Literature Reviews

This guide provides information to understand the purpose of a Literature review, search for information, analysis; synthesis of the literature and writing the review.

Saving citations

You need to keep track of the information sources you find as you search. It's best to store the complete bibliographic details for each resource in one place as you go, thus eliminating the need to repeat searches unnecessarily.

Methods for saving citations include using:

An Excel workbook with:

  • An overview page for details like databases searched, search string, date and number of results.
  • A page for the references for each source you've found and a note of the database that you found each one in, or
  • Separate pages each database listing the references for the resources you found.


Saved search history

  • Most databases provide folders where you can save your searches and search results.
  • You need to set up a free personal account in each relevant database. e.g. EBSCOhost, ScienceDirect


A citation management tool such as Zotero or EndNote which enables you to:

  • create / import / store records for each of the references you've found
  • add files (the storage limit will depend on the tool you choose)
  • insert references into your text, and thereby generate a bibliography as you write the review

Note: EndNote takes time to learn. If you are doing a literature review as an assignment or project for your coursework, Zotero might be easier to use. If you are a researcher or research higher degree student, it's worth taking time to learn to use EndNote because you will be managing large numbers of references.

Prepare your saved citations for your critical reading and synthesis

A literature matrix will help you pull all of your references and notes together ready for synthesis into your review. It's basically a table with all of your references, noting whether or not each will be included in the review and why, and your notes from the critical reading. You can use a spread-sheet or Word document for this.


Your column headings will depend on the type of review you are doing and your focus. You are using them to categorise your findings. Examples include:

  • Reference – to record the full reference as it would appear in a bibliography
  • Database – to record the name of the database you found it in
  • Search date
  • Search string – to record the search terms you used including the use of truncation, wildcards, etc.
  • Limiters – to record any other limitations you applied such as age range, or location etc.
  • Included – to record whether or not it will be included in the review with a simple Y/N
  • Reason/s – to record the reasons for inclusion/exclusion of each resource
  • Notes – to record key ideas / themes / conclusions from each reading

Note: If your review is designed to answer a multipart question, you could record the subtopic each resource is associated with in a column of a combined matrix. Alternatively, you could have a different matrix for each subtopic.


Here's an example from Griffith University: Creating my own database (video) opens in a new window (about 15 minutes).