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Systematic Methods for Literature Reviews: SRM - Manage

Managing reviews - "research logs", searching, extracting, documentation.

The resources listed below, and in the right column, are a sample of what can be used to manage a literature review "systematically".

  • The Research Logs box describes monitoring, managing, and documenting the "literature review" process as a whole.
  • The Searching box links to searching guidance, and sample worksheets for monitoring and documenting your searches.  Note that these 'worksheets' could fit into a "Searches" section of your research log.  Note that information on how to do a literature search is available here.
  • The Extracting box presents a worksheet for "extracting" information from resources that you choose to use in your review.
  • The Documentation box provides additional standard guidance that supports reporting of review processes.

Research Logs - monitoring/documenting the "literature review" process as a whole.

Document your plansthoughts and choices as you start, and as you proceed.  For example, ask what ?, why ?, how do I know ?  Document insights as you have them if possible, or soon after (you may not remember them later). You might have daily entries, or comments you enter whenever you do anything on your project. A good idea is to date when you write something down.  Use a "paper" notebook, or use "folders" with "Word" documents on your computer.  Or use software programs like Evernote , Dropbox, or iSync. Those programs support making notes on computer and 'saving to cloud' for access.  As noted below, each of these research log tools might have sections for different kinds of comments.

Simple Logs

Research logs can be simply keeping a notebook with any kind of comments or questions you have about anything related to your project. You may have sections on your initial understanding and goals for the project, on searches tried, on methods for analysis, on possible relevant considerations, on problems, etc.

More Involved Logs

You may have notebook sections like the following for comments, etc. related to your review project:

  • Background and Planning - Comments on 'assignment', initial information, and plans/timeline for completing. Possible "protocol" ? This section can also store ideas concerning changes to plans.  
  • Research topic/questions - Initial, "sidebar", updated and final drafts of your topic.
  • Inclusion/Exclusion Criteria - What you are looking for that will lead you to choose the sources that might have information you need. Also list what will guide your selection of actual content/information eventually used/incorporated into your review. 
  • Scoping or Ad hoc searches & results - Initial "reconnaissance" for initial mapping of an area or for periodic update/checking, etc. It is possible to adjust your IE criteria.
  • Full Search - Design/Search results/ Use of results/Search Modification, etc.
  • Extraction - What information you need and in fact are choosing to pull out of sources to use.  
  • Synthesis - Ideas, sketches, thinking. 
  • Browsing - Information activities that are "not systematic".  
  • "Extra" Ideas
  • ILL - Actions taken to get items from outside of KSU or Ohio.  
  • Email/communication 
  • Drafts of review


Searching - the process of looking for and identifying possible information sources

The University Libraries' guide for "How to do a Literature Review" includes basic discussion and templates that can be used for designing search strategies and for completing the search process. That guide also has the following sampling of ideas on documenting your search. Other input might be obtained through consultation with a librarian. 

Here is a list of activities that is suggestive for documenting your literature search process 

  • Provide a purpose statement.
  • Document the databases or search engines used.
  • Specify the limits applied to the search.
  • List the inclusion and exclusion criteria for the search.
  • List the search terms used.
  • Document the search process for each search resource used.
  • Assess retrieved articles for relevance.
  • Document a summary table of included articles.
  • Provide a statement specifying the number of retrieved articles.

Taken from:
Kable, A. H., Pich, J., and Maslin-Prothero, S. (2012)
A structured approach to documenting a search strategy for publication: A 12-step guideline for authors.
Nurse Education Today32, 878-886.

Read the article online here.

Extracting - identifying information to use for the review

The University Libraries' guide for "How to do a Literature Review" includes discussion and templates, as seen below, that can be used to guide the process of "extracting" information which is then used for documenting the process of selecting information used for the review.  

The "Matrix Method" is an approach to organizing, monitoring, and documenting your search activities. The 2 links below will open in a new window.  The bottom 2 links download a Microsoft Word document to your computer.

The Matrix Method of Literature Reviews
To read this journal article off-campus, KSU users will log in with FlashLine ID and PW. 

Writing a Literature Review and Using a Synthesis Matrix 
From North Carolina State Tutorial Services. Ingram, Hussey, Tigani, Hemmelgarn, & Huneycutt, contributors

Create Your Own matrix in MS Word. 
This blank matrix is ready for you to use for your own research review.

Other sample suggestions for extracting information from items selected for review

From Doing a Literature Review in Health and Social Care:A Practical Guide by Helen Aveyard

  • What is the journal of publication?
  • What is the research question and why was the study conducted?
  • What method was selected to undertake the research?
  • Has the appropriate sample been obtained?
  • How were the data collected?
  • How were the data analyzed?

This book is available in the KSU Libraries collection.

Documentation - Sample guidance from PRISMA

Guidance for reporting implies what should be documented.  Such guidance may also imply steps needed to insure documentation is completed.

See the "reporting" guidelines in the Manuals under the Manuals tab.  

PRISMA - Widely accepted/adopted guidance for reporting review details. 

The aim of the PRISMA Statement is to help authors improve the reporting of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. We have focused on randomized trials, but PRISMA can also be used as a basis for reporting systematic reviews of other types of research, particularly evaluations of interventions. PRISMA may also be useful for critical appraisal of published systematic reviews, although it is not a quality assessment instrument to gauge the quality of a systematic review.



There is a range of software for managing literature review steps. A sample of these and their uses is given below. Contact Paul Fehrmann for consultation or for arranging group sessions.

EndNote Web, Mendeley, Zotero

  • All of these are free for KSU students, faculty, and staff.
  • Create personal databases that have key information about the resources you have chosen for your literature review. You then have access to this information from anywhere on the Internet.
  • Links to register or download are here:  EndNote WebZoteroMendeley
  • You can also include pdf articles or links to the available full text of articles (or links to online books, web sites, etc.)
  • You can also keep personal notes related to the information you see as important for each article, etc.
  • You can also use these for automatically creating citations and references in your papers according to a style you choose (e.g., APA, MLA, etc.).

Wikipedia chart comparing features is here.

Kent State University no longer provides free access to RefWorks as noted  here.

Software from "SR" Organizations

The resources below can be used for detailed guidance and management of "SR".