[Accessed 6 April 2020].
Thank u Derek Your lectures are effectively informative and easily understood. They are clear and organized.
I’m so glad I came across this website. Thank you Derek !!!
You’re welcome, Rabia 🙂
Thanks for your extremely useful video tutorials. Please can you send me a link to open your Lit Review Excel Templates.
Thanks for your feedback. You can download the template following the instructions in the orange box.
All the best with your studies!
Thank you for this document. I am in the beginning stages of the dissertation process.
You’re welcome, Jerry 🙂
The video on literature review was very useful. I especially like the cataloging suggestion.
Great to hear that, Rishi. All the best for your research!
I`m busy writing my minor dissertation my master’s in engineering. I’m following your videos on youtube for writing a literature review. I’m looking for the excel sheet to save a list of references.
The literature video was helpful. Thank you. I haven’t received the excel template its been a week now . Please assist me .
That’s very unusual. At most, it should take a few minutes. Please re-attempt the download (use an alternative address if need be).
Thank you for the template. it seems useful to organize my literature review.
You’re very welcome.
Thank you for this informative site and all the tips. Very useful for my research.
You’re welcome, Feyi.
Currently writing a dissertation for a masters in social sciences. Found the youtube videos which are of great help.
You’re most welcome 🙂 Good luck with your literature review.
Thank you very much for the support!!
your videos are great helpful.
Glad to hear that! Good luck with your lit review.
You are the BEST
Thanks for the feedback, Annie. I wish you best of luck with your literature review.
where is the download link for the excel template?
The download is below the first image. Good luck with your literature review!
Your videos literally saved me!!!! Due to recent issues, most of my classes were cancelled and i was completely lost. No words can explain how much grateful i am to you!!
Glad to hear we helped you! Good luck with your literature review.
You guys are the kinds of people who should survive covid-19. You are the type of people we really need in this planet. You are a star. You really saved me from many headaches. Thank you very much for the useful videos and the literature organisation spreadsheet.
Thanks for the kind words, Abel. All the best for your literature review!
Thanks so much for your video. I have consistently received comments that my arguments don’t flow well and I could never figure out how to successfully fix this issue. Now I feel I have a plan and someone to help me and provide feedback if I still don’t get it quite well. Looking forward to getting an improved mark on my next Lit review Thank you
Great to hear that, Helen. Good luck with your future literature reviews!
Thanks Biren – good luck with your literature review
i have watched your video on three steps to write a literature review and i found it very useful. thank you for sharing. keep it up.
Thank you for providing such excellent information and sources. Your videos helped me so much. I was on the verge of quitting. Thank you again for your videos and recommended tools.
Great to hear that, Tanya. All the best for your literature review, and for your research.
The video was very informative and timely for me. I am about to start, so Gradcoach is a source I will be revisiitng
Thanks, Nina – glad to hear that. Good luck with your literature review 🙂
hey your video is awesome I had to make an assignment on literature Review and it helped me to get an outline on how I should start ! i was fed of reading books and online articles. Your video served as a boon and clarified my thought process – how I should move forward .Thank you so much!
Great to hear that, Kavita. All the best with your literature review!
Hi Derek, I have tried unsuccessfully to download the Excel template but it keeps bringing me back to this comment section. Is it a technical issue? Kindly help.
Sorry about that. Can you please send me a screenshot of what you’re seeing – [email protected] . I will send you the template as well.
Best of luck with your literature review.
This is so very helpful!! I am writing my first lit review within a proposal (rather last minute, yikes) and this is so helpful to stay organized!
Pleasure. Good luck with your lit review 🙂
Hi i like the video,it is very helpful especially now that I am working on my proposal for thesis project….Hope I will be able to use the excel template to organize for my literature review
Great to hear that, Faith. All the best with your literature review!
hey Derek this video is absolutely amazing. One problem though I’m one of the few that are struggling to download excel. I keep clicking on it and nothing happens.
Thanks for letting us know. Please email me a screenshot of your error and I’ll sort you out – [email protected]
Thanks a lot! Very well explained and easy to follow…now I guess I have no excuse to actually do the work 😉
Thanks for your comment! Good luck with your literature review.
Your video is very informative and useful. Thanks a lot. I also want to try the template but I can’t the find the download link…
The download button is below the main image.
Very helpful thank you
Hi! It is a big help for beginners, such as me. Thanks a lot for sharing!
Thank you. All the best with your literature review.
This is brilliant, Pls sir, in writing a review article, how deep can u go. Is it necessary to go down to the inception of your area of research?
How do I know the country/region of research article?
This will usually be covered somewhere in the article itself.
I would like this free resource
You’re welcome to download it. The download button is below the main image. Good luck with your literature review 🙂
I’d love to have this resource pls. Thank you so much
You’re welcome to download it. The download button is below the main image.
Thanks for the you tube videos. they are very informative
Thank you so much for the full tutorial with so much detailed information. I’m a Ph.D. Candidate in China. The whole syllabus of the Ph.D. program sucks. Thanks again for sharing all this helpful information. I hope your team will getting better in the future!
You’re very welcome. Good luck writing your literature review.
It’s such a big help for me. Thank you!
I’ve watched your video on writing a research proposal. I am interested in the lit review excel template.
I have watched your lecture video on writing a research proposal. I am interested in the literature review excel template and the book write smarter not harder.
It is very helpful. Thank you for your experience sharing.
You’re welcome – good luck with your literature review 🙂
Good afternoon, I recall listening/seeing in 1 of your videos *of saving the abstract (PDF) together with the excel database. How do you do this? is it also with this excel sheet
Thank you ..your videos are a confidence booster
*How To Write A Literature Review In 3 Steps (Full Tutorial)
Wonderful work !!! Please share more !!!! I will be very happy.
Thanks so much for your precision in your presentation. I have not yet started practicing but it’s one of the best I have come across. More grease to your elbows.
I love every video on research that you ve made so far. Thanks a lot
انت رائع جدا
You’re welcome. Good luck with your literature review 🙂
Excellent work. Very helpful. I am starting in this beautiful activity of writing papers with my research . I am learning a lot. Thank you very much.
Glad to hear that. Good luck writing up your research papers!
Thank you so much for the free Excel document! It’s such a huge time-saver!
You’re most welcome, Rebecca. Good luck writing your literature review 🙂
I am so grateful that I have found you on YouTube!
In the meantime, is it better to make another excel file for another variable of the same thesis or just put all articles of all variables in 1 excel file?
Thank you very much!
The notes have been very helpful to me thank you very much for sharing
You’re most welcome, Juan 🙂
Just recently seen your youtube video. Its very information. I usually gets running out of words while writing literature review. Example: XX et al investigated, YY et al shown that, ZZ et al demonstrated…….. After 4-5 references, I feels like again am repeating the words investigated, demonstrated… Could you please shoe some references with a set of vocabularies that can be used while writing literature review section.
Thank you in advance
Thank you so much. Amazing tutorial. Am feeling educated now. Lol…
Glad to hear that, Frank. Good luck with your literature review!
Very helpful stuff, thank you so much for the free Excel! I’m going to use it for my DBA and get your YT channel.
Hi, thank you for the great insights! I was unable download the template even though I completed the form. Would you be able to help me?
Derek thanks for sharing your sacrifices. I love the clarity and confidence, it takes experience to do such.
I just downloaded the excel template for LR coupled with the explanation on how to use. I found it useful, thank you!
Do you have any recommendations for adding Key quotes from a reference ?
Great content. Template very useful
Awesome! An answer to my prayer. I found this in time I need it most. Thank you for the spirit of service.
You’re most welcome, Jojo. Good luck with your literature review.
I am really impressed. This discussion helped me a lot to reconsider a lot of issues.
Thanks for the kind words. Good luck with your literature review!
This is amazing! I really like the guidance you are giving here. However, can you throw more light on the ‘category’ columns for me? I’m really nit clear on that. Thanks
Thanks for your comment. Please see my reply to Sasquia’s question re the same thing.
Good luck with your research!
I have been sitting on an enormous amount of articles for months with difficulties in organizing them until i discovered your video on literature review (YouTube). It brought me to this page where you also had a free template for us. Research process is so much bearable now than i expected. Highly recommended for all researchers. Thank you very much.
Great template. Quick question: Are the categories KEYWORDS that I draw from each source? or pre-planned TOPICS that I come up with to organize the source content?
Thanks for your comment. You can use the category columns in whichever way works for you. It would be different for each student depending on the nature of their research and their research objectives.
Hi there, can you suggest how the corresponding literature resources are best saved into a document folder for retrieval later.
I have seen some suggesting using a unique identifier in a master tab in the spreadsheet so as to be able to create a separate tab for quotes or similar thus using the id as the link
But no one has gone on to say if they are also saving the source document in a folder and naming it 57 or author last name, title or other.
I checked out your Literature Kickstarter and the screen shot of the articles didn’t look to correspond with the catalogue. Have been meaning to sort out my reference folders for sometime and am inspired by the use of an excel spreadsheet but not sure what to name files (currently saved in theme folders) Any help would be gratefully received. Thanks
I am happy if I get a catalogue excel template on the research are of zeolite synthesis from local clay for water treatment mechanism. I need help.
I love the template! But I would like to change the name of some of the headings, used in the dropdown, i.e. change “Audio Recording” to “Podcast”. How could I do that?
Great!!! Very handy.
Thankyou so much. The excel file is really helpful. This really means and is helping a lot for me.
Hello, please, how can i get your excel document to catacogue the ideas for my literature review. Can you also assist on how to build the methodology section of my literature review? Thank you in advance.
I’m a student from Indonesia..This is very useful for me.. Thank you Derek..
What is the better, download all literatures and then log them into the excel sheet or do that for one by one?
I was utterly stressed when taking on an MSc Educational Leadership distance learning degree after 30 years of no academic studying. However, I found your literature review tutorial on Youtube and I immediately experienced a sense of calm direction. I am working full time in the Cayman Islands and am native Afrikaans speaking, so it was such a great help with my literature review for my first assignment. However, I have to write an evaluative essay for my second module and can not find any tutorial done by you about this. Do you perhaps have a template I could use? I have also used your services for editing and proofreading and am super grateful for the amazing help I have received! THANK YOU!
Hi Mr Derek,
It really really helps me to summarise my LR in Excel form and start-up writing
Hi Derek I have tried to download the template and it has failed to. I am not receiving the email either, could this be network issues.
Hi Derek I have been able to download the template. thank you for all your support. let me get started
I have downloaded the template. I would like to print out the guide so I can easily follow. Hope that is fine with you.
THANKS A LOTTTTT This template is exactly the one I needed when reading the literature review for my Bachelor’s dissertation
Thank you so much for your support ,I have downloaded your template and it is amazing .
Derek, The products you and the team members have put together continue to provide exemplary help as I finish the journey toward completing my dissertation! I wish I would have known of GradCoach during both of my MBAs. It could have helped alleviate a lot of time and frustration! I look forward to learning and seeing new things as I complete the dissertation.
Thanks for the kind words 🙂
Can data will be entered in excel sheet automatically like in Mendeley or i have to enter manually, pl?
Thank you GRADCOACH, I’m keenly following your tutorials as I’m about to start my literature review. These videos have been very helpful. So for the literature review you recommend only checking abstract, introduction and conclusion of the relevant literature?
Thanks for providing such an amazing resource.
I wish I knew about this when I was doing my masters. I’m doing my PhD now and sitting on Word files of reference lists and quotes I made for my MEd. This catalog will help me to keep everything more organized in one place. I’ve already started making your template my own by adding additional columns that are important for my research topic. One of the best features of your template is the Literature summary page. My question is how do I get the information I put into my new columns to auto-populate with descriptive statistics on the Literature Summary page?
Hi, I still don’t understand what you would put as ‘Category 1’, ‘Category 2’, ‘Category X’. Are they like the sort of big topics covered in the paper?
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Using a spreadsheet or table to organize the key elements (e.g. subjects, methodologies, results) of articles/books you plan to use in your literature review can be helpful. This is called a review matrix.
When you create a review matrix, the first few columns should include (1) the authors, title, journal, (2) publication year, and (3) purpose of the paper. The remaining columns should identify important aspects of each study such as methodology and findings.
Click on the image below to view a sample review matrix.
You can also download this template as a Microsoft Excel file .
The information on this page is from the book below. The 5th edition is available online through VCU Libraries.
Research Tables and Synthesis Tables are useful tools for organizing and analyzing your research as you assemble your literature review. They represent two different parts of the review process: assembling relevant information and synthesizing it. Use a Research table to compile the main info you need about the items you find in your research -- it's a great thing to have on hand as you take notes on what you read! Then, once you've assembled your research, use the Synthesis table to start charting the similarities/differences and major themes among your collected items.
We've included an Excel file with templates for you to use below; the examples pictured on this page are snapshots from that file.
This is an example of a research table, in which you provide a basic description of the most important features of the studies, articles, and other items you discover in your research. The table identifies each item according to its author/date of publication, its purpose or thesis, what type of work it is (systematic review, clinical trial, etc.), the level of evidence it represents (which tells you a lot about its impact on the field of study), and its major findings. Your job, when you assemble this information, is to develop a snapshot of what the research shows about the topic of your research question and assess its value (both for the purpose of your work and for general knowledge in the field).
Think of your work on the research table as the foundational step for your analysis of the literature, in which you assemble the information you'll be analyzing and lay the groundwork for thinking about what it means and how it can be used.
This is an example of a synthesis table or synthesis matrix , in which you organize and analyze your research by listing each source and indicating whether a given finding or result occurred in a particular study or article ( each row lists an individual source, and each finding has its own column, in which X = yes, blank = no). You can also add or alter the columns to look for shared study populations, sort by level of evidence or source type, etc. The key here is to use the table to provide a simple representation of what the research has found (or not found, as the case may be). Think of a synthesis table as a tool for making comparisons, identifying trends, and locating gaps in the literature.
How do I know which findings to use, or how many to include? Your research question tells you which findings are of interest in your research, so work from your research question to decide what needs to go in each Finding header, and how many findings are necessary. The number is up to you; again, you can alter this table by adding or deleting columns to match what you're actually looking for in your analysis. You should also, of course, be guided by what's actually present in the material your research turns up!
Using excel to manage your research.
It is good to keep a record of the databases you have visited and the search terms you have used while looking for articles. This will prevent you from wasting time with duplicate searches. Pen and paper are good for recording information, but there are also free online tools that can help you manage your citations and keep notes. You can easily incorporate information from the library's databases using these tools. The UFV library also has a guide for the citation management tool EndNote Online, as provided by the Web of Science.
Aside from pen and paper, many researchers and scholars use spreadsheets to manage their literature reviews. Two of these researchers have described their methods:
“I call it "dump" because I basically throw into the Excel file everything that is already in my research and conceptual/reflective memoranda. Doing the conceptual synthesis Excel dump as you do your reading allows you to create a nice map of the literature. It also helps reach conceptual saturation during the literature review.”
Pacheco-Vega’s blog post includes screen captures and shows how columns in the spreadsheet are organized.
“I wanted to create a table that I could manage effectively. Where I could move the data with ease. And, because seeing how far I’ve come helps to keep me feeling positive, where I could easily find out how many articles I’d read!
My spreadsheet is basic. It is not all singing and dancing, and I’m sure there are lots of clever things I’m missing out on. But its simplicity works for me.”
Her blog post also includes screen captures, and explains how she is able to organize her thoughts on different writers’ points of view and other pertinent information such as ethical concerns.
Home > Library > Research and publishing > Working with literature > Organise your research literature
Organising themes and ideas from the literature helps you:
Literature grids, tables or review matrices, contain structured information extracted from your literature resources and can encourage critical thinking and analysis.
When creating your literature grid:
Use a spreadsheet program (for example, Excel) to help you work more efficiently.
Spreadsheets help you to sort, filter and validate input using features such as drop-down lists .
Example Microsoft Excel literature grid (XLSX, 34.5 KB)
Learn to use Microsoft Excel
Try these techniques when designing your literature grid.
LATCH, developed by Richard Wurman , provides a structured way to think about and organise your information. You may incorporate some or all of the elements of LATCH in your literature grid.
Organise your information by location, this could include where:
Further, studies may be located on different sides of a debate.
Reference lists and bibliographies are often organised alphabetically by author, allowing the reader to easily find a specific reference of interest.
Organise your information alphabetically to make it easier to find known items.
Arrange alphabetically by:
Organise your information chronologically to highlight and understand the changes to a research field over time.
Additionally, it may show trends in the popularity of certain methodologies, theories or foundational concepts.
Grieger, R, Capon, SJ, Hadwen, WL et al. (2020) 'Between a bog and a hard place: a global review of climate change effects on coastal freshwater wetlands', Climatic Change, doi:10.1007/s10584-020-02815-1
Organise your information by grouping into categories based on your research question and objectives.
Use a spider map or concept map to help organise your information into categories.
Organise your information by assigning a value, or rank.
Assess or critically judge your information, this could be based on:
Explore how hierarchy is used to classify information in evidence-based medicine .
Get inspiration on how to apply LATCH to organise your information, read 5 ways to tame the literature dragon .
Concept maps, originally developed by Joseph D Novak , allow you to represent ideas on a topic and how they relate to one another.
Create a concept map to help:
Start your concept map:
You can use pen and paper or concept mapping software, such as CmapTools .
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Organization of your Literature Review
What is the most effective way of presenting the information? What are the most important topics, subtopics, etc., that your review needs to include? What order should you present them?
Just like most academic papers, literature reviews must contain at least three basic elements: an introduction or background information section; the body of the review containing the discussion of sources; and, finally, a conclusion and/or recommendations section to end the paper.
Introduction: Gives a quick idea of the topic of the literature review, such as the central theme or organizational pattern.
Body: Contains your discussion of sources and is organized either chronologically, thematically, or methodologically (see below for more information on each).
Conclusions/Recommendations: Discuss what you have drawn from reviewing the literature so far. Where might the discussion proceed?
To help you come up with an overall organizational framework for your review, consider the following scenario and then three typical ways of organizing the sources into a review:
You've decided to focus your literature review on materials dealing with sperm whales. This is because you've just finished reading Moby Dick, and you wonder if that whale's portrayal is really real. You start with some articles about the physiology of sperm whales in biology journals written in the 1980's. But these articles refer to some British biological studies performed on whales in the early 18th century. So you check those out. Then you look up a book written in 1968 with information on how sperm whales have been portrayed in other forms of art, such as in Alaskan poetry, in French painting, or on whale bone, as the whale hunters in the late 19th century used to do. This makes you wonder about American whaling methods during the time portrayed in Moby Dick, so you find some academic articles published in the last five years on how accurately Herman Melville portrayed the whaling scene in his novel.
If your review follows the chronological method, you could write about the materials above according to when they were published. For instance, first you would talk about the British biological studies of the 18th century, then about Moby Dick, published in 1851, then the book on sperm whales in other art (1968), and finally the biology articles (1980s) and the recent articles on American whaling of the 19th century. But there is relatively no continuity among subjects here. And notice that even though the sources on sperm whales in other art and on American whaling are written recently, they are about other subjects/objects that were created much earlier. Thus, the review loses its chronological focus.
Order your sources chronologically by publication if the order demonstrates a more important trend. For instance, you could order a review of literature on biological studies of sperm whales if the progression revealed a change in dissection practices of the researchers who wrote and/or conducted the studies.
Another way to organize sources chronologically is to examine the sources under a trend, such as the history of whaling. Then your review would have subsections according to eras within this period. For instance, the review might examine whaling from pre-1600-1699, 1700-1799, and 1800-1899. Using this method, you would combine the recent studies on American whaling in the 19th century with Moby Dick itself in the 1800-1899 category, even though the authors wrote a century apart.
Thematic reviews of literature are organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time. However, progression of time may still be an important factor in a thematic review. For instance, the sperm whale review could focus on the development of the harpoon for whale hunting. While the study focuses on one topic, harpoon technology, it will still be organized chronologically. The only difference here between a "chronological" and a "thematic" approach is what is emphasized the most: the development of the harpoon or the harpoon technology.
More authentic thematic reviews tend to break away from chronological order. For instance, a thematic review of material on sperm whales might examine how they are portrayed as "evil" in cultural documents. The subsections might include how they are personified, how their proportions are exaggerated, and their behaviors misunderstood. A review organized in this manner would shift between time periods within each section according to the point made.
A methodological approach differs from the two above in that the focusing factor usually does not have to do with the content of the material. Instead, it focuses on the "methods" of the researcher or writer. For the sperm whale project, one methodological approach would be to look at cultural differences between the portrayal of whales in American, British, and French art work. Or the review might focus on the economic impact of whaling on a community. A methodological scope will influence either the types of documents in the review or the way in which these documents are discussed.
Once you've decided on the organizational method for the body of the review, the sections you need to include in the paper should be easy to figure out. They should arise out of your organizational strategy. In other words, a chronological review would have subsections for each vital time period. A thematic review would have subtopics based upon factors that relate to the theme or issue.
Current Situation: Information necessary to understand the topic or focus of the literature review.
History: The chronological progression of the field, the literature, or an idea that is necessary to understand the literature review, if the body of the literature review is not already a chronology.
Methods and/or Standards: The criteria you used to select the sources in your literature review or the way in which you present your information. For instance, you might explain that your review includes only peer-reviewed articles and journals.
Questions for Further Research: What questions about the field has the review sparked? How will you further your research as a result of the review?
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Review the literature, write the literature review, further reading, learning objectives, attribution.
This guide is designed to:
A literature review is a summary and synthesis of scholarly research on a specific topic. It should answer questions such as:
The process of reviewing existing research allows you to fine-tune your research question and contextualize your own work. Preparing a literature review is a cyclical process. You may find that the research question you begin with evolves as you learn more about the topic.
Once you have defined your research question , focus on learning what other scholars have written on the topic.
In order to do a thorough search of the literature on the topic, define the basic criteria:
One strategy is to review bibliographies for sources that relate to your interest. For more on this technique, look at the tutorial on finding articles when you have a citation .
As you read sources, themes will emerge that will help you to organize the review. You can use a simple Synthesis Matrix to track your notes as you read. From this work, a concept map emerges that provides an overview of the literature and ways in which it connects. Working with Zotero to capture the citations, you build the structure for writing your literature review.
A key indicator for knowing when you are done is running into the same articles and materials. With no new information being uncovered, you are likely exhausting your current search and should modify search terms or search different catalogs or databases. It is also possible that you have reached a point when you can start writing the literature review.
These citation management tools also create citations, footnotes, and bibliographies with just a few clicks:
Your literature review should be focused on the topic defined in your research question. It should be written in a logical, structured way and maintain an objective perspective and use a formal voice.
Review the Summary Table you created for themes and connecting ideas. Use the following guidelines to prepare an outline of the main points you want to make.
The three elements of a literature review are introduction, body, and conclusion.
This guide was designed to:
Content on this page adapted from:
Frederiksen, L. and Phelps, S. (2017). Literature Reviews for Education and Nursing Graduate Students. Licensed CC BY 4.0
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Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes . Revised on September 11, 2023.
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 that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .
There are five key steps to writing a literature review:
A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.
What is the purpose of 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, free lecture slides, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions, introduction.
When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:
Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.
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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.
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 problem and questions .
Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. 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 as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.
Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:
You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.
Make sure to 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.
You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.
For each publication, ask yourself:
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 use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.
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 is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation 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.
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To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:
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.
There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. 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 summarizing sources in order.
Try to analyze 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 organize 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:
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.
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, you can follow these tips:
In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.
When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !
This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.
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If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.
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.
There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:
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 thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .
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 .
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How to structure and write your literature review
Cronin, P., Ryan, F. & Coughlan, M. (2008). Undertaking a literature review: A step-by-step approach . British Journal of Nursing, 17 (1), pp.38-43.
CHRONOLOGICAL (by date): This is one of the most common ways, especially for topics that have been talked about for a long time and have changed over their history. Organise it in stages of how the topic has changed: the first definitions of it, then major time periods of change as researchers talked about it, then how it is thought about today.
BROAD-TO-SPECIFIC : Another approach is to start with a section on the general type of issue you're reviewing, then narrow down to increasingly specific issues in the literature until you reach the articles that are most specifically similar to your research question, thesis statement, hypothesis, or proposal. This can be a good way to introduce a lot of background and related facets of your topic when there is not much directly on your topic but you are tying together many related, broader articles.
MAJOR MODELS or MAJOR THEORIES : When there are multiple models or prominent theories, it is a good idea to outline the theories or models that are applied the most in your articles. That way you can group the articles you read by the theoretical framework that each prefers, to get a good overview of the prominent approaches to your concept.
PROMINENT AUTHORS : If a certain researcher started a field, and there are several famous people who developed it more, a good approach can be grouping the famous author/researchers and what each is known to have said about the topic. You can then organise other authors into groups by which famous authors' ideas they are following. With this organisation it can help to look at the citations your articles list in them, to see if there is one author that appears over and over.
CONTRASTING SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT : If you find a dominant argument comes up in your research, with researchers taking two sides and talking about how the other is wrong, you may want to group your literature review by those schools of thought and contrast the differences in their approaches and ideas.
Different ways to organise your literature review include:
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If you’re wondering ‘what is a literature review’ or trying to figure out how to write a literature review, you’ve come to the right place. While a literature review can be a summary of sources, it can also discuss published information in a variety of formats on a specific subject area and tends to have an organizational pattern that combines both a summary (a recap of the information) and a synthesis (a re-organization or the information).
The literature review for your article, thesis, or dissertation requires keeping track of sources, their important points, and their links to each other – for hundreds of journal articles, books, research papers, videos, scholarly articles, and other references. So, it’s no surprise grad students and researchers frequently struggle with how to write a literature review.
Many university guides on the subject recommend creating a synthesis matrix for keeping track of sources, ideas, and quotations. Traditionally, this matrix was often created as a Word document, and you’ll still find many templates available online. However, more and more academics now seem to be using spreadsheets instead.
This blog post will look into the advantages and disadvantages of using Excel and Word, explore the reasons for why researchers use spreadsheets, and discuss the benefits of using a specialized writing and reference management program like Citavi.
Advantages of using excel.
Proponents of the Excel approach are quick to tout the many benefits. First, there’s no need to pay for a new piece of software, since if you already have Microsoft Office installed on your computer, you also already have Excel. Otherwise, you can also use Google Sheets which has all the options you might need.
Then, there’s the simplicity and flexibility of using a spreadsheet. Set up time is pretty low. You simply create a few columns and can get started using your literature tracking system in a matter of minutes.
Another benefit is how easily customizable the solution is – you can make the categories be exactly what you want. Need a column to track the location of a study or a specific intervention? You just need to add it. Even though Excel can get complicated if you set up formulas or other customizations, for a literature review spreadsheet you usually can just use it as a simple table.
So far, the advantages listed apply to Word as well, but Excel and Citavi have one crucial advantage over Word: it lets you search, sort, and filter. Have a vague recollection of a note you wrote but only remember one term you used in it? Use Excel’s “Find” feature. Want to sort all your notes by year of publication of your source? Nothing could be easier than sorting your “year” column in ascending order. Want to find clinical trials with female participants with a statistically significant intervention? If you set up your Excel sheet as described below under “Version 2” such combinations of queries are possible, and in Citavi, setup is even easier as it lets you save sources directly into the program and organize your literature review outline in the knowledge organizer.
Citavi interface showing outline, sources, reference meta data, and an article PDF.
So, with all these advantages, how does the Excel method work in practice?
When you search for “Excel literature review”, Dr. Elaine Gregersen’s 2016 blog post “How I use Excel to manage my Literature Review” about her personal literature tracking system is one of the first results to pop up. It’s an approach that’s still often praised in discussion threads about Excel literature tracking methods. In her own words, it’s a simple approach, but that’s what makes it work. Her approach uses a literature review spreadsheet in addition to a reference manager. She uses one sheet only and includes columns for basic citation information, keywords, objectives, methods, and conclusions. In addition, she adds in four personalized categories: happy thoughts, unhappy thoughts, her own ethical concerns, and the author’s ethical concerns. These last two columns perfectly align with her field of Autoethnography. The happy thoughts column is for notes, such as how findings relate to her own work, while the unhappy thoughts column is for times when she disagrees with an author, among other uses.
Dr. Raul Pacheco uses a similar one-sheet method, which he calls the Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump (CSED) technique since he tosses in any literature he might be using for analysis. His setup overlaps in some ways with Gregersen’s but has a few differences; he has columns for the concept (i.e. theme), citation, main idea, three columns for notes (which function similarly to Gregersen’s happy and unhappy thoughts), cross-references, quotes, and page numbers.
A useful tip is to create a dedicated column for quotations to help separate out the authors’ exact words from one’s analysis of them or the article as a whole. This can help you inadvertently misrepresent an author’s ideas as your own when you’re later writing your literature review.
Taking the models laid out by Gregersen and Pacheco as a jumping off point, it’s easy to make some tweaks for even better usability for your own projects. Obviously, you’ll want to create columns that fit your needs. Instead of a column “main theme” you might have several “key takeaways” columns. Or a highly-personal column for how each article relates to your own work. For example, you might include only the author names and year of publication for an article rather than the full citation (in which case we’d highly recommend saving the full details in a reference management program!). Some people might want to copy the abstract the authors provide, while some will choose to write their own summaries. You can add “notes” columns or distinguish between paraphrases, comments, and direct quotations. Beyond that there are a lot of other small things you can do to make your spreadsheet work better for you, such as linking from a citation to the actual PDF, adding comments to cells, or adding drop-down lists to make data entry easier.
If you struggle with organizing your notes and memos, you could benefit from a reference management software like Citavi. Citavi lets you make notes within the program and easily connects your notes, memos, and quotes to your sources – helping you keep track of all your thoughts and research.
In Citavi, see all your notes and comments about a source in one place.
If you want to take your basic Excel spreadsheet up a notch, you can do so in several ways. For one, you can make use of multiple sheets in the same workbook. Dr. Kathleen Clarke describes her method which involves a major spreadsheet for tracking all the high-level information about a source along with minor spreadsheets which are more granular. She describes her method as a mix between Gregersen’s and Pacheco’s, but she also includes additional sheets on different but related topics and for studies she wants to read later on. One other notable addition is the use of a numbering system for her sources which corresponds to the article file names on her computer.
While there’s a lot of freedom in how you set up your Excel files, there are still some best practices you’ll likely want to follow. First, you should set up your table so that headers are marked as such. This way they won’t be sorted along with the other cells if you sort the column by A-Z, for example. Also, you’ll want to apply word wrap formatting to cells to keep content from spilling over into neighboring empty cells. This just keeps everything looking a lot tidier and makes it easier to skim through. Another handy option recommended by McQuilliam is to set up endless scrolling which keeps your column headers visible, even when you’re adding entries at the bottom of your list.
The columns you include are more or less up to you, but you’ll need a column for source information for sure to avoid inadvertent plagiarism or having to hunt down sources later on. In addition, a year column is invaluable for sorting your literature chronologically in preparation for writing your lit review. To keep track of how authors build upon and discuss each other’s work, a cross-references column can also be helpful. It’s important to make it very clear which analysis and thoughts are your own and which are those of your author.
If you’re planning on using filter features later on to search by study type, keyword, or some other criteria you’ll need to use controlled vocabulary, i.e. each concept should be referred to by a single term rather than using a bunch of different synonyms. You can define this at the start in a key on a separate sheet of your Excel workbook so that you can easily refer to it as needed. Each time you decide to add new terms, just add them to your key.
To save time, a streamlined option for organizing and categorizing your source information, notes, and quotes is Citavi, and we’ll look further into the benefits of using Citavi at the end of this post.
It’s hard to argue with the advantages of ease, simplicity, and flexibility that the Excel method gives you. But, there are still some big downsides to consider.
First, you have to set everything up yourself – it’s not already set up for you in a way that should fit most workflows. If you try something and later decide to take a different approach, you may need to go back and add in additional information for many sources you already examined.
Although search, filtering, and sorting options in Excel are much better than they would be in a Word table, the program is still a spreadsheet at heart which means that it’s “flatter” than a database. In other words, it’s less relational which makes it difficult to create complex search strings to get a subset of items that fit multiple criteria or that use more complicated search techniques such as Boolean logic or wildcards.
Another drawback is that the Excel approach involves a lot of manual entry. While some amount of manual work will always be necessary, for example, when you type up your comments or key takeaways, you won’t be able to directly extract information from PDFs (such as direct quotes or images) without using an additional PDF reader. Moreover, there are no time-saving automation options for adding source information that you might be accustomed to from your reference manager.
Speaking of reference managers, in many of the Twitter discussions around the Excel note-taking approach, there will always be a few comments asking why the person didn’t consider using their referencing software for their notes. Many proponents of the Excel approach stress that they do indeed use a reference management program to keep track of their source information but that they prefer to keep their notes and analysis in a separate Excel file. One of the reasons is that even though many reference management programs let you group references into folders and tag them with specific terms, they don’t let you easily keep track of and categorize notes on a particular source. You basically get a single notes field and that’s it. No way to categorize, group, or tag the note itself, just the source as a whole.
While this is true for many reference manager programs, there’s one that goes above and beyond its competitors – Citavi! While we’ve explored how it’s possible to create a literature review with Excel and Word, it is not the most efficient way available. With Citavi, you can easily keep track of, categorize, and connect your sources – all in one place.
Citavi is a reference management program that has been designed with extensive knowledge organization for any number of sources in mind and may, in many cases, be a better alternative to the Excel method.
Citavi lets you automatically add source information for most journal articles. Then, you can read PDFs and save notes and memos directly in the program. Annotating in Citavi is as simple as how you would on paper as you can highlight sections of text in colors that indicate whether it’s an important section, a section you might want to cite, or a passage that you’d like to analyze more closely. The only difference from annotating on paper is that these notes – which can be summaries, indirect quotations, direct quotations and comments – are always linked directly to their location in the PDF, so if you ever have to look up the context for one of your own comments or a direct quotation again, one click takes you directly to where you need to go and makes it easy to create your annotated bibliography.
Page numbers are saved automatically, as long as the PDF metadata includes that information. Otherwise, you just need to enter a page number for an article with the first “knowledge item” you save for it. Citavi will then add all the rest automatically.
Citavi keeps track of your meta data so it’s easy to follow one of the hundreds of citation styles available in the program.
Although the knowledge item types are pre-defined, the many options will fit most needs, and you can also always use either the keywords, categories, or the core statement field to designate the type of note you are adding if you want more customization. Any terms you use can later be searched or used as filters (more on that below). In addition, for the reference as a whole you also have pre-defined fields for keywords, groups, evaluations, abstracts, notes, and cross-references. This lets you classify at both the reference and note level, so, if you want, you can assign different categories or keywords for a source as a whole and for a statement you find in it. If you need additional source fields, there are nine custom fields which you can rename and format with drop-down options.
Where Citavi really shines against Excel is in its search features and integration with Word and NVivo 14. You can create and save complex searches that combine or exclude certain terms, keywords, categories, note type, year, etc. You can make use of advanced search syntax, such as boolean operators, wildcards, and regular expressions. You can rate sources and filter by rating. And, you have full-text search across all of your PDFs.
You can also view project statistics at a glance or use an add-on to do an analysis by author or another criteria. With Citavi and NVivo 14 integration, you can go beyond reference management by creating a springboard to collect references and thoughts, analyze literature, and connect empirical data with NVivo’s analysis tools – helping you dig deeper into your research and speed up your publishing time.
But the best part is that all of this information can be taken directly over to Word. You have all the analysis and quotes you’ve saved in a panel at the left and can just click to insert what you need. Citavi will insert the correct citation formatting and add an entry to your bibliography at the end. If you added your notes to an outline in Citavi, you can use the “Chapter” view to focus on what you need for a particular section. And, if you ever need to double-check the context for a direct quotation or your own paraphrase, you can click a link symbol to jump back to the exact spot in the PDF that you referred to.
If you do need to at some point export your reference information in table format for an appendix in your dissertation (for example, as documentation of the exclusion process for a systematic review), doing so just requires a few clicks. If you’ve previously worked with Excel and want to try out Citavi, importing is just as easy, and you can of course import all of your existing notes as knowledge items.
Last but certainly not least, if you use Citavi, you have the benefit of working with one tool instead of needing to juggle an Excel spreadsheet, a reference management program, and a PDF annotation tool or PDF reader.
We think it’s a no-brainer to use Citavi instead of Excel or Google Sheets to keep track of your reading for a literature review – but then again, we might be ever so slightly biased. What do you think?
Learn more about Citavi or request a free 30-day trial today!
What is a literature review?
A literature review is a discussion of previously published information on a particular topic, providing summary and connections to help readers understand the research that has been completed on a subject and why it is important. Unlike a research paper, a literature review does not develop a new argument, instead focusing on what has been argued or proven in past papers. However, a literature review should not just be an annotated bibliography that lists the sources found; the literature review should be organized thematically as a cohesive paper.
Why write a literature review?
Literature reviews provide you with a handy guide to a particular topic. If you have limited time to conduct research, literature reviews can give you an overview or act as a stepping stone. For professionals, they are useful reports that keep them up to date with what is current in the field. For scholars, the depth and breadth of the literature review emphasizes the credibility of the writer in his or her field. Literature reviews also provide a solid background for a research paper’s investigation. Comprehensive knowledge of the literature of the field is essential to most research papers.
Who writes literature reviews?
Literature reviews are sometimes written in the humanities, but more often in the sciences and social sciences. In scientific reports and longer papers, they constitute one section of the work. Literature reviews can also be written as stand-alone papers.
How Should I Organize My Literature Review?
Here are some ways to organize a literature review from Purdue OWL:
Outline Your Literature Review's Structure
How to Write a Literature Review
Literature Reviews: An Overview for Graduate Students
Writing the Literature Review
Find a focus Just like a term paper, a literature review is organized around ideas, not just sources. Use the research question you developed in planning your review and the issues or themes that connect your sources together to create a thesis statement. Yes, literature reviews have thesis statements! But your literature review thesis statement will be presenting a perspective on the material, rather than arguing for a position or opinion. For example:
The current trend in treatment for congestive heart failure combines surgery and medicine.
More and more cultural studies scholars are accepting popular media as a subject worthy of academic consideration.
Consider organization Once you have your thesis statement, you will need to think about the best way to effective organize the information you have in your review. Like most academic papers, literature reviews should have an introduction, body, and conclusion.
Use evidence and be selective When making your points in your literature review, you should refer to several sources as evidence, just like in any academic paper. Your interpretation of the available information must be backed up with evidence to show that your ideas are valid. You also need to be selective about the information you choose to include in your review. Select only the most important points in each source, making sure everything you mention relates to the review's focus.
Summarize and synthesize Remember to summarize and synthesize your sources in each paragraph as well as throughout the review. You should not be doing in-depth analysis in your review, so keep your use of quotes to a minimum. A literature review is not just a summary of current sources; you should be keeping your own voice and saying something new about the collection of sources you have put together.
Revise, revise, revise When you have finished writing the literature review, you still have one final step! Spending a lot of time revising is important to make sure you have presented your information in the best way possible. Check your review to see if it follows the assignment instructions and/or your outline. Rewrite or rework your language to be more concise and double check that you have documented your sources and formatted your review appropriately.
The Literature Review Model
Machi, Lawrence A, and Brenda T McEvoy. The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success. 2Nd ed. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press, 2012.
What the Literature Review IS and ISN'T:
Literature Review Sample Paper
Literature Review Tips
Organizing Your Review
As you read and evaluate your literature there are several different ways to organize your research . Courtesy of Dr. Gary Burkholder in the School of Psychology, these sample matrices are one option to help organize your articles. These documents allow you to compile details about your sources, such as the foundational theories, methodologies, and conclusions; begin to note similarities among the authors; and retrieve citation information for easy insertion within a document.
How to Create a Literature Matrix using Excel
Synthesis for Literature Reviews
Developing a Research Question
Citation management help
Citation management is essential in a systematic review. There are a number of citation management tools available that are compatible with many of the databases and resources you'll use. Visit the citation management research guide to get started. It only takes a few minutes to set up an account with such tools as Zotero and Mendeley .
There are a number of tools available to help you manage the various stages of a systematic review--in particular, the process of title/abstract screening, full text screening, data extraction and quality assessment. Below are a few such tools. Generally, these are all used in conjunction with a citation management software such as Endnote, Mendeley or Zotero.
Excel : Excel is the most basic tool for the management of the screening and data extraction stages of the systematic review process.Customized workbooks and spreadsheets can be designed for the review process, and lists of references can be exported from citation managers into Excel format for screening. A more advanced approach to using Excel for this purpose is the PIECES approach, designed by a librarian at Texas A&M. The PIECES workbook is downloadable at this guide .
Rayyan: Rayyan is a free online tool that can be used for independent screening and coding of studies in a systematic review. Rayyan uses tagging and filtering to code and organize references. Access Rayyan at this link: http://rayyan.qcri.org/.
SysRev: SysRev is a collaborative platform for managing the screening and data extraction phases of a systematic review, map or other knowledge synthesis project. It includes a powerful machine learning algorithm trained during the screening process and aiding in the bulk exclusion of low relevance research. SysRev provides both free and paid versions, which allow for public and private projects, respectively. Access SysRev at this link: https://sysrev.com/ .
Covidence : Covidence is an online systematic review management tool that allows for independent title/abstract screening, full text screening, data extraction and risk of bias assessment. It is currently free. Access Covidence at this link: https://www.covidence.org/.
DistillerSR : DistillerSR is a popular tool for systematic review management. It allows for the management of the entire systematic review process with multiple independent reviewers. This tool is available with a monthly subscription fee. Access DistillerSR at this link: https://www.distillersr. com/products/distillersr- systematic-review-software
RevMan : RevMan is used by Cochrane reviewers to manage the data extraction and analysis process. It is a free tool that is geared toward Cochrane-like reviews. Access RevMan at this link: http://tech.cochrane.org/revman.
When categorizing the writings in the review, the researcher might consider
He might consider such questions as:
Remember that you are relating other studies to your study. How do the studies in your lit. review relate to your thesis? How are the other studies related to each other?
If there are many similar studies, a strategy might be to discuss the most important ones and say that the results were confirmed in many other studies.
There are numerous ways to organize the material in a lit. review. For example, one might organize the selected readings by
Such methods are generally better than organizing chronologically or by author. The latter often result in a boring review or one lacking clarity or direction.
As you read, you'll encounter various ideas, disagreements, methods, and perspectives which can be hard to organize in a meaningful way.
A synthesis matrix helps you record the main points of each source and document how sources relate to each other.