on the relationship between organizational virtuousness, subjective well-being, and job performance and found a factor loading more than 0.6 supporting the results. In another study by [ 84 ] mediated moderation model was studied among workplace spirituality and OCB with the moderation of WO. The study accepted the factor loading of items more than 0.6 reliable.

As presented in Table  3 , the factor loading values for each item are scrutinized. Typically, scholars suggest that factor loading values exceeding 0.7 are considered acceptable [ 110 ]. However, in this study, any factor loading values below 0.6, particularly within the constructs of organizational virtuousness and workplace ostracism, were removed due to their potential impact on the results. Additionally, this table provides insights into the reliability metrics, including Cronbach’s Alpha, Composite Reliability (CR), and Average Variance Extracted (AVE). The overall reliability of the constructs exceeds 0.7, and the AVE surpasses 0.5, indicating that all items are reliable and valid for further analysis, in line with the recommendations of [ 111 ].

Analysis of structural model

Table  4 ; Fig.  2 display the structural equation modeling findings. This study examined three hypotheses drawn from the literature review. The first hypothesis looked into the connection between OV and the JP of employees. The results revealed a significant relationship, with a Beta coefficient of 0.347, t-stats of 5.500, and a p-value of 0.000. Consequently, the first hypothesis was accepted, supported by an R-square value of 0.513 and an F-square of 0.090. The second hypothesis looked at how organizational citizenship behavior mediated the association between organizational virtuousness and employee job performance. It also showed a statistically significant relationship, with a Beta coefficient of 0.213, t-stats of 6.005, and a p-value of 0.000, leading to the acceptance of the second hypothesis. As compared to the second hypothesis where the mediation of OCB has been discussed the Beta value is 0.213 which shows partial mediation. The third hypothesis explored the moderating effect of workplace ostracism on the mediation of organizational citizenship behavior in the relationship between organizational virtuousness and job performance. This hypothesis was also accepted, with a significant Beta coefficient of -0.050, t-stats of 2.719, and a p-value of 0.007. The negative Beta coefficient suggests that workplace ostracism weakens the mediation of organizational citizenship behavior in the relationship between organizational virtuousness and employee job performance. When the moderation of WO has been checked on the mediation of OCB, the Beta value which is 0.050 has been shifted to the negative side which shows the negative and significant moderation. Banks have observed less OCB and hence employee job performance with the negative role of workplace ostracism. Employees working in a collective culture are deeply affected by the ostracized practices in the organization which shows the implications of interventions in the HR practices to solve this problem. Previously the mediated moderation model has been checked regarding workplace spirituality with the mediation of organizational commitment and moderation of workplace ostracism [ 84 ]. All hypotheses have been accepted and negative moderation of workplace ostracism has been observed similar to this study. This analysis revealed a negative moderation effect on the relationship between organizational virtuousness and job performance.

figure 2

Path coefficient and factor loading. (Source: Developed by the author)

Conclusion and discussion

In a developing country like Pakistan, the banking sector plays a pivotal role in boosting the economy, making financial services accessible to more people, and contributing to the nation’s overall progress. However, in recent times especially during the COVID-19 epidemic, the sector faced significant challenges in maintaining trust among its customers and stakeholders. These challenges include issues like fraud, cybersecurity threats, and economic instability, which harmed the sector’s reputation. Alongside regulatory constraints and economic instability, intense competition exerted additional pressure on the sector’s profitability and its efforts to achieve consistent growth in Pakistan. In light of these challenges, this study investigated the factors that can enhance bank performance. Given that organizational performance depends on employee performance, this study investigates the influence of organizational virtuousness on employee job performance. Additionally, the study explores the mediating role of organizational citizenship behavior in the relationship between organizational virtuousness and employee job performance, as well as the moderating effect of workplace ostracism.

To achieve these objectives, we collected questionnaire-based data from employees working in various banks in Pakistan, resulting in a final sample of 486 responses. The study tested the above hypothesis using structural equation modeling. The results provided strong support for the first hypothesis, showing that OV is statistically significantly and positively associated with job performance. Second, our results support the second hypothesis by confirming the important mediating role that organizational citizenship behavior plays in the link between organizational virtuousness and employee job performance. Finally, we found a negative moderating effect of workplace ostracism in the mediation of organizational citizenship behavior on the relationship between organizational virtuousness and job performance. Therefore, the results also support the third hypothesis of the study. Employees with positive perceptions are satisfied and happy and make more robust relationships with co-workers and the work [ 112 ] and hence show good performance.

Workplace ostracism is the main issue that can reduce employee performance and citizenship behavior. The results above supported the view that organizational virtuousness positively affects employee job performance. The association between organizational virtuousness and job performance is significantly mediated by organizational citizenship behavior. Workplace ostracism is the only negative thing impacting employee citizenship behavior and performance, which should be reduced or finished in the organizations. The negative outcomes like employee job performance and organizational citizenship behavior of workplace ostracism have also been elaborated on in the previous research [ 18 ], and the findings of this research show the negative moderation of workplace ostracism in the mediation of organizational citizenship behavior in the relationship of organizational virtuousness and job performance.

Theoretical and practical implications

The findings of this study hold significant managerial and practical implications for organizations aiming to enhance employee job performance. The implementations of these findings must be addressed according to ethical considerations respecting the rights and well-being of employees in the promotion of a positive and sustainable work environment. Firstly, it underscores the importance of cultivating organizational virtuousness within the workplace, emphasizing the need for ethical conduct, teamwork, and employee well-being. Ethically improving job performance metrics is not only the responsibility but also an enhancement in the overall work-life quality of employees. Secondly, the study highlights the pivotal role of organizational citizenship behavior as a mediator in the relationship between organizational virtuousness and job performance, emphasizing the value of encouraging behaviors that go beyond formal job descriptions. Ethically, organizations should encourage and recognize positive employee behaviors without exploiting them. Additionally, the study alerts managers to the detrimental impact of workplace ostracism, revealing its negative moderating effect on the mediation of organizational citizenship behavior. This stresses the urgency of addressing and mitigating instances of ostracism to maximize the positive effects of virtuous behavior. Ethically organizations should be vigilant in observing employees and should ensure that no employee facing ostracism should be left out. From a theoretical standpoint, the research contributes to the growing body of knowledge on organizational behavior, particularly in its nuanced exploration of mediating and moderating effects. Social exchange theory says that when employees positively perceive virtuousness, they will show citizenship behavior towards the organization and good performance.

Unethical practices will reduce employee performance and damage the organization’s image and reputation. CEO of banks has to show the determination to implement virtuous practices in all banks and branches with the help of branch managers. Regular feedback from employees should be taken to ensure the implementation of virtuous practices and avoid workplace ostracism.

Some organizational interventions have to be implemented to show the importance of leadership training in avoiding bullying and harassment which also includes ostracism. The most important intervention is adopting a mechanism of conflict resolution. In the research, the importance of the mechanism of conflict resolution has been highlighted to reduce the tension in the workplace and collaboration promotion [ 113 ].

When there is a negative impact of workplace ostracism on the relationship of OV, JP, and OCV, several limitations and alternative explanations should also be considered. There are cultural differences in the organizations of different regions. In some countries, organizations have conformity and hierarchical structures which may lead employees to accept ostracism as a normative behavior diminishing the impact of organizational virtuousness. Cultural values and national culture play a vital role in the determination of consequences of workplace ostracism and its boundary conditions [ 75 ]. Some of the important factors that should also be considered are personality traits and cognitive biases. Workers with high levels of self-efficacy and resilience may be less affected by the ostracized practices and vice versa. Overall organizational climate including, communication patterns, organizational norms, and leadership style can reduce the impact and prevalence of workplace ostracism. Moreover, the support from top management can also be helpful to reduce ostracism. Top management support is necessary for the development of the team culture and collective efforts with immediate training [ 114 ] to avoid ostracism at the workplace. Individuals can have different coping mechanisms to handle workplace ostracism which may be the social support or withdrawal from organizational activities. These coping mechanisms can influence the impact of ostracism on performance and citizenship behavior.

Limitations and recommendations for future research

As with any other study, our research also has some limitations that should be acknowledged. Firstly, our study focused on data collected from the banking sector in Pakistan, a collectivist society. This context-specific approach may limit the generalizability of our findings to different cultural and industry settings. Therefore, future research should aim to replicate the study in various cultural and industrial contexts to determine the extent to which our results hold across diverse environments. Secondly, our study employed a cross-sectional research design, which provides a static snapshot of the relationships between variables at a single point in time. To gain a deeper understanding of the temporal dynamics and causal relationships between organizational virtuousness, organizational citizenship behavior, workplace ostracism, and job performance, future research should consider implementing longitudinal studies or experimental designs. Such investigations will contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of these important workplace dynamics and offer actionable insights for organizations seeking to optimize employee performance. Moreover investigating the influence of workplace ostracism on organizational outcomes can be challenging due to the potential biases and subjective nature of the construct. Self-reported measures may be susceptible to memory distortions or social desirability affecting the result validity. Observational data and peer ratings can be done in future research which can be a new methodology in the management sciences research which may be difficult logistically.

Data availability

Taken into account the anonymity of the participant and the datasets is being used in other unpublished studies, the datasets for this article are not publicly available. However, if it is reasonable requested, please contact the corresponding author to obtain our datasets.


Organizational Virtuousness

Organizational Citizenship Behavior

Job Performance

Workplace Ostracism

Social Exchange Theory

Average Variance Extracted

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1. The authors extend their sincere appreciation to the Researchers Supporting Project number (RSPD2024R1038), King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

2. Moreover this research is also supported by Zarqa University Jordan.

3. Special thanks to National Natural Science Foundation of China (72271069), the Ministry of Education of Humanities and Social Science Project (22YJA630070), the Philosophy and Social Sciences of Heilongjiang Province (22GLB107).

This research is supported by Zarqa University Jordan and King Saud University KSA.

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Mohd Ziaur Rehman

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Conceptualization: Eimad Hafeez Gogia; Supervision: Dr. Zhen Shao. Literature search: Eimad Hafeez Gogia, Mohd Ziaur Rehman Data analysis: Eimad Hafeez Gogia, Hossam Haddad; Original draft writing: Eimad Hafeez Gogia, Review: Dr. Zhen Shao, Karamat Khan.Revision: Eimad Hafeez Gogia, Nidal Mahmoud Al-Ramahi.

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Gogia, E.H., Shao, Z., Khan, K. et al. “Exploring the relationship of organizational virtuousness, citizenship behavior, job performance, and combatting ostracism” through structural equational modeling. BMC Psychol 12 , 384 (2024).

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  • Organizational virtuousness
  • Organizational citizenship behavior
  • Job performance
  • Workplace ostracism
  • Banking Sector
  • Moderated Mediation

BMC Psychology

ISSN: 2050-7283

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