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Literature Reviews: Documenting your Search

Documenting Your Search



  • You plus any collaborators


  • All of the information that someone would need to reproduce your literature search
  • Be as specific as possible
  • Information to record: database names, filters applied, keywords, search strategy, eligibility criteria, alerts set up, etc. 


  • Ideally, every time you work on your search
  • Think of it as a rolling notes document to remind yourself what you did last time you searched and what you want to do the next time you search 


  • Create single document in Word, Google Docs or another word processing software
  • Give it a descriptive file name (for example: LitSearch_LakeMercuryLevels_2023-04-13.docx). More info on using a file naming convention to create descriptive file names is on the Organizing the Literature tab
  • This document should be a running synopsis of what you've done and what you plan to do. It's a living document — which means you don't want to delete anything from it. Rather, use a strikethrough or another notation to indicate out of date information. 
  • More advanced researchers may want to create a more structured document, like the Literature Matrix explained in the box below


  • For you. So you can keep track of what you did and what you plan to do. You'll thank yourself later.
  • For continuity of the project. Especially if you have collaborators. Searching for literature isn't a linear process. You'll have to start, stop and restart. Having your search documented will help you to do this more easily. 
  • For your readers. To know the who/what/when/where you searched so they know that you did a comprehensive and relevant literature search

Using a Literature Matrix

A literature matrix is a spreadsheet that tracks various characteristics from your sources so you can start to see themes emerge. 

List of possible source characteristics to track: 

Year of Publication Abstract  Methodology
Author Names Geographic location Sample/Population characteristics
Source Title Keywords Main findings
Publication Name Purpose/Objectives Limitations
Citation Research questions/Hypothesis Future research directions
Source type (book, journal article)  Theoretical framework Notes

Below is an example of a literature matrix from the field of education

A few YouTube videos on how to create a literature matrix:

 Examples of literature matrices that you can tailor for your own research:


Thanks to Librarian Jamie Niehof at the University of Michigan for providing permission to reuse and remix this Literature Reviews guide.

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