When I had to (re-)write the literature review for my dissertation, I restructured my workflow to make my literature management more efficient.1 Throughout the past years, it always felt as if I was accumulating masses of knowledge and tons of papers – and for sure, I did! But it turned out to be so much knowledge that it was hard to keep track. I always liked my way of sorting things (I heavily relied on mind maps to sort the literature) but realized that it was not enough when categorizing, and – most importantly – logically structuring a condensed literature review that presents all the knowledge to my readers in an engaging way.
In short, I had to come up with a system that allows me to track what I have read, what research tells us (and what we don’t know), and then present it in a good structure that makes it easy to follow.2
To tackle this task, I followed these steps:
AUTHOR_YEAR_SHORT_TITLE.pdf. I know, this is what you’ve probably been told since the beginning of your studies, but it is too easy not to follow the golden rule and instead have tons of papers without a meaningful name stored somewhere in your
Downloadsfolder leads us to the next essential point (and this holds even if you have a good search function on your computer): Save your literature in a meaningful place such as a specific project folder or a watch folder.3
In retrospective, I should have started the tabular overview earlier and – at least for me – an ideal program would allow me to combine all steps in one: Store the references; have different categories where I can take notes (such as Research question, Theoretical argument, Dependent variable, Independent variable, Methodology, Findings, …) which also converts it in the tabular overview; and allow me to present and connect the literature as a mind map if needed.
And that’s it – now let the writing part begin!
This post contains links to products that I use in my regular work life and bought myself. As always, these workflows are never a one-size-fits-all solution and present just a snapshot of what currently works well for me. ↩︎
I came across the idea of a watch folder when using Mendeley. Although I am no longer using it, I have a watch folder where all documents that still need to be added to my reading program (GoodNotes) are stored. ↩︎