How I used online tools to write my literature review

booksHere’s a summary of my notes that I kept from last year while writing the literature review for my Masters thesis on social networking for teachers’ professional learning.

I found other people’s notes useful so this might be too….

Step One: Got organised

  • Generated key words from my research question
  • zotero logoOrganised folders into broad categories in Zotero (combining standalone function as well as syncing to online)

Step Two: First broad search

Step Three: Evaluation

  • Created new collection in Zotero specifically for lit review – three folders of decreasing relevance
  • Began skimming and scanning through all the docs saved in Zotero, tagging them and then filing them according to relevance. Opened  PDFs in Preview so I could annotate where relevant, too. Saved them and attached them as stored files to Zotero citation to come back to later.
  • Dropped tags into a Google doc as I went along – in theory, all the tags related to ‘theory’ will help me find those items related to ‘theory’ later. This began to generate topics related to theory, content, findings and so on.
  • Added more sources to Zotero when I read about useful docs e.g. in reference lists, citations

Step 4: Structuring

As a first attempt at beginning to work out what the broad themes might be in the review, I felt the need to begin to capture and record key ideas, moving on from brief notes and tagging, to synthesise as I go. To do this, I used

  • Freemind (a brainstorming tool) to organise and categorise ideas and themes using the tags I recorded in the spreadsheet in step 2 that pointed to theories, methodologies, key ideas and contexts that emerged as I did the first skim read.

Image credits: Literature review, by Caro Wallis

3 thoughts on “How I used online tools to write my literature review

  1. Hi Karen, I am at the early stages of my thesis ( master of health sciences – nursing ) and was looking for a way of using online tools, including zotero to assist. Great to find your work – particularly like the online spread sheet. Not sure how to lay this out – is it possible to view your spread sheet?
    Many thanks, Christine


    1. A very belated reply here, Christine. Perhaps this link is of use? It’s not ‘the answer’ but it worked for me > You’ll see I referenced each reading against various markers that I was looking for. These were determined by the underlying theoretical framework (in this case, activity theory). I also found it useful to tag each item in Zotero really accurately and fully, and add notes to each item as well. Hope this helps:)


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