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Prepared by University of Waterloo

Section B: Planning and Researching

In this section, you will find strategies to determine the direction of your literature review and tools you can use to refine your research approach.

What will I learn?

By the end of this section, you will be able to

  • read and understand your assignment guidelines to develop an appropriate research strategy for starting your literature review,
  • create a plan for researching your topic, and
  • apply reading and note-taking strategies that will help you in the research phase of your literature review.

Writing a successful literature review begins with understanding what you are being asked to do and how to effectively complete the assignment. While deciding your approach, consider the assignment expectations, building analytical skills, and reference and style guides.

Assignment Expectations

Before starting your literature review, it is crucial to understand your professor’s expectations, including the number of sources you should use, the types of sources you need to evaluate, the number of pages you need to write, and the format of the literature review. To ensure you complete the assignment properly, follow these steps:

  1. Start budgeting your time by noting the due date.
  2. Note the requirements, such as the number of sources you must consult, page length, reference style, and other special criteria your professor has asked you to include.
  3. Highlight key words within the assignment’s main question or description that will guide your research approach and writing. Look for words like synthesize, analyze, evaluate, or critique that will tell you how to examine your sources. Also look for words such as how, why, explain, or demonstrate that give you a question that needs to be answered. Engaging with the assignment criteria will help you to frame your literature review and develop your thesis.
  4. Examine the rubric for a detailed description of how your assignment will be graded. This will help you meet the content and writing requirements while also helping you to focus your assignment overall.
  5. If you still have questions after reading the assignment criteria, contact your TA or professor. Try to find the answer to your question in the syllabus or assignment criteria before asking them.

Building Analytical Skills

In addition to research skills, literature reviews build analytical skills. These skills include summarizing, synthesizing, analyzing, and evaluating. To ensure you balance these skills when writing your literature review, consult the following worksheet.

Handout: Building Analytical Skills

Use this helpful handout for your Literature Review.

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Preview: PDF Worksheet

Reference and Style Guides

Many features differ depending on the citation style guide you use (e.g., American Psychologial Association - APA, Modern Language Association - MLA, and Chicago Manual of Style). Different disciplines adhere to specific style guides, so it is important to follow the formatting outlined in your style guide. Style guides provide more formatting criteria than only citation expectations. They each have unique formatting requirements for many features:

  • In-text citations or footnotes
  • References/Works Cited/Bibliography
  • Headings
  • Page numbers
  • Title page
  • Table of contents
  • Block quotations
  • Tables, figures, and images
  • Statistics
  • Abbreviations
  • Capitalization

The following is a list of common pitfalls you may encounter when writing literature reviews and strategies you can use to overcome them:

Pitfall

Solutions

Losing sight of the research question, thesis, and/or objective


Focusing too much on summary instead of analysis


Unclear thesis statement


Insufficient synthesis of sources


Unclear research organization


Successful literature reviews rely on an effective research strategy that comprises a project schedule, research organization, and citation management.

Project Schedule

A project schedule is an effective time management strategy that will help you break down the literature review into smaller manageable projects to set and meet deadlines. Try following these steps to develop a project schedule.

Pre-writing

  1. Break your literature review into planning, reading and research, analyzing, summarizing, and revising stages.
  2. Work backwards from the assignment’s final deadline and assign realistic deadlines to each stage.
  3. Mark these deadlines on your calendar. Try using the Project Schedule Worksheet (below) to keep you on track.
  4. Writing usually takes longer than you anticipate, so be sure to give yourself enough time to work through all the stages of the writing process.

Researching

  1. Use the resources you have access to, such as research librarians, subject guides, and search tools, to help you effectively use the time you devoted to researching.
  2. Use a Review Matrix or other note-taking strategy to help you stay on track by eliminating redundancies in your research methodology and by keeping your notes organized. (See the "Matrix Method" in the "Planning Your Approach to Research" accordion below)
  3. Screen and select the most relevant sources to read. If a source does not fit within your search criteria, do not try to make it fit.
  4. Look at the reference lists of other literature reviews or sources on your topic to help you find additional material to consult.

Writing

  1. Budget your time using the space allowance method as a rough guide.
  2. Eliminate distractions as much as possible.
  3. Set writing goals that you can meet each day. This can be either a time goal or a word count goal. The Pomodoro technique is a proven strategy that breaks your total writing time into smaller portions, which helps focus your attention.
  4. Your first draft does not need to be perfect. It is more time efficient to have a page you can later edit than no page at all.

Revising

  1. Leave time to revise your work. This stage is equally important to the writing stage.
  2. Implement a strategy that focuses on one or two concerns for each read-through.
  3. Give yourself time between each draft before revising your writing again so you can approach it from a fresh perspective.
  4. Use revision strategies to optimize your time.
  5. Review your work from the reader’s perspective to ensure clarity and coherence.

Worksheet: Blank Project Schedule

Use this blank worksheet to plan your Literature Review.

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Preview: PDF Worksheet

Sample: Completed Project Schedule

Use this completed worksheet as an exampe for your Literature Review Project Schedule.

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Preview: PDF Sample

Formulating a Research Question

  1. Step 1

    The first step in formulating a research question is determining what kind of literature review you are expected to write. Use the following process to write a research question:

    1. Consult the syllabus to determine the purpose of the review. Some assignments will explicitly detail the topic of your literature review while others will give you room to choose a topic yourself.
    2. When allowed to pick a topic, revisit your syllabus and lecture notes to find a topic that fits within your course’s theme.
    3. From here, narrow the scope of your topic by asking who, what, where, when, why questions and focusing on specific aspects you can investigate through your literature review. This will also frame your scope. These questions will identify intersections and relationships that your literature review can examine.

    Handout: Process Organization Chart

    Use this helpful handout to organize your Literature Review.

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    Preview: PDF Worksheet

  2. Step 2

    The research question you ask will be guided by the purpose of your literature review:

    1. If your literature review focuses on synthesizing findings and results, what kind of question could you ask?
    2.  
    3. If your review looks at methodology, what kind of question could you ask?
    4.  
    5. If your review examines how events or processes have been explained, what kind of question could you ask?
    6.  

  3. Step 3

    Identifying a problem for your research question to address relies on your critical thinking and your discipline. A ‘problem’ can be defined differently across disciplines:

In all cases, the problems are focused on the research of other scholars.


Research Question Checklist

The research question checklist helps you to determine whether you've been successful in identifying a problem that your research question can address.

  • Does your research question focus on a narrow topic that will allow you to provide an in-depth analysis instead of a superficial survey?
  • Is the topic significant to you and other researchers?
  • Can the research question be researched and answered by the assignment’s deadline?
  • Is there enough information and material available to answer the research question?
  • Can my research question yield a position or lead to a thesis statement?
  • Does the research question allow you to investigate variables and relationships within and between sources?
  • Does your research question give your research direction?

Worksheet: Research Question Checklist

Use this helpful worksheet for your Literature Review.

Download PDF

Preview: PDF Worksheet

Creating a Search Strategy

After writing a research question to narrow the scope and identify the purpose of your literature review, creating a search strategy can streamline your research process. Follow these steps to create a search strategy.

  1. Highlight key words in your research question.
  2. Identify synonyms or other words that can be used to search for the same information.
  3. Write search strings using the key words and Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT, “___”).
  4. Identify relevant databases to search for sources by meeting with a reference librarian or reading subject guides.
  5. Search for other literature reviews on your topic to highlight seminal sources .
  6. Use search strings to begin searching for relevant sources.
  7. Download relevant sources as you find them.
  8. Read the reference lists of relevant sources or other literature reviews on your topic to identify sources you have not consulted.
  9. Continue steps 5, 6, and 7 until you have enough articles for your assignment or to write a comprehensive review.
  10. If you’re stuck, revisit steps 3 and 4.

Creating a Search Strategy

Video: A brief video to help you understand how to create a search strategy.

By this point in the process, you’ll have written a research question. Your research question is a great place to start to identify key words for your search. For example, if your research question is “What effect does aerobic exercise have on cognition in adolescents with ADHD,” underline key words that can be used in search engines. In this example, we can underline aerobic exercise, cognition, adolescents, and ADHD.

Next, generate other words for the underlined key words that can be used to search for your topic. For aerobic exercise, we can use physical activity. For cognition, we can use memory. For adolescents, we can use youth. For ADHD, we can use attention.

Use these key words to write search strings that you can use to search databases for relevant sources. Our first search string can be aerobic exercise, and cognition, and attention. Our second search string can be “physical activity,” and “memory,” and “ADHD.”

Identify relevant databases to search for your topic. Your university library has subscriptions to many research databases. Just remember, if you’re accessing the database from off campus, you’ll need to click the get access off campus link to sign in. The University of Waterloo, for example, has access to many databases, including PubMed and Scopus, which are good in this case because they contain works on psychology and health science, like our topic.

Visit your first database to input your search strings. Our first search string is aerobic exercise, and cognition, and attention.

Let’s look at the first few results. The first result looks at visuospatial attention and BDNF levels, which is not related to our topic. The second result examines dose response relationship of exercise on cognition, but does not mention adolescents. You realize not all the sources being returned are specific to your topic. This might be because “attention” is too broad. You need to narrow down your search terms, so, you search substituting “ADHD” for “attention.”

Although these results are relevant to our topic, we need to find additional sources to include in our literature review. Consulting other literature reviews will help us find these sources. So now you should perform another search string using the keywords aerobic exercise, and ADHD, and review. You could also substitute systematic review, meta-analysis, or historiography, depending on your discipline. Let’s look at the third result. It examines the effects of physical exercise in children with ADHD and it includes the keywords systematic review and meta-analysis, which tells us it is a literature review worth examining. After downloading the PDF, examine the reference list for other relevant sources. Note their bibliographic information.

Search for your new list of sources in your library’s journal or manuscript collection, or use Google Scholar.

Repeat this process using each of your search strings until you have enough sources to begin extracting information to write your literature review.

Narrator: By this point in the process, you’ll have written a research question. Your research question is a great place to start to identify key words for your search. For example, if your research question is “What effect does aerobic exercise have on cognition in adolescents with ADHD,” underline key words that can be used in search engines. In this example, we can underline aerobic exercise, cognition, adolescents, and ADHD.

Narrator: Next, generate other words for the underlined key words that can be used to search for your topic. For aerobic exercise, we can use physical activity. For cognition, we can use memory. For adolescents, we can use youth. For ADHD, we can use attention.

Describer: Arrows appear that link aerobic exercise to physical activity, cognition to memory, adolescents to youth, and ADHD to attention. Arrows can be used to link key words to newly generated searchable words to show a graphic organization of the relationships between them.

Narrator: Use these key words to write search strings that you can use to search databases for relevant sources. Our first search string can be aerobic exercise, and cognition, and attention. Our second search string can be “physical activity,” and “memory,” and “ADHD.”

Narrator: Identify relevant databases to search for your topic. Your university library has subscriptions to many research databases. Just remember, if you’re accessing the database from off campus, you’ll need to click the get access off campus link to sign in. The University of Waterloo, for example, has access to many databases, including PubMed and Scopus, which are good in this case because they contain works on psychology and health science, like our topic.

Describer: The University of Waterloo Library Webpage opens. Then, the find and use resources navigation menu opens and the research and journal databases link is selected. On the research databases page, the popular choices dropdown menu is opened.

Narrator: Visit your first database to input your search strings. Our first search string is aerobic exercise, and cognition, and attention.

Describer: The search string is inputted into the Scopus database’s search fields.

Narrator: Let’s look at the first few results. The first result looks at visuospatial attention and BDNF levels, which is not related to our topic. The second result examines dose response relationship of exercise on cognition, but does not mention adolescents.

Narrator: You realize not all the sources being returned are specific to your topic. This might be because “attention” is too broad. You need to narrow down your search terms, so, you search substituting “ADHD” for “attention.”

Describer: The initial Scopus search page opens. The new search string “aerobic exercise” AND “cognition” AND “ADHD” is entered. A new results page opens.

Narrator: Although these results are relevant to our topic, we need to find additional sources to include in our literature review. Consulting other literature reviews will help us find these sources. So now you should perform another search string using the keywords aerobic exercise, and ADHD, and review. You could also substitute systematic review, meta-analysis, or historiography, depending on your discipline.

Narrator: Let’s look at the third result. It examines the effects of physical exercise in children with ADHD and it includes the keywords systematic review and meta-analysis, which tells us it is a literature review worth examining. After downloading the PDF, examine the reference list for other relevant sources. Note their bibliographic information.

Narrator: Search for your new list of sources in your library’s journal or manuscript collection, or use Google Scholar.

Describer: A specific article title is input into Google Scholar to find the exact article.

Narrator: Repeat this process using each of your search strings until you have enough sources to begin extracting information to write your literature review.

Describer: Revisit the original search strings and mark the strings that have been used and those that have yet to be used. Refine the search string where appropriate.


Citation Management

Keeping track of the sources you consulted will organize your research and save time. Citation management software, such as RefWorks, EndNote, Mendeley, and Zotero, store your citations and organize your research. Discuss the best citation manager option for your literature review with a research librarian because each library provides support for different citation managers and there are costs associated with some software. Each program contains different functions and layouts, so be sure to investigate the strengths and limitations of each before finalizing your selection.

The Matrix Method is one system you can use to sort your research and keep it easily accessible. The Matrix Method is more than a note-taking strategy because it also includes a comprehensive citation organization system that stores your research and research process.

The Matrix Method

The Matrix Method organizes your research into four folders: Paper Trail, Documents, Matrix, and Synthesis. These folders reflect your entire research and writing process. Go through each of the folder examples below to see how they work together to organize your literature review. Because they complement each other, all folders must be used.

Review Matrix Method

The following video will demonstrate how you can arrange these folders on your computer.

Now that you’ve been introduced to the Matrix Method, let’s look at how you can manage your citations. The Matrix Method organizes your research into four folders: Paper Trail, Documents, Matrix, and Synthesis. These folders reflect your entire research and writing process. Because they complement each other, all folders must be used. The Paper Trail folder keeps track of your search process. It can contain separate documents where you can record your search keywords, search strings, relevant internet bookmarks, and key sources. Your keywords document is where you can keep track of relevant terms. Start with the words you identified while creating your search strings, but record useful synonyms for them. While researching, note the keywords that produce the best results. Your key sources document is used to note the sources you have checked and those that still need to be checked. Try arranging your sources by source type to keep you organized.

Your electronic database document keeps track of the search strings you used in each of your databases. It also specifies the search fields you selected and other search criteria you designated. Your internet bookmarks document lists the useful web sources you’ve searched or found. The Documents folder contains PDF copies of the material you have selected for review. You will also have a document that lists your progress in reviewing each source.

You may choose to organize this folder chronologically, thematically, or alphabetically depending on your preference. In our example, we have several thematic folders that each contain relevant sources. Each source is named by year, author, then title. Use a consistent naming title across your folders. The Matrix folder contains your Review Matrix, where you record select information about each source. The Synthesis folder contains your final literature review assignment. If you are working on different drafts, you may want to save multiple versions by using the date or a descriptive title to keep track of the latest version. When used together, these four folders will keep all the material you need to write a successful literature review organized and accessible.

Describer: Now that you’ve been introduced to the Matrix Method, let’s look at how you can manage your citations.

Describer: A computer desktop with the folder “Matrix” and the folder opens. Inside there are four subfolders.

Narrator: The Matrix Method organizes your research into four folders: Paper Trail, Documents, Matrix, and Synthesis. These folders reflect your entire research and writing process. Because they complement each other, all folders must be used.

Narrator: The Paper Trail folder keeps track of your search process. It can contain separate documents where you can record your search keywords, search strings, relevant internet bookmarks, and key sources.

Describer: The Paper Trail folder opens. It contains four (word) files named Keywords Document, Key Sources Document, Electronic Database Document, and Internet Bookmark Document.

Narrator: Your keywords document (word) is where you can keep track of relevant terms. Start with the words you identified while creating your search strings, but record useful synonyms for them. While researching, note the keywords that produce the best results.

Describer: The keywords (word) document opens (Example). The document reads: “Keywords document. Purpose of literature review: to examine the impact of acute aerobic exercise on the executive function of children with ADHD as measured by event-related potential technique studies. Research Question: How and why does aerobic exercise have a positive impact on executive function?” The document contains a table with three columns and six rows. Keywords, synonyms, keywords with most results; acute, short-term, acute; aerobic exercise, physical activity, aerobic exercise because physical activity is too general; executive function, cognition, cognition too general; ADHD, attention deficit ADD, ADHD; event-related potential, neuroelectric EEG (electroencephalogram), event-related potential (ERP).

Narrator: Your key sources document is used to note the sources you have checked and those that still need to be checked. Try arranging your sources by source type to keep you organized.

Describer: The key sources (word) document opens (example). It contains a table divided into three columns and six rows. Type of source, key source searched, key sources need to search; Databases, PsychINFO, PubMed, and Scopus, Google scholar; Journals, Psychophysiology, Neuroscience, and Brain Research, Developmental psychology, Developmental neurology, and Medicine and science in Sport and Exercise; Books, Oxford Handbook of Exercise Psychology, APA Handbook of Sport and Exercise Psychology.

Narrator: Your electronic database document keeps track of the search strings you used in each of your databases. It also specifies the search fields you selected and other search criteria you designated.

Describer: The electronic database (word) document opens (example). It contains a table divided into four columns and five rows. Database, search strings used, search fields, other search criteria. The search string column contains the exact search strings used in each database. The search field column lists the fields searched in each database, such as any field or title. The other search criteria selected column lists other notable search limitations used in each database, such as English language sources or published after 2000.

Narrator: Your internet bookmarks document lists the useful web sources you’ve searched or found.

Describer: The internet bookmarks (word) document opens (example). It contains a table divided into three categories: category, description of websites, and URL.

Narrator: The Documents folder contains PDF copies of the material you have selected for review.

Describer: The Documents folder opens (example). It contains four folders: ADHD, Event-related potential Technique, Executive Function, and Meta-analysis. The documents folder also contains one (word) document called Documents.

Narrator: You will also have a document that lists your progress in reviewing each source.

Describer: The documents (word) file opens (example). It contains a table with two columns and two rows: articles reviewed and articles left for review. Each column contains several file names of articles.

Narrator: You may choose to organize this folder chronologically, thematically, or alphabetically depending on your preference. In our example, we have several thematic folders that each contain relevant sources. Each source is named by year, author, then title. Use a consistent naming title across your folders. The Matrix folder contains your Review Matrix, where you record select information about each source.

Describer: The Matrix folder opens. The Matrix (excel) file opens (example). The Matrix file contains a table with three columns: a list of analytical questions (i.e., purpose, method, and characteristics of sample) and the titles and authors of two academic articles. Each article is assessed according to the criteria in the questions column.

Narrator: The Synthesis folder contains your final literature review assignment. If you are working on different drafts, you may want to save multiple versions by using the date or a descriptive title to keep track of the latest version.

Narrator: When used together, these four folders will keep all the material you need to write a successful literature review organized and accessible.

Describer: The main (Matrix) folder containing the Paper Trail Folder, the Documents Folder, the Matrix Folder, and the Synthesis Folder is shown.


The Review Matrix is a table you will use to help you extract information from sources as you read.

Follow these steps to construct a Review Matrix for your literature review:

  1. Place your research question at the top of your Review Matrix to keep you focused.
  2. Create column headings to list your sources’ bibliographic information (author, year of publication).
  3. Create row headings to list themes you will use to extract information from sources (e.g., participant characteristics, theoretical framework, findings, limitations, period under study, major source types, geographic scope, thesis/hypothesis).

Worksheet: Review Matrix

Use this helpful worksheet for your Literature Review Review Matrix.

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As you read, you will populate the Review Matrix with information from the sources; you may add or delete relevant headings as you read sources and extract information from them.


Examples: Completed Review Matrix Charts

Health Sciences Review Matrix

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Arts Review Matrix

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Once you have read your sources and completed your Review Matrix, you are ready to start writing the literature review.

Literature reviews develop your critical appraisal skills, which requires critical reading. Reading critically means you evaluate arguments and ideas presented in sources by considering evidence and logic, external influences or confounding variables, limitations, interpretation of facts, and the overall validity of the conclusions. Active reading and note-taking are two strategies you can use to encourage critical reading.

Active Reading

Active reading strategies help you read critically to extract important information from sources. Determine the purpose of your research and select an active reading strategy that complements your learning style.

Active Reading

  • uses techniques to engage critically with a text;
  • considers the source’s information, the author’s approach, and the source’s significance to your work while you are reading;
  • can be used throughout all stages of your reading to help you synthesize, analyze, and evaluate sources; and
  • forms evaluations that will be the foundations of your literature review.

Passive Reading

  • is done without a critical mindset;
  • accepts all aspects of the source without questioning or consideration;
  • can be useful while simply seeking information to help you learn about a topic; and
  • builds your knowledge on a topic and directs your future reading.

Literature reviews require a substantial amount of reading, so approaching each source methodically results in a thorough understanding of the content and saves time. One strategy for active reading is to break your reading into three steps (pre-reading, reading, and post-reading) that collectively allow you to quickly examine all aspects of each source.

Pre-reading

  1. Skim the title, subheadings, figures, table of contents, glossary, equations, index, keywords, and abstract.
  2. Ask yourself questions: What do you already know about the topic? What are important details of the topic that you should be reading for? What could reasonably be expected about the study and its findings?

Reading

  1. Underline main ideas/thesis/research questions.
  2. Summarize text in margins instead of highlighting.
  3. Write questions in the margins.
  4. Make diagrams, flow charts, or outlines to represent main ideas of paragraphs.
  5. Identify and define unfamiliar concepts.
  6. Summarize main idea of paragraphs in your own words using one sentence.
  7. Identify confusing sections to return to after further reading.
  8. Outline the main arguments by explaining how they support the thesis.
  9. Determine the significance of conclusions.

Post-reading

  1. Write a short overall summary of the source, including your preliminary evaluation of it, as if describing it to a friend.
  2. Return to confusing sections after reading other sources for additional background information.
  3. Review your notes to ensure you have not missed valuable information.
  4. Ask and answer “so what”? after reading the source.

A more structured active reading strategy, the Three-Pass Method, allows you to extract information from sources in a systematic manner.

Reading Sources: The Three-Pass Method

In addition to using active reading strategies, a consistent reading approach can help you extract information from sources while you read. For example, the three-pass method is one strategy that suggests reading each source three times. Use the Literature Review Matrix (PDF), which incorporates the three-pass method, to help you effectively read sources and record pertinent information.

  1. First Read-through

  2. Objective: Quick scan of source to decide if you need to read again

    Description
    1. Read title, abstract, and introduction
    2. Read headings and subheadings
    3. Look at tables, figures, and images
    4. Read conclusion
    5. Skim index, glossary, or references
    After the read-through, you should be able to...
    1. Categorize the source type (e.g., empirical, theoretical, qualitative, etc.)
    2. Give the theoretical context
    3. Assess the source’s credibility
    4. Describe the main contribution to the field
    5. Decide if you will use the source and read again

  3. Second Read-through

  4. Objective: Read more details to grasp content

    Description
    1. Using the active reading strategies described above, engage with the source’s text*
    2. Carefully read figures, diagrams, images, and tables*
    3. Record relevant unread references for you to read later

    *Note: Some articles may be better examined by switching steps 1 and 2.

    After the read-through, you should be able to...
    1. Grasp content of paper
    2. Summarize main findings
    3. Identify parts you don’t understand so you can do further reading
    4. Decide to do a third read through or not

  5. Third Read-through
    (recommended for full comprehension)

  6. Objective: Final read to fully understand assumptions and validity of conclusions

    Description
    1. Identify and challenge every assumption and conclusion made by the authors
    2. Identify issues with experimental or analytical procedures
    3. Consider what you would do differently as the researcher
    4. Record ideas for future work
    After the read-through, you should be able to...
    1. Reconstruct the study as if you were the researcher
    2. Identify strengths and weaknesses of ideas
    3. Identify missing citations to relevant work
    4. Identify inherent assumptions

Active Note-taking and Note-Making

Passive note-taking

  • is highlighting, underlining, copying and pasting quotations from sources
  • accepts all information as relevant

Active note-taking (also known as note-making)

  • answers questions
  • has a clear purpose (what you want to get out of a source)
  • seeks out connections, relationships, and processes
  • summarizes the text in your own words

Use a Review Matrix (or other effective note-taking technique) to summarize, synthesize, analyze, and evaluate sources while you read. This preliminary step is critical for writing a comprehensive and effective literature review. While there are many different methods of note-taking, the following suggestions will help you record information that is important and will guide you while you write your literature review.

What information do I record?

The first step to note-taking is determining what information you should be recording. To do this, you need to identify the kind of information that will help you with your literature review by revisiting your review’s purpose and method. To help you decide what to record, try keeping the following questions in mind while you read:

  1. Brainstorm questions that you want to answer: What do we know about X? How has X been measured? Why is X significant? What do we not know about X? What do we want to know about X?
  2. For any relationships, draw a diagram to show the process or how findings relate to one another and other sources.
  3. What is the most important conclusion presented in the source?
  4. Is the source’s language or phrasing of a specific point significant enough to quote directly?
  5. Does the information target your purpose, answer your research question, or contradict your thesis?
  6. Are there any significant limitations?
  7. Are the specific details you are recording pertinent to your research question?
  8. Is the author presenting new material, techniques, methods, findings, or interpretations?

How do I record the information?

Learning styles vary, so it is important to find a strategy that suits your learning needs. Some people highlight and then summarize, others underline and later transfer information into their Review Matrix, while some write notes in margins or directly in their Review Matrix. Consistent among effective note-takers is their high level of engagement. This is not an exhaustive list, but the following strategies may help you record the information you have decided to include in your literature review.

  • Write summaries or paraphrases after reading, but while not looking at the original source.
  • Use headings to organize similar notes.
  • Don’t spend too much time highlighting or underlining.
  • Record bibliographic information with corresponding notes so you remember where you got them from (author, year, page numbers).
  • Take notes on cue cards that can be arranged and rearranged.
  • Place direct quotations into quotation marks and record the page number.
  • Have a conversation with the text in the source’s margins.

Key Takeaways

  • Planning your research strategy before you begin working on your review will focus your efforts and save you time.
  • Use reading and note-taking strategies that complement your literature review’s purpose.
  • Use the Review Matrix to help you synthesize, analyze, evaluate, and summarize your sources.

References

Cheriton, D. R. (2007). How to read a paper. ACM Computer Communication Review, 37(3), 83-84. Retrieved from http://www.sigcomm.org/sites/default/files/ccr/papers/2007/Ju ly/1273445-1273458.pdf

Garrard, J. (2011). Health sciences literature review made easy: The Review Matrix method. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Learning.

Randolph, J. (2009). A guide to writing the dissertation literature review. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 14(13), 1-13. Retrieved from http://pareonline.net/pdf/v14n13.pdf

Rosenwasser, D., & Stephen, J. (2003). Writing analytically (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Thomson Learning, Inc.

The McGraw Center for Teaching & Learning Princeton University. (2016). Active reading strategies. Retrieved from https://www.princeton.edu/mcgraw/library/for- students/remember-reading/

Next Section Overview

In Section C: Parts of a Literature Review, we will deconstruct the various sections of a literature review and explain how to write them.

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