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Writing: Literature Reviews for Culminating Project

What Do I Do Next? ORGANIZE!

The research phase is complete, and you're ready to begin working with your research.  The next critical step to writing a literature review is to organize your information.

A literature review is not an orderly list of all of the research you've found on a subject.   A literature review is a synthesis of information and ideas from the literature, and it is meant to answer a focusing question.  Reading the perspectives and research of many different authors allows you to weigh and compare their information to produce an informed answer.  Organizing a lit review chronologically or by author will not give you the desired result.

Most students organize literature reviews thematically.  As you read the articles you have chosen, you will see certain themes or categories begin to emerge.  These themes are a way for you to make connections between the ideas of one author and another.   From those connections will emerge your synthesis.

Use a Matrix

Some of us are skilled at making connections organically -- we can read several articles and see the commonalities between them easily.  Others need a bit more help to make connections emerge.    Many instructors recommend the use of a matrix that lets you compare sources and take notes as you do so.  Once the matrix is filled out, it is easy to see themes emerging.    Below is an example of a matrix developed by St. Mary's University of Minnesota, which is also available as a downloadable PDF.

Literature review matrix

There is no one right way to do it; what is important is to choose a system that works for you.