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Literature Reviews

Concept Maps

Techniques like concept maps can be useful in organizing your thoughts in preparation for constructing and writing your review. It can provide visual cues for how different concepts connect to each other. 

A mind map showing how to broaden and narrow a topic

Using Bibliographic Software

It is important to manage and organize your research in one place because it will make it much easier when it comes time to start putting together and writing your literature review. There is software available that can make this task easier. See the links below for software supported by Northwestern Libraries. These software let you:

  • Download and store citations all in one place, creating your own mini-database of your research.
  • Attach full-text documents to the citations
  • Use the software in conjunction with Microsoft Word, and in the case of Zotero, Google Docs, to insert citations into the document directly from your library. 
  • Tag, add notes, and customize the information in the records.

Annotate Your Articles

Creating an annotated bibliography can be helpful for organizing your thoughts prior to writing the final review. Seeing summaries of the literature in one place allows you to visually group concepts and citations together. 

A sample annotated bibliography with three references and a short description after each

Using bibliographic software also allows you keep your citations together, add research notes, and create summaries. 

A screenshot of the detail view of an Endnote reference. It shows the Notes field filled with example text.

Group Literature into Categories

There are different ways to group your literature into categories that will help in creating the flow and layout of the review. The review may be organized chronologically, by theme, by method, or theory. Bibliographic software allows you to easily create folders in your library to group your citations into different categories.

A screenshot of a Zotero library with folders named for different concepts (affordability, efficacy, history of)


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Jason Kruse
Northwestern University Library
1970 Campus Drive
Evanston, IL 60208
Subjects: Sociology


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Lauren McKeen McDonald
Open Education Librarian
Northwestern University Libraries
Administrative Suite, 1392