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5 Tools for Easy Literature Review (With 2 Bonus Tools)


Context matters. It matters when you’re watching a movie, when you’re part of a conversation, and it certainly matters when you’re presenting a research paper. Leaving it out of your article can be not only confusing but also disingenuous to your audience.

That’s where a literature review comes into play. And we’re here to discuss what is a literature review and how you can have an easier time writing it.

What is a literature review?

Your literature review is the lore behind your research paper. It comes in two forms, systematic and scoping , both serving the purpose of rounding up previously published works in your research area that led you to write and finish your own. A literature review is vital as it provides the reader with a critical overview of the existing body of knowledge, your methodology, and an opportunity for research applications.

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Some steps to follow while writing your review:

Tools to streamline your literature review

A literature review is one of the most critical yet tedious stages in composing a research paper. Many students find it an uphill task since it requires extensive reading and careful organization .

Using the tools listed here, you can make your life easier by overcoming some of the existing challenges in literature reviews. From collecting and classifying to analyzing and publishing research outputs, these improve your productivity without additional effort or expenses.

1. SciSpace

SciSpace is a one-stop solution for an effective literature search and barrier-free access to scientific knowledge. It is a massive repository where you can find millions of peer-reviewed articles and full-text PDF files. You can use the platform in various ways to optimize your workflow.

Find the right information

The comprehensive search filter, teamed with the ' Trace ' does a quick and easy job of finding what you want. You can narrow down on papers based on PDF availability, year of publishing, document type, and affiliated institution. Then, once you find the right paper, you can use the Trace feature to find related papers, authors, topics, and more.

Find instant explanations for papers and their abstracts

SciSpace has an AI assistant called SciSpace Copilot . Its primary function is to explain papers in simple terms. You can highlight text, clip maths and tables, and ask any question you're curious about. Copilot will give you an instant answer. While you're conducting a literature review, you can use Copilot to get a better clarity on the abstract and decide how relevant the paper is to your project.

Assess credibility of papers

Since a literature review forms the foundation of your research, it should come from credible and peer-reviewed origins. Sometimes even grey literature. SciSpace Discover helps you assess the quality of a source by providing an overview of its references, citations, and performance metrics.

Get the complete picture in no time

SciSpace Discover’s personalized suggestion engine helps you stay on course and get all the information related to the topic from one place. Every time you visit an article page , it provides you links to related papers. Besides that, it helps you understand what’s trending, who are the top authors, and the leading publishers on a topic.

Conveniently refer sources

‌To ensure you don't lose track of your sources, it’s best to make notes while doing your research. SciSpace Discover makes this step effortless. Click the 'Cite' button on an article page, and you will receive preloaded citation text in multiple styles. All you have to do is copy-paste it into your manuscript.

2. Mendeley

Mendeley Citation Manager is a free web and desktop application. It helps simplify your citation management workflow significantly. Here are some ways you can speed up your referencing game with Mendeley.

Generate citations and bibliographies

Easily add references from your Mendeley library to your Word document, change your citation style, and create a bibliography, all without leaving your document.

Retrieve references

It allows you to access your references quickly. Search for a term, and it will return results by referencing the year, author, or source.

Add sources to your Mendeley library by dragging PDF to Mendeley Reference Manager. Mendeley will automatically remove the PDF(s) metadata and create a library entry.‌

Read and annotate documents

It helps you highlight and comment across multiple PDFs while keep them all in one place using Mendeley Notebook . Notebook pages are not tied to a reference and let you quote from many PDFs.

Zotero is a free, open-source tool for managing citations that works as a plug-in on your browser. It helps you gather the information you need, cite your sources, lets you attach PDFs, notes, and images to your citations, and create bibliographies.

Import research articles to your database

Search for research articles on a keyword, and add relevant results to your database. Then, select the articles you are most interested in, and import them into Zotero.

Add bibliography in a variety of formats

With Zotero, you don’t have to scramble for different bibliography formats. Simply use the Zotero-Word plug-in to insert in-text citations and generate a bibliography.

Share your research

You can save a paper and sync it with an online library to easily share your research for group projects. Zotero can be used to create your database and decrease the time you spend formatting citations.

Sysrev facilitates screening, collaboration, and data extraction from academic publications, abstracts, and PDF documents using machine learning. The platform is free and supports public and Open Access projects only.

Some of the features of Sysrev include:

Group labels

Group labels can be a powerful concept for creating database tables from documents. When exported and re-imported, each group label creates a new table. To make labels for a project, go into the manage -> labels section of the project.

Group labels enable project managers to pull table information from documents. It makes it easier to communicate review results for specific articles.

Track reviewer performance

Sysrev's label counting tool provides filtering and visualization options for keeping track of the distribution of labels throughout the project's progress. Project managers can check their projects at any point to track progress and the reviewer's performance.

Tool for concordance

The Sysrev tool for concordance allows project administrators and reviewers to perform analysis on their labels. Concordance is measured by calculating the number of times users agree on the labels they have extracted.

Colandr is a free, open-source, internet-based analysis and screening software based on machine learning. It was designed to ease collaboration across various stages of the systematic review procedure. The tool can be a little complex to use. So, here are the steps involved in working with Colandr.

Create a review

The first step to using Colandr is setting up an organized review project. This is helpful to librarians who are assisting researchers with systematic reviews.

The planning stage is setting the review's objectives along with research queries. Any reviewer can review the details of the planning stage. However, they can only be modified by the author for the review.

Citation screening/import

In this phase, users can upload their results from database searches. Colandr also offers an automated deduplication system.

Full-text screening

The system in Colandr will discover the combination of terms and expressions that are most useful for the reader. If an article is selected, it will be moved to the final step.

Data extraction/export

Colandr data extraction is more efficient than the manual method. It creates the form fields for data extraction during the planning stage of the review procedure. Users can decide to revisit or modify the form for data extraction after completing the initial screening.

Bonus Tools

SRDR+ is a web-based tool for extracting and managing systematic review or meta-analysis data. It is open and has a searchable archive of systematic reviews and their data.

7. Plot Digitizer

Plot Digitizer is an efficient tool for extracting information from graphs and images, equipped with many features that facilitate data extraction. The program comes with a free online application, which is adequate to extract data quickly.

Writing a literature review is not easy. It’s a time-consuming process, which can become tiring at times. The softwares mentioned in this blog do an excellent job of maximizing your efforts and helping you write literature reviews much more efficiently. With them, you can breathe a sigh of relief and give more time to your research.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. what is rrl in research.

RRL stands for Review of Related Literature and sometimes interchanged with ‘Literature Review.’ RRL is a body of studies relevant to the topic being researched. These studies may be in the form of journal articles, books, reports, and other similar documents. Review of related literature is used to support an argument or theory being made by the researcher, as well as to provide information on how others have approached the same topic.

2. What are few softwares and tools available for literature review?

• SciSpace Discover

• Mendeley

• Zotero

• Sysrev

• Colandr


3. How to generate an online literature review?

The Scispace Discover tool, which offers an excellent repository of millions of peer-reviewed articles and resources, will help you generate or create a literature review easily. You may find relevant information by utilizing the filter option, checking its credibility, tracing related topics and articles, and citing in widely accepted formats with a single click.

4. What does it mean to synthesize literature?

To synthesize literature is to take the main points and ideas from a number of sources and present them in a new way. The goal is to create a new piece of writing that pulls together the most important elements of all the sources you read. Make recommendations based on them, and connect them to the research.

5. Should we write abstract for literature review?

Abstracts, particularly for the literature review section, are not required. However, an abstract for the research paper, on the whole, is useful for summarizing the paper and letting readers know what to expect from it. It can also be used to summarize the main points of the paper so that readers have a better understanding of the paper's content before they read it.

6. How do you evaluate the quality of a literature review?

• Whether it is clear and well-written.

• Whether Information is current and up to date.

• Does it cover all of the relevant sources on the topic.

• Does it provide enough evidence to support its conclusions.

7. Is literature review mandatory?

Yes. Literature review is a mandatory part of any research project. It is a critical step in the process that allows you to establish the scope of your research and provide a background for the rest of your work.

8. What are the sources for a literature review?

• Reports

• Theses

• Conference proceedings

• Company reports

• Some government publications

• Journals

• Books

• Newspapers

• Articles by professional associations

• Indexes

• Databases

• Catalogues

• Encyclopaedias

• Dictionaries

• Bibliographies

• Citation indexes

• Statistical data from government websites

9. What is the difference between a systematic review and a literature review?

A systematic review is a form of research that uses a rigorous method to generate knowledge from both published and unpublished data. A literature review, on the other hand, is a critical summary of an area of research within the context of what has already been published.

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Screen, analyse and summarise articles faster with Scholarcy

Try it for free, subscribe today.

Scholarcy is used by students around the world to read and analyse research papers in less time. Upload your articles to Scholarcy to:

With Scholarcy Library, you can import all your papers and search results, and quickly screen them with the automatically generated ‘key takeaway’ headline.

Emma Warren-Jones

Take the stress out of your literature review

While there are lots of tools that help you discover articles for your research, how do you analyse and synthesise the information from all of those papers?

3 easy ways to import articles

Scholarcy lets you quickly import your articles for screening and analysing.

Import papers in PDF, Word, HTML and LaTeX format

Import search results from PubMed or any service that provides results in RIS or BibTeX format

Import publisher RSS feeds

Build your literature matrix in minutes

Our Excel export feature generates a literature synthesis matrix for you, so you can

Compare papers side by side for their study sizes, key contributions, limitations, and more.

Export literature-review ready data in Excel, Word, RIS or Markdown format

Integrates with your reference manager and ‘second brain’ tools such as Roam, Notion and Obsidian

Carrying out a systematic review?

Scholarcy breaks papers down into our unique summary flashcard format.

The Study subjects and analysis tab shows you study population, intervention, outcome, and statistical analyses from the paper.

And the Excel synthesis matrix generated shows the key methods and quantitative findings of each paper, side by side.

Build a knowledge graph from your papers

If you’re a fan of the latest generation of knowledge management tools such as  Roam  or  Obsidian , you’ll love our  Markdown  export.

This creates a knowledge graph of all the papers in your library by connecting them via key terms, methods, and shared citations.

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Free Online Summary Generator Tool

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Do you want to be productive and stay away from information overload? We introduce to you a highly useful tool: an online summary generator. You might already know that summarizers help you quickly grasp the meaning of a text. This article will help you discover new ways of using text compactors. You will also be introduced to:

Free Online Summary Generator Tool.

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Today’s machine learning mechanisms can process texts of any complexity. This technology allows our summarizer:

The summarizer can be used for many purposes. Let’s take a look at some of them.

🖥️ Other Uses of the Summarizing Tool

Nowadays, the ability to provide maximum information in a few words is highly valued. Summaries are used for college assignments, in resumes, scientific articles, and many other areas. Keep reading to learn how to use the online summarizer for these purposes.

📄 As a Resume Text Generator

A resume contains information about one’s background, skills, and achievements. Resumes play a massive role in the hiring process. With the text compactor, you can:

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Are you guilty of writing wordy essays? Shortening a text without distorting its meaning is a challenging task. Here's what you can do:

📔 As an Abstract Maker

An abstract is a summary of a paper's key points. In MLA and APA styles, it goes right after the title page. To develop an abstract, you need to:

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The conclusion is an essential part of any written assignment. It needs to reflect the main aspects of the text. It means that the summary generator can work as a conclusion tool. The summarizer will extract key ideas from each paragraph and use topic sentences to compose your paper's well-structured ending.

📝 Types of Essay Summaries

There are two main types of essay summaries: true and interpretive. Here is how to tell them apart:

As you can see, these summary types present information in different ways. Choose which one is more suitable for your assignment.

👌 How to Summarize without Plagiarism

Plagiarism, whether intentional or accidental, is not allowed in academic writing. Here are several techniques that can help you write any summary without plagiarism.

Try to sum up the text in different words. Use synonyms or a summarizing tool such as ours.

It is good to mention one or two quotes in your summary. Don't forget to use quotation marks and name the source of your findings.

Every piece of information that didn't come from you should be credited. To avoid plagiarism, make sure always to check format requirements and follow them thoroughly.

Now let's take a look at summarizing hacks for different types of assignments.

🔬 How to Summarize a Research Paper

When writing a research paper summary, make sure to:

Like any other format, APA has citation guidelines. It means there are specific requirements for every type of source, whether it’s a website, an article, or a book. Here are the basics:

📰 How to Write a Good Summary of an Article

Usually, articles contain lots of information. It includes research data and factual evidence. Here is how you can summarize an article without plagiarizing:

It is also helpful to use an outline. This template is suitable for outlining a news article summary or a literature review:

Write a summary in a way that would let a person who had never read the article understand what it is about. This will ensure your success.

📚 How to Summarize a Story

This section covers summaries of everything that has a plot. Like any other summary, it has to be concise and straight to the point.

Describe the "what" of the story and leave out the "why." Including a personal view will sabotage the purpose of the summary.

One of the main objectives of summarizing is to tell the reader what the story is about. It can include the plot and the author's intentions.

This will help your summary to be accurate and organized.

Such information will help the reader to connect with the story better.

Now you know everything about different kinds of summaries. Go ahead and craft yourself a high-quality summary using our generator and helpful tips!

📌 What is an Objective Summary of a Passage?

📌 what is the purpose of summarizing an essay, 📌 how can you convert a paragraph into précis, 🔗 references.

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Free Literature Review Essays and Papers

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Literature Review

Evaluation of a Mental Health Treatment Court with Assertive Community Treatment 1.     This article studied the effect of Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) versus Treatment as Usual (TAU) on the life satisfaction ratings, psychological distress, level of functioning, substance use issues, and criminal activity of mentally ill residents of the Santa Barbara County Jail. The study administered four instruments to measure these variables. They used the Behavioral and Symptom Identification scale

Literature Review #2

is another brilliant piece of literature by Bert Cardullo. The article itself talks a little more about the differentiation between reviewers and critics, but focuses deeply on one particular critic: Richard Gilman. This time, the main theme for this article is Theatrical Critics. “Richard Gilman, American Theater Critic: An Appreciation” was published in 2011 and is one of the most current researches done on this topic. As previously discussed in an earlier review, the author, Bert Cardullo, does

LITERATURE REVIEW: Theories on Student Attrition

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Nslbp Literature Review

The literature search was completed by 2 authors separately for peer-reviewed, published randomized controlled trials dating to January 2013 in 9 databases using a detailed search strategy. They also screened titles and abstracts separately and logged excluded

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The first of the ten articles to be discussed examined a training program that consisted of an individualized, classroom-based social skills intervention. In the study, there were 45 children with learning disabilities 9-12 years old. These children were in self-contained special education classrooms. Thirteen children received intervention for 6 weeks and 7 children received intervention for 12 weeks. The remaining 25 children were in the control group, which received no intervention. The intervention

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This Literature review will be focusing on the key issues regarding the living expectations of UK transport 171CBS Business Organisation Task: Marketing! What is the role of Marketing? Assignment two Discuss the role of marketing and the marketing department using an organisation of your choice to illustrate the points you make Mariom Jafar Business and Accounting 2nd March 2005 DUE DATE: 28th February 2005 R.Rogers Discuss the role of marketing and the marketing department

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Evidence Based Practice Literature Review

exist. When that is not the case, however, the clinician needs to seek out scientific evidence to help inform the treatment decision. Two major types of evidence may be useful: systematic reviews and individual studies” ("Steps in the Process of Evidence-Based Practice: Finding the Evidence", 2017) “Systematic reviews… are formal assessments of the body of scientific evidence related to a clinical question, and describe the extent to which various diagnostic or treatment approaches are supported by the

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literature review

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middle of paper ... ...interrelated process of second language learning as presented in Gardner’s socio-educational model. Both of these variables affect an individual’s language learning in terms of attitude, perception and beliefs. A synthesis of review by Wesely (2012) concluded that some studies on learners’ attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs remained at descriptive level with no link made to outcomes but this small body of research is an interesting area of inquiry. Furthermore the description

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3.0 ENZYMES The capable of filamentous fungi to grow on wide range of substrate and efficiently degrade polysaccharides and protein into monomers make them an attractive resource for new enzymes (Seiboth, et al., 2011). These particular enzymes are of considerable great commercial importance. The industrial enzyme market hit $2.3 million annually with 34% applications in detergents, 27% in foods, 16% in agriculture and feeds, 10% in textiles and 10% in leather, chemicals, and pulp (Demain, 2007)

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the most addictive drugs in the world and even though it might sound harmful it can also provide benefits to the human body. Throughout this review it hypothetically shows the correlation between the consumption of caffeinated coffee and how it can reduce the symptoms or even prevent the risk of having Parkinson’s disease. These next six literature reviews will provide its hypothesis and studies based on this research. The first article written and reviewed by multiple authors explains the connection

Review of Literature

Independent Study Unit – Phase 2 Review of Literature Introduction 21 of the first 23 astronauts into space were first-born; there is a reason to this (Hartshorne, 2010). They say that the order in which a person is born, and the gap years between siblings determines the personality of a person (Hartshorne, 2010). For those born first, they are seen as dominant and having the pressure put on them, while the youngest child is the most beloved (Hartshorne, 2010). The middle child at times feels neglected

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7 open source tools to make literature reviews easy

Open source, library schools, libraries, and digital dissemination


A good literature review is critical for academic research in any field, whether it is for a research article, a critical review for coursework, or a dissertation. In a recent article, I presented detailed steps for doing  a literature review using open source software .

The following is a brief summary of seven free and open source software tools described in that article that will make your next literature review much easier.

1. GNU Linux

Most literature reviews are accomplished by graduate students working in research labs in universities. For absurd reasons, graduate students often have the worst computers on campus. They are often old, slow, and clunky Windows machines that have been discarded and recycled from the undergraduate computer labs. Installing a flavor of GNU Linux will breathe new life into these outdated PCs. There are more than 100 distributions , all of which can be downloaded and installed for free on computers. Most popular Linux distributions come with a "try-before-you-buy" feature. For example, with Ubuntu you can make a bootable USB stick that allows you to test-run the Ubuntu desktop experience without interfering in any way with your PC configuration. If you like the experience, you can use the stick to install Ubuntu on your machine permanently.

Linux distributions generally come with a free web browser, and the most popular is Firefox . Two Firefox plugins that are particularly useful for literature reviews are Unpaywall and Zotero. Keep reading to learn why.

3. Unpaywall

Often one of the hardest parts of a literature review is gaining access to the papers you want to read for your review. The unintended consequence of copyright restrictions and paywalls is it has narrowed access to the peer-reviewed literature to the point that even Harvard University is challenged to pay for it. Fortunately, there are a lot of open access articles—about a third of the literature is free (and the percentage is growing). Unpaywall is a Firefox plugin that enables researchers to click a green tab on the side of the browser and skip the paywall on millions of peer-reviewed journal articles. This makes finding accessible copies of articles much faster that searching each database individually. Unpaywall is fast, free, and legal, as it accesses many of the open access sites that I covered in my paper on using open source in lit reviews .

Formatting references is the most tedious of academic tasks. Zotero can save you from ever doing it again. It operates as an Android app, desktop program, and a Firefox plugin (which I recommend). It is a free, easy-to-use tool to help you collect, organize, cite, and share research. It replaces the functionality of proprietary packages such as RefWorks, Endnote, and Papers for zero cost. Zotero can auto-add bibliographic information directly from websites. In addition, it can scrape bibliographic data from PDF files. Notes can be easily added on each reference. Finally, and most importantly, it can import and export the bibliography databases in all publishers' various formats. With this feature, you can export bibliographic information to paste into a document editor for a paper or thesis—or even to a wiki for dynamic collaborative literature reviews (see tool #7 for more on the value of wikis in lit reviews).

5. LibreOffice

Your thesis or academic article can be written conventionally with the free office suite LibreOffice , which operates similarly to Microsoft's Office products but respects your freedom. Zotero has a word processor plugin to integrate directly with LibreOffice. LibreOffice is more than adequate for the vast majority of academic paper writing.

If LibreOffice is not enough for your layout needs, you can take your paper writing one step further with LaTeX , a high-quality typesetting system specifically designed for producing technical and scientific documentation. LaTeX is particularly useful if your writing has a lot of equations in it. Also, Zotero libraries can be directly exported to BibTeX files for use with LaTeX.

7. MediaWiki

If you want to leverage the open source way to get help with your literature review, you can facilitate a dynamic collaborative literature review . A wiki is a website that allows anyone to add, delete, or revise content directly using a web browser. MediaWiki is free software that enables you to set up your own wikis.

Researchers can (in decreasing order of complexity): 1) set up their own research group wiki with MediaWiki, 2) utilize wikis already established at their universities (e.g., Aalto University ), or 3) use wikis dedicated to areas that they research. For example, several university research groups that focus on sustainability (including mine ) use Appropedia , which is set up for collaborative solutions on sustainability, appropriate technology, poverty reduction, and permaculture.

Using a wiki makes it easy for anyone in the group to keep track of the status of and update literature reviews (both current and older or from other researchers). It also enables multiple members of the group to easily collaborate on a literature review asynchronously. Most importantly, it enables people outside the research group to help make a literature review more complete, accurate, and up-to-date.

Wrapping up

Free and open source software can cover the entire lit review toolchain, meaning there's no need for anyone to use proprietary solutions. Do you use other libre tools for making literature reviews or other academic work easier? Please let us know your favorites in the comments.

Joshua Pearce

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MAXQDA The All-in-one Literature Review Software

MAXQDA is the best choice for a comprehensive literature review. It works with a wide range of data types and offers powerful tools for literature review , such as reference management, qualitative, vocabulary, text analysis tools, and more.

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Literature Review Software MAXQDA

As your all-in-one literature review software, MAXQDA can be used to manage your entire research project. Easily import data from texts, interviews, focus groups, PDFs, web pages, spreadsheets, articles, e-books, and even social media data. Connect the reference management system of your choice with MAXQDA to easily import bibliographic data. Organize your data in groups, link relevant quotes to each other, keep track of your literature summaries, and share and compare work with your team members. Your project file stays flexible and you can expand and refine your category system as you go to suit your research.

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Having used several qualitative data analysis software programs, there is no doubt in my mind that MAXQDA has advantages over all the others. In addition to its remarkable analytical features for harnessing data, MAXQDA’s stellar customer service, online tutorials, and global learning community make it a user friendly and top-notch product.

Sally S. Cohen – NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing

Advanced literature review software for Windows and Mac

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Easily import your literature review data

With a literature review software like MAXQDA, you can easily import bibliographic data from reference management programs for your literature review. MAXQDA can work with all reference management programs that can export their databases in RIS-format which is a standard format for bibliographic information. Like MAXQDA, these reference managers use project files, containing all collected bibliographic information, such as author, title, links to websites, keywords, abstracts, and other information. In addition, you can easily import the corresponding full texts. Upon import, all documents will be automatically pre-coded to facilitate your literature review at a later stage.

Capture your ideas while analyzing your literature

Great ideas will often occur to you while you’re doing your literature review. Using MAXQDA as your literature review software, you can create memos to store your ideas, such as research questions and objectives, or you can use memos for paraphrasing passages into your own words. By attaching memos like post-it notes to text passages, texts, document groups, images, audio/video clips, and of course codes, you can easily retrieve them at a later stage. Particularly useful for literature reviews are free memos written during the course of work from which passages can be copied and inserted into the final text.

Literature Review Software MAXQDA

Find concepts important to your literature review

When conducting a literature review you might need to analyze a large amount of text. Luckily MAXQDA as the #1 literature review software offers Text Search tools that allow you to explore your documents without reading or coding them first. Automatically search for keywords (or dictionaries of keywords), such as important concepts for your literature review, and automatically code them with just a few clicks. Document variables that were automatically created during the import of your bibliographic information can be used for searching and retrieving certain text segments. MAXQDA’s powerful Coding Query allows you to analyze the combination of activated codes in different ways.

Aggregate your literature review

When conducting a literature review you can easily get lost. But with MAXQDA as your literature review software, you will never lose track of the bigger picture. Among other tools, MAXQDA’s overview and summary tables are especially useful for aggregating your literature review results. MAXQDA offers overview tables for almost everything, codes, memos, coded segments, links, and so on. With MAXQDA literature review tools you can create compressed summaries of sources that can be effectively compared and represented, and with just one click you can easily export your overview and summary tables and integrate them into your literature review report.

Literature Review Software MAXQDA

Powerful and easy-to-use literature review tools

Quantitative aspects can also be relevant when conducting a literature review analysis. Using MAXQDA as your literature review software enables you to employ a vast range of procedures for the quantitative evaluation of your material. You can sort sources according to document variables, compare amounts with frequency tables and charts, and much more. Make sure you don’t miss the word frequency tools of MAXQDA’s add-on module for quantitative content analysis. Included are tools for visual text exploration, content analysis, vocabulary analysis, dictionary-based analysis, and more that facilitate the quantitative analysis of terms and their semantic contexts.

Visualize your literature review

As an all-in-one literature review software, MAXQDA offers a variety of visual tools that are tailor-made for qualitative research and literature reviews. Create stunning visualizations to analyze your material. Of course, you can export your visualizations in various formats to enrich your literature review analysis report. Work with word clouds to explore the central themes of a text and key terms that are used, create charts to easily compare the occurrences of concepts and important keywords, or make use of the graphical representation possibilities of MAXMaps, which in particular permit the creation of concept maps. Thanks to the interactive connection between your visualizations with your MAXQDA data, you’ll never lose sight of the big picture.

Literature Review Software MAXQDA

Collect relevant insights and develop new theories

MAXQDA 2022 introduces a brand new and innovative workspace to gather important visualization, notes, segments, and other analytics results! The perfect tool to organize your thoughts and data. Create a separate worksheet for your topics and research questions, fill it with associated analysis elements from MAXQDA, and add your conclusions, theories, and insights as you go. The new Questions-Themes-Theories tool will support you during the analysis phase after coding and is perfectly suited to help you finalize your literature review reports. That’s why MAXQDA is the kind of Literature Review Software that enables you to focus on your research, not on the software.

Share your literature review

Your literature review is just waiting to be shared with the world! Export parts of your project, single documents, search results, visualizations, charts, or the whole project into easily readable file formats, like Excel, or Word. You can also export complete projects into a clear and understandable folder structure to archive your analysis or reuse your project in the future. Because MAXQDA is a literature review software developed by and for researchers, it supports researchers working on collaborative research projects. By following the REFI-QDA standard, MAXQDA allows you to export and import data from other QDA software packages.

Literature Review Software MAXQDA

Work with any Language in MAXQDA

MAXQDA offers a variety of possibilities to work with different languages. Not only is the User Interface available in numerous languages, but you can also conduct your literature review in every single language of the world. The fact that MAXQDA supports Unicode makes it possible to import and analyze documents in any script and language. If you are new to MAXQDA you can learn how to use MAXQDA in your preferred language with our Getting Started Guides and video tutorials. Additionally, our international Professional Trainer Network provides the opportunity to participate in multilingual MAXQDA Workshops.

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Writing in the Health and Social Sciences: Literature Reviews and Synthesis Tools

Systematic Literature Reviews: Steps & Resources

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These steps for conducting a systematic literature review are listed below . 

Also see subpages for more information about:

Literature Review & Systematic Review Steps

1. Develop a Focused   Question 

Consider the PICO Format: Population/Problem, Intervention, Comparison, Outcome

Focus on defining the Population or Problem and Intervention (don't narrow by Comparison or Outcome just yet!)

"What are the effects of the Pilates method for patients with low back pain?"

Tools & Additional Resources:

2. Scope the Literature

A "scoping search" investigates the breadth and/or depth of the initial question or may identify a gap in the literature. 

Eligible studies may be located by searching in:

When searching, if possible, translate terms to controlled vocabulary of the database. Use text word searching when necessary.

Use Boolean operators to connect search terms:

Search:  pilates AND ("low back pain"  OR  backache )

Download a Boolean worksheet (PDF)

3. Refine & Expand Your Search

Expand your search strategy with synonymous search terms harvested from:


(pilates OR exercise movement techniques) AND ("low back pain" OR backache* OR sciatica OR lumbago OR spondylosis)

As you develop a final, reproducible strategy for each database, save your strategies in a:

4. Limit Your Results

Use database filters to limit your results based on your defined inclusion/exclusion criteria.  In addition to relying on the databases' categorical filters, you may also need to manually screen results.  

NOTE: Many databases allow you to filter to "Full Text Only".  This filter is  not recommended . It excludes articles if their full text is not available in that particular database (CINAHL, PubMed, etc), but if the article is relevant, it is important that you are able to read its title and abstract, regardless of 'full text' status. The full text is likely to be accessible through another source (a different database, or Interlibrary Loan).  

5. Download Citations

Selected citations and/or entire sets of search results can be downloaded from the database into a citation management tool. If you are conducting a systematic review that will require reporting according to PRISMA standards, a citation manager can help you keep track of the number of articles that came from each database, as well as the number of duplicate records.

In Zotero, you can create a Collection for the combined results set, and sub-collections for the results from each database you search.  You can then use Zotero's 'Duplicate Items" function to find and merge duplicate records.

File structure of a Zotero library, showing a combined pooled set, and sub folders representing results from individual databases.

6. Abstract and Analyze

Covidence is a web-based tool that enables you to work with a team to screen titles/abstracts and full text for inclusion in your review, as well as extract data from the included studies.

Screenshot of the Covidence interface, showing Title and abstract screening phase.

7. Create Flow Diagram

The PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analyses) flow diagram is a visual representation of the flow of records through different phases of a systematic review.  It depicts the number of records identified, included and excluded.  It is best used in conjunction with the PRISMA checklist .

Example PRISMA diagram showing number of records identified, duplicates removed, and records excluded.

Example from: Stotz, S. A., McNealy, K., Begay, R. L., DeSanto, K., Manson, S. M., & Moore, K. R. (2021). Multi-level diabetes prevention and treatment interventions for Native people in the USA and Canada: A scoping review. Current Diabetes Reports, 2 (11), 46. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11892-021-01414-3

8. Synthesize & Report Results

There are a number of reporting guideline available to guide the synthesis and reporting of results in systematic literature reviews.

It is common to organize findings in a matrix, also known as a Table of Evidence (ToE).

Example of a review matrix, using Microsoft Excel, showing the results of a systematic literature review.

Steps modified from: 

Cook, D. A., & West, C. P. (2012). Conducting systematic reviews in medical education: a stepwise approach.   Medical Education , 46 (10), 943–952.

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How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes .

What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .

There are five key steps to writing a literature review:

A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.

Table of contents

What is the purpose of a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1 – search for relevant literature, step 2 – evaluate and select sources, step 3 – identify themes, debates, and gaps, step 4 – outline your literature review’s structure, step 5 – write your literature review, free lecture slides, frequently asked questions, introduction.

When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:

Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.

Literature review guide

Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.

You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.

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Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .

If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research problem and questions .

Make a list of keywords

Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.

Search for relevant sources

Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:

You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.

Make sure to read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.

You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.

For each publication, ask yourself:

Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.

You can use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.

Take notes and cite your sources

As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.

It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.

To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:

This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.

There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).


The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.

Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.

If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.

For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.


If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:


A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.

You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.

Like any other academic text , your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.

The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.

Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.

As you write, you can follow these tips:

In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.

When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !

This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.

Scribbr slides are free to use, customize, and distribute for educational purposes.

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A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .

It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.

There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:

Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.

The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .

A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other  academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .

An  annotated bibliography is a list of  source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a  paper .  

Cite this Scribbr article

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McCombes, S. (2023, January 02). How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates. Scribbr. Retrieved March 6, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/dissertation/literature-review/

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