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Literature Reviews & Search Strategies

Staying Organized

There are many different approaches to keeping your sources organized as you work on a literature review. Your professor might give you a template to follow, or you might be trying to figure out a system on your work. Whatever approach you use, we strongly recommend that you choose something (and if what you're doing isn't working, try something new). Being organized will save you time and let your focus your energy on the interesting part - synthesizing the sources and doing your research.

This page includes a few options to consider.

Information to Save & Organize

To be most effective and efficient, you'll need to save more than just copies of articles you plan to cite. This information will create a paper trail for your process and cut down on how much you have to backtrack and repeat searches. These are some of the kinds of information to save:

Information Purpose
Keywords Use a document to list all the search terms (keywords) that you've identified, used, and discarded. Start the page with your research question and then write down all the words that might describe the important parts of each topic. As you start searching, add new keywords to the list and strikethrough the ones that don't work (but don't delete them - you'll want to remember they don't work).
Resources Write down the reference books, textbooks, journal titles, government agencies, reports, and other materials you're including or thinking about including. Again, this is about saving you time later so include whatever information you need to know how and why you're using a source.
Databases List all the databases you're using. For each one include: the date of each search, the keywords using, the filters and date range. Whenever you finish searching in a database copy & paste your search history and strategies to this document.
Miscellaneous Notes Instead of writing down ideas, questions, and advisor comments on the nearest pieces of scrap paper, have a dedicated document were you save these notes. 


Using a Citation Manager

Citation managers like Zotero are tools you can use to save, organize and then easily cite sources that you find while searching the literature. They're great time-savers and we recommend using one as part of your literature search process.

Once you have sources saved in your Zotero library, you'll want to organize them so that you can more easily see how much you've gathered on a topic and access them to cite. Here are a few Zotero-specific organization strategies to consider:

Function Explanation
Collections These are the folders listed in the left-side pane. Any item in your library can be in multiple collections, or no collections. 
Tags These are user-assigned keywords for an item. You can choose to have Zotero automatically tag items with keywords and subject headers or you can do it manually for items to your library. You can browse and search tags to explore your library.
Related For any item you can indicate what other items in your library are related to it in someway. 


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