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Literature Reviews

Document & Save

Document the Process

  • Document your plans, thoughts and choices as you start, and as you proceed.  For example ask what ?, and why ?, and how do I know ? 
  • Use a "paper" notebook, or use "folders" with "Word" documents on your computer.  Or use software programs like Evernote , or DropboxThose programs support making notes on computer and 'saving to cloud' for access.  As noted above, each of these research log tools might have sections for different kinds of comments.
  • See Using Research Logs box at right.
  • Also other boxes on documenting searches.

Save things

  • Save references for items you think might have relevant content.
  • Save articles pdfs, paper copies
  • Save links to information, etc. 
  • Save screens with information
  • Set up access to references and to articles you have downloaded. See Software for Managing just below.

      More Advice for Documenting Searches

      Check out these resources for tips on how to keep track of your search process!

      Software for Managing Searches and Writing

      RefWorks, EndNote Web, Mendeley, Zotero

      • All of these are free for students, faculty, and staff.
      • Create personal databases that have key information about the resources you have chosen for your literature review. You then have access to this information from anywhere on the Internet
      • Links to register or download are here: EndNoteZoteroMendeley
      • You can also include pdf articles or links to the available full text of articles (or links to online books, web sites, etc.)
      • You can also keep personal notes related to the information you see as important for each article, etc.
      • You can also use these for automatically creating citations and references in your papers according to a style you choose (e.g., APA, MLA, etc.).

      Wikipedia chart comparing features is here.

      Using Research Logs to Document Your Review Plans, Choices, Reasons, and Activities

      Simple Logs or "Notebooks"

      You might simply keep a notebook with any kind of comments or questions you have about anything related to your project. You may have sections on your initial understanding and goals for the project, on searches tried, on methods for analysis, on possible relevent considerations, on problems, etc.

      More Involved Logs, "Notebooks", or a "File/Folder System". 

      You may have notebook sections like the following for comments, etc. related to your review project.  These may also be separate "files" or "folders" in a "filing system" (again, paper or electronic).

      • Background and Planning  Initial information, thoughts, and plans/timeline for completing. Also ideas concerning changes to plans.  
      • Research topic/questions  Initial, updated and final drafts of your topic.
      • Inclusion/Exclusion Criteria (IE Criteria) What are you looking for that will lead you to choose the sources that might have information you need. The criteria also indicate what information sources you will not choose to use (exclude). Also you might list what will guide your selection of actual content/information eventually used/incorporated into your review. 
      • Scoping or Ad hoc searches & results  Initial "reconnaissance" for initial mapping of an area or for periodic update/checking, etc. It is possible to adjust your IE criteria.
      • Full Search  Design/Search results/ Use of results/Search Modification, etc.
      • Extraction  What information you need and in fact are choosing to pull out of sources to use.  
      • Analysis or Synthesis  Ideas, sketches, thinking in response to the information you have identified in the information sources.
      • Browsing  Information activities that are "not systematic", online, or in the "library stacks", etc.  
      • "Extra" Ideas that don't fit elsewhere in notebook, thoughts that are kind of serendipitous. etc.
      • ILL - Actions taken to get items from outside of KSU or Ohio, and results.   
      • Email/communication 
      • Drafts of review

      In addition to a research log (or filing system) for documenting your overall "literature review" goals, actitivies, ideas, and comments, etc., there are more detailed approaches for documenting your literature search activities (e.g., document computer searches, article selection, and the selection of information for use from the articles). Thoughts and resources for this kind of documenting are below.

      How to Document Your Literature Search Process

      Here is a step-by-step framework to consider for documenting your literature search process: 

      • Provide a purpose statement.
      • Document the databases or search engines used.
      • Specify the limits applied to the search.
      • List the inclusion and exclusion criteria for the search.
      • List the search terms used.
      • Document the search process for each search resource used.
      • Assess retrieved articles for relevance.
      • Document a summary table of included articles.
      • Provide a statement specifying the number of retrieved articles.

      Taken from:
      Kable, A. H., Pich, J., and Maslin-Prothero, S. (2012)
      A structured approach to documenting a search strategy for publication: A 12-step guideline for authors.
      Nurse Education Today, 32, 878-886.


      Reviewing the Literature Using the Matrix Method

      The "Matrix Method" is an approach to organizing, monitoring, and documenting your search activities. 

      Tutorial on Using the Matrix Method 

      Online tutorial by KSU Librarian Clare Leibfarth.



      Writing a Literature Review and Using a Synthesis Matrix 
      From North Carolina State Tutorial Services. Ingram, Hussey, Tigani, Hemmelgarn, & Huneycutt, contributors

      Create Your Own matrix in MS Word.
      This blank matrix is ready for you to use for your own research review.


      More on what information to "Extract and Evaluate"

      Some questions to ask when appraising the literature!

      1.   From Doing a Literature Review in Health and Social Care:A Practical Guide by Helen Aveyard

      • What is the journal of publication?
      • What is the research question and why was the study conducted?
      • What method was selected to undertake the research?
      • Has the appropriate sample been obtained?
      • How were the data collected?
      • How were the data analyzed?

      2.   Critical Appraisal Tools

      It can be valuable to use "tools for appraising" the literature that is then used in a literature review.

      "Critical appraisal is an integral process in Evidence Based Practice. Critical appraisal aims to identify methodological flaws in the literature and provide consumers of research evidence the opportunity to make informed decisions about the quality of research evidence..."  This site offers "a list of critical appraisal tools, linked to the websites where they were developed." - from the  International Centre for Allied Health Evidence (iCAHE).