Pharmacy Student Scholarly Project: Literature Review as a whole project type

Resources to help you complete your required Pharm D Scholarly Project.

What is a Literature Review project type?

Every PSP needs to include a short literature review of a few paragraphs. You can also choose to do a  literature review including critical and structured methods as your entire PSP project. This page provides help for those who are considering or conducting a literature review as their PSP project. The Review Articles research guide will also include additional useful information for those conducting this project type.

Format and scope

Every PSP is presented as a poster. Each poster will include about 500 words of text and 3-5 images (figures, tables, diagrams, etc.). For a literature review poster, you need to provide full references for all materials cited in your poster. If there is space, you may include the references on the poster, or you can create a separate document.

Within this relatively limited word count, you need to explain why the topic you chose is important to explore, explain your search process, explain the selection process, identify trends in the literature, and provide critical analysis and insight into your topic. Many poster authors choose to display the search process, display of trends, and critical analysis/insight in figures and reserve the text for the other portions.

Starting a Literature Review PSP

How do I develop a topic?
Literature reviews are most useful when they respond to a theme in the literature. You cannot select a topic for a literature review without  first looking at the literature. There needs to be a significant volume of papers that you can read that have some rationale or reason to be examined as a group.
          First, identify a broad question or topic. Search for encyclopedia articles, textbook chapters, and literature reviews about this topic. Read a few sources and look for aspects or factors that interest you inside this broad topic. If your broad topic was "Counseling on new prescriptions," some aspects you might identify are: Some patients refuse counseling when offered. Some patients are not satisfied with counseling received. There are several competing methods for counseling. There are many locations in which counseling takes place-- via phone, via videochat, in a private office, at a counter in a retail store.
          These smaller aspects or factors would be good candidate topics to consider for a literature review project. "What factors in the retail store, location available for counseling, and pharmacist demeanor can influence a patient to accept or refuse counseling?," "What methods are used to assess patient satisfaction with counseling and which is most reliable?," "Is counseling using active listening techniques more effective in producing patient satisfaction, when compared to traditional counseling?," or "What factors lead to patient satisfaction or dissatisfaction with counseling services provided at community pharmacies?" seem like they might be well-scoped for this length/depth of project.

These are examples of questions that might guide the process of searching, selecting, and identifying relevant studies for inclusion in a literature review project.

- There are many individual studies describing a specific disease/condition, specific treatment, specific process, or specific idea.

  • Can you learn something new by combining data from individual original studies?
  • What gaps remain in the research focused on this specific topic? Why is this gap important or necessary to be filled?

-  Each study uses a specific methodology to investigate a specific question.

  • What methods have been used to investigate a specific disease, drug, condition, process, or idea?
  • What has been learned as a sum of these investigations?
  • Are there different research methods that would help improve studies on this disease, drug, condition, process, or idea? Which methods and why? 

Examples of critical literature review posters

These samples are from teams outside of USC. The poster examples are provided for content only; they do not follow the USC PSP guidelines for formatting posters.

Common questions

How many papers do I need to find? How many papers do I need to cite?
Expect to find and read about twice as many materials as you cite in your final project. Most PSP Literature Review projects cite 5-20 references.

I picked my topic, but can't find more than a few relevant articles.
Not every topic is appropriate for a literature review. There needs to be a significant amount of published information that has some commonalities. Before you talk to your mentor about changing your topic, consider:

  • Did you do a thorough search, using multiple databases, and searching using subject headings and/or keywords? You can contact the library for help with searching.
  •  It takes several years to plan, conduct, write, and publish a study. If your topic is less than 5 years old, there may not have been time for these processes to occur.  However, conference proceedings, position statements, policy documents, and opinion papers often discuss new ideas before research is conducted. Is it possible to incorporate these non-peer reviewed, semi-scholarly sources into your discussion of this topic?
  • Conducting a thorough search and determining that there is a lack of published research evidence is, itself, a novel finding. Unfortunately, a poster describing this would be very boring to read. Consider expanding your original idea, and try to critically engage with the topic. You might try explain why there may be a lack of publications, offer suggestions for how to improve research in this field, or describe barriers in the funding and research processes.

I picked a really narrow topic, but I still get too many articles. How do I get fewer articles?
The goal of a literature review is to select articles that have some reason to be examined together. If you have an overwhelmingly large number of articles, it is a clue that your topic is too broad, and you need to narrow it down further. Using these ideas to narrow your topic might mean changing your search, by adding/removing keywords or filters; or, you might read abstracts to find studies that meet some criteria.

  • Factors relating to the studies: Can you find studies that have some comparable data-- use the same methodology; use the same measurement tool; measure the same outcomes; follow patients for the same amount of time; etc.?
  • Factors relating to the participants in the studies: Do they use the same drugs; include or exclude patients with a single condition or co-existing conditions; focus on a specific group (age, gender, socioeconomic status, language, geographic region, stage of illness, etc.)?
  • Factors relating to the other literature on this topic: If another review included papers from 1995-2005, perhaps your review could start at the year 2006. If another review covered adult women with a condition, perhaps your review could cover adult men with the same condition.
  • Factors relating your topic to other systems and processes: If you are thinking about counseling, are there any laws that broadened the scope of practice for pharmacist counseling? Perhaps comparing patient satisfaction with counseling from before and after this law was passed would be interesting. If you are thinking about counseling via telecommunications devices, there may be technological milestones you might use to limit your search to specific timeframes, such as the introduction of smartphones around 2007; or mass adoption of smartphones around 2011.