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Literature Review Challenge

Welcome to Day 3 of the Literature Review Challenge (Graduate Student Focus)!

Thus far, we have focused on strategic literature searching and staying apprised of new work in our subject areas. Today, we consider ways to organize what we find and make meaning of it.

Your First Challenge: Create a Literature Search Matrix Using One (or Both) of the Following Examples

As you search for literature, there's immense value in organizing your search process. You might do this to keep track of the search strategies you used, or to stay on top of when and where you used those strategies (because databases are dynamic and content comes and goes!), or when considering where else you might need to look or what you might need to revisit. Take a look at the following two spreadsheets. Either make a copy of one of them and modify it to fit your needs, or create your own template and start organizing your search process!

  1. Example spreadsheet of searches for a community-based mangrove management project. You'll see dates included in this spreadsheet. Tracking the timing of your search is important because database content is always changing, as new materials are added and as some material is dropped. Knowing when you searched for information on your topic helps you recognize if there's a need to return to your literature search, depending on your topic and deadline. And, for those of you writing review articles or conducting content analyses, it helps you define the boundaries of your search for your reader(s), as to what your search covers and what it doesn't.
  2. Example spreadsheet of Maine newspapers' coverage of climate change effects on winter recreation, shared with permission by Gabriela Wolf-Gonzalez, Master's student in the School of Forest Resources (and ever so slightly modified for the challenge). Check out all three tabs of Wolf-Gonzalez's spreadsheet for inspiration!

Your Second Challenge: Create a Literature Review Matrix Using One (or More) of the Following Templates

Once you find literature that piques your interest and/or resonates with your work, your reading/note-taking process begins. Organizing what you're finding and learning is key to making meaning of it. Take a look at the following spreadsheets (each is slightly different). Either copy one of these, and modify it to fit your needs, or create your own template to get started.

These types of spreadsheets can help you track what you're reading, as well as your initial thoughts and reactions to the literature you have found. In addition, this type of organization can help you more easily identify recurring themes, trends, or patterns, as well as disagreements and areas for growth and further inquiry. 


  1. Literature review matrix that can be copied and modified, from the University of North Carolina Writing Center (link will download as a Word doc).
  2. Literature review matrix template that can be copied and modified, slightly modified from Walden University Writing Center, plus an example of the matrix template in action.
  3. Example of a literature review matrix for original research articles in the social sciences, from Walden University Writing Center.
  4. Example of a literature review matrix that focuses on main ideas and comparing/contrasting across sources, from Florida International University.
  5. Literature review matrix that can be copied and modified, from Raul Pacheco-Vega, PhD. Find more on his approach herePacheco-Vega includes cross references that are examples of other works that look at similar ideas or have had similar findings (a great meaning making strategy!).

    Pacheco-Vega also includes a section for direct quotations. This is so important! When you include a quote in your spreadsheet, and the page number where you got the quote, you can help yourself avoid unintentional plagiarism down the line (which happens more often than you might think). Jane Goodall was found to have plagiarized sections of her book, Seeds of Hope, which she famously attributed to "chaotic notetaking."

Discussion Board

In your literature review process, what organizational techniques have worked for you? What else should we consider?

Share your insights on the discussion board below! All posts are anonymous. To create a comment on the board, double click on the board and add an entry, or click on the circle with the plus sign at the bottom right of the box. You can also like and/or respond to other comments. Once you create an entry, you can upload a photo by clicking on the arrow icon in your comment box. 

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You did it! You're halfway through the Literature Review Challenge.

Tomorrow, we'll look at citation managers as another approach to organizing your literature and making the most of your writing time.

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