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Literature Review Challenge for Undergrads


Welcome to Day 4 of the Literature Review Challenge!

Thus far, we have focused on refining our topic(s), strategic literature searching, and accessing the literature we need for our research and creative projects. Today, we consider ways to organize what we find and make meaning of it.


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

Once you find literature that piques your interest and/or resonates with your research question(s), 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 (all of which are key elements of a literature review!). 

  1. Literature review matrix template that can be copied and modified, plus an example of the matrix template in action.
  2. Example of a literature review matrix that focuses on main ideas and comparing/contrasting across sources, from Florida International University.
  3. Literature review matrix that can be copied and modified, from Raul Pacheco-Vega, PhD. Find more on his approach here. Pacheco-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."

Optional, Awesome BONUS Challenge: Watch a Brief Video About Synthesis and Literature Reviews, and Take a Short Quiz to See if You Can Identify the Difference Between a Summary and a Synthesis

A literature review is a synthesis of ideas. As you begin identifying relationships between your sources in your literature review matrix (e.g., trends, patterns, commonalities, and disagreements), you'll be able to start making meaning of those relationships as you write your own literature review. Consider the implications of what you've found, and what new questions should be asked about your topic (this will suggest implications for future research - perhaps your own!). Note: unlike an annotated bibliography that separates each source into a citation, summary, and critique, a literature review is your chance to combine ideas and interpret what you're finding. Look at the literature reviews in the sources you have found for inspiration on how to organize concepts and themes!


Watch this Brief Video about Synthesis and Literature Reviews


From Dr. Nathalie Sheridan


Take this Quiz: Summary or Synthesis?

1. Answer each of the questions below, and then click the Submit button. Note: this quiz is anonymous.

2. Click on "View Score" to see what you got right and wrong, plus feedback on the answers!


You did it! You're more than 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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