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10 Best Literature Review Tools for Researchers

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Best Literature Review Tools for Researchers

Boost your research game with these Best Literature Review Tools for Researchers! Uncover hidden gems, organize your findings, and ace your next research paper!

Conducting literature reviews poses challenges for researchers due to the overwhelming volume of information available and the lack of efficient methods to manage and analyze it.

Researchers struggle to identify key sources, extract relevant information, and maintain accuracy while manually conducting literature reviews. This leads to inefficiency, errors, and difficulty in identifying gaps or trends in existing literature.

Advancements in technology have resulted in a variety of literature review tools. These tools streamline the process, offering features like automated searching, filtering, citation management, and research data extraction. They save time, improve accuracy, and provide valuable insights for researchers. 

In this article, we present a curated list of the 10 best literature review tools, empowering researchers to make informed choices and revolutionize their systematic literature review process.

Table of Contents

Top 10 Literature Review Tools for Researchers: In A Nutshell (2023)

#1. semantic scholar – a free, ai-powered research tool for scientific literature.

Credits: Semantic Scholar. Best Literature Review Tools for Researchers

Semantic Scholar is a cutting-edge literature review tool that researchers rely on for its comprehensive access to academic publications. With its advanced AI algorithms and extensive database, it simplifies the discovery of relevant research papers. 

By employing semantic analysis, users can explore scholarly articles based on context and meaning, making it a go-to resource for scholars across disciplines. 

Additionally, Semantic Scholar offers personalized recommendations and alerts, ensuring researchers stay updated with the latest developments. However, users should be cautious of potential limitations. 

Not all scholarly content may be indexed, and occasional false positives or inaccurate associations can occur. Furthermore, the tool primarily focuses on computer science and related fields, potentially limiting coverage in other disciplines. 

Researchers should be mindful of these considerations and supplement Semantic Scholar with other reputable resources for a comprehensive literature review. Despite these caveats, Semantic Scholar remains a valuable tool for streamlining research and staying informed.

#2. Elicit – Research assistant using language models like GPT-3

Credits: Elicit.Org, Best Literature Review Tools for Researchers

Elicit is a game-changing literature review tool that has gained popularity among researchers worldwide. With its user-friendly interface and extensive database of scholarly articles, it streamlines the research process, saving time and effort. 

The tool employs advanced algorithms to provide personalized recommendations, ensuring researchers discover the most relevant studies for their field. Elicit also promotes collaboration by enabling users to create shared folders and annotate articles.

However, users should be cautious when using Elicit. It is important to verify the credibility and accuracy of the sources found through the tool, as the database encompasses a wide range of publications. 

Additionally, occasional glitches in the search function have been reported, leading to incomplete or inaccurate results. While Elicit offers tremendous benefits, researchers should remain vigilant and cross-reference information to ensure a comprehensive literature review.

#3. Scite.Ai – Your personal research assistant

Credits: Scite, Best Literature Review Tools for Researchers

Scite.Ai is a popular literature review tool that revolutionizes the research process for scholars. With its innovative citation analysis feature, researchers can evaluate the credibility and impact of scientific articles, making informed decisions about their inclusion in their own work. 

By assessing the context in which citations are used, Scite.Ai ensures that the sources selected are reliable and of high quality, enabling researchers to establish a strong foundation for their research.

However, while Scite.Ai offers numerous advantages, there are a few aspects to be cautious about. As with any data-driven tool, occasional errors or inaccuracies may arise, necessitating researchers to cross-reference and verify results with other reputable sources. 

Moreover, Scite.Ai’s coverage may be limited in certain subject areas and languages, with a possibility of missing relevant studies, especially in niche fields or non-English publications. 

Therefore, researchers should supplement the use of Scite.Ai with additional resources to ensure comprehensive literature coverage and avoid any potential gaps in their research.

Rayyan offers the following paid plans:

  • Monthly Plan: $20
  • Yearly Plan: $12

Credits: Scite, Best Literature Review Tools for Researchers

#4. DistillerSR – Literature Review Software

Credits: DistillerSR, Best Literature Review Tools for Researchers

DistillerSR is a powerful literature review tool trusted by researchers for its user-friendly interface and robust features. With its advanced search capabilities, researchers can quickly find relevant studies from multiple databases, saving time and effort. 

The tool offers comprehensive screening and data extraction functionalities, streamlining the review process and improving the reliability of findings. Real-time collaboration features also facilitate seamless teamwork among researchers.

While DistillerSR offers numerous advantages, there are a few considerations. Users should invest time in understanding the tool’s features and functionalities to maximize its potential. Additionally, the pricing structure may be a factor for individual researchers or small teams with limited budgets.

Despite occasional technical glitches reported by some users, the developers actively address these issues through updates and improvements, ensuring a better user experience. 

Overall, DistillerSR empowers researchers to navigate the vast sea of information, enhancing the quality and efficiency of literature reviews while fostering collaboration among research teams .

#5. Rayyan – AI Powered Tool for Systematic Literature Reviews

Credits: Rayyan, Best Literature Review Tools for Researchers

Rayyan is a powerful literature review tool that simplifies the research process for scholars and academics. With its user-friendly interface and efficient management features, Rayyan is highly regarded by researchers worldwide. 

It allows users to import and organize large volumes of scholarly articles, making it easier to identify relevant studies for their research projects. The tool also facilitates seamless collaboration among team members, enhancing productivity and streamlining the research workflow. 

However, it’s important to be aware of a few aspects. The free version of Rayyan has limitations, and upgrading to a premium subscription may be necessary for additional functionalities. 

Users should also be mindful of occasional technical glitches and compatibility issues, promptly reporting any problems. Despite these considerations, Rayyan remains a valuable asset for researchers, providing an effective solution for literature review tasks.

Rayyan offers both free and paid plans:

  • Professional: $8.25/month
  • Student: $4/month
  • Pro Team: $8.25/month
  • Team+: $24.99/month

Credits: Rayyan, Best Literature Review Tools for Researchers

#6. Consensus – Use AI to find you answers in scientific research

Credits: Consensus, Best Literature Review Tools for Researchers

Consensus is a cutting-edge literature review tool that has become a go-to choice for researchers worldwide. Its intuitive interface and powerful capabilities make it a preferred tool for navigating and analyzing scholarly articles. 

With Consensus, researchers can save significant time by efficiently organizing and accessing relevant research material.People consider Consensus for several reasons. 

Its advanced search algorithms and filters help researchers sift through vast amounts of information, ensuring they focus on the most relevant articles. By streamlining the literature review process, Consensus allows researchers to extract valuable insights and accelerate their research progress.

However, there are a few factors to watch out for when using Consensus. As with any automated tool, researchers should exercise caution and independently verify the accuracy and relevance of the generated results. Complex or niche topics may present challenges, resulting in limited search results. Researchers should also supplement Consensus with manual searches to ensure comprehensive coverage of the literature.

Overall, Consensus is a valuable resource for researchers seeking to optimize their literature review process. By leveraging its features alongside critical thinking and manual searches, researchers can enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of their work, advancing their research endeavors to new heights.

Consensus offers both free and paid plans:

  • Premium: $9.99/month
  • Enterprise: Custom

Credits: Consensus, Best Literature Review Tools for Researchers

#7. RAx – AI-powered reading assistant

Credits: RAx, Best Literature Review Tools for Researchers

Consensus is a revolutionary literature review tool that has transformed the research process for scholars worldwide. With its user-friendly interface and advanced features, it offers a vast database of academic publications across various disciplines, providing access to relevant and up-to-date literature. 

Using advanced algorithms and machine learning, Consensus delivers personalized recommendations, saving researchers time and effort in their literature search. 

However, researchers should be cautious of potential biases in the recommendation system and supplement their search with manual verification to ensure a comprehensive review. 

Additionally, occasional inaccuracies in metadata have been reported, making it essential for users to cross-reference information with reliable sources. Despite these considerations, Consensus remains an invaluable tool for enhancing the efficiency and quality of literature reviews.

RAx offers both free and paid plans. Currently offering 50% discounts as of July 2023:

  • Premium: $6/month $3/month
  • Premium with Copilot: $8/month $4/month

Credits: RAx, Best Literature Review Tools for Researchers

#8. Lateral – Advance your research with AI

Credits: Lateral, Best Literature Review Tools for Researchers

“Lateral” is a revolutionary literature review tool trusted by researchers worldwide. With its user-friendly interface and powerful search capabilities, it simplifies the process of gathering and analyzing scholarly articles. 

By leveraging advanced algorithms and machine learning, Lateral saves researchers precious time by retrieving relevant articles and uncovering new connections between them, fostering interdisciplinary exploration.

While Lateral provides numerous benefits, users should exercise caution. It is advisable to cross-reference its findings with other sources to ensure a comprehensive review. 

Additionally, researchers must be mindful of potential biases introduced by the tool’s algorithms and should critically evaluate and interpret the results. 

Despite these considerations, Lateral remains an indispensable resource, empowering researchers to delve deeper into their fields of study and make valuable contributions to the academic community.

RAx offers both free and paid plans:

  • Premium: $10.98
  • Pro: $27.46

Credits: Lateral, Best Literature Review Tools for Researchers

#9. Iris AI – Introducing the researcher workspace

Credits: Iris AI, Best Literature Review Tools for Researchers

Iris AI is an innovative literature review tool that has transformed the research process for academics and scholars. With its advanced artificial intelligence capabilities, Iris AI offers a seamless and efficient way to navigate through a vast array of academic papers and publications. 

Researchers are drawn to this tool because it saves valuable time by automating the tedious task of literature review and provides comprehensive coverage across multiple disciplines. 

Its intelligent recommendation system suggests related articles, enabling researchers to discover hidden connections and broaden their knowledge base. However, caution should be exercised while using Iris AI. 

While the tool excels at surfacing relevant papers, researchers should independently evaluate the quality and validity of the sources to ensure the reliability of their work. 

It’s important to note that Iris AI may occasionally miss niche or lesser-known publications, necessitating a supplementary search using traditional methods. 

Additionally, being an algorithm-based tool, there is a possibility of false positives or missed relevant articles due to the inherent limitations of automated text analysis. Nevertheless, Iris AI remains an invaluable asset for researchers, enhancing the quality and efficiency of their research endeavors.

Iris AI offers different pricing plans to cater to various user needs:

  • Basic: Free
  • Premium: Monthly ($82.41), Quarterly ($222.49), and Annual ($791.07)

Credits: Iris AI, Best Literature Review Tools for Researchers

#10. Scholarcy – Summarize your literature through AI

Credits:Scholarcy, Best Literature Review Tools for Researchers

Scholarcy is a powerful literature review tool that helps researchers streamline their work. By employing advanced algorithms and natural language processing, it efficiently analyzes and summarizes academic papers, saving researchers valuable time. 

Scholarcy’s ability to extract key information and generate concise summaries makes it an attractive option for scholars looking to quickly grasp the main concepts and findings of multiple papers.

However, it is important to exercise caution when relying solely on Scholarcy. While it provides a useful starting point, engaging with the original research papers is crucial to ensure a comprehensive understanding. 

Scholarcy’s automated summarization may not capture the nuanced interpretations or contextual information presented in the full text. 

Researchers should also be aware that certain types of documents, particularly those with heavy mathematical or technical content, may pose challenges for the tool. 

Despite these considerations, Scholarcy remains a valuable resource for researchers seeking to enhance their literature review process and improve overall efficiency.

Scholarcy offer the following pricing plans:

  • Browser Extension and Flashcards: Free 
  • Personal Library: $9.99
  • Academic Institution License: $8K+

Credits: Scholarcy, Best Literature Review Tools for Researchers

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, conducting a comprehensive literature review is a crucial aspect of any research project, and the availability of reliable and efficient tools can greatly facilitate this process for researchers. This article has explored the top 10 literature review tools that have gained popularity among researchers.

Moreover, the rise of AI-powered tools like and promises to revolutionize the literature review process by automating various tasks and enhancing research efficiency. 

Ultimately, the choice of literature review tool depends on individual preferences and research needs, but the tools presented in this article serve as valuable resources to enhance the quality and productivity of research endeavors. 

Researchers are encouraged to explore and utilize these tools to stay at the forefront of knowledge in their respective fields and contribute to the advancement of science and academia.

Q1. What are literature review tools for researchers?

Literature review tools for researchers are software or online platforms designed to assist researchers in efficiently conducting literature reviews. These tools help researchers find, organize, analyze, and synthesize relevant academic papers and other sources of information.

Q2. What criteria should researchers consider when choosing literature review tools?

When choosing literature review tools, researchers should consider factors such as the tool’s search capabilities, database coverage, user interface, collaboration features, citation management, annotation and highlighting options, integration with reference management software, and data extraction capabilities. 

It’s also essential to consider the tool’s accessibility, cost, and technical support.

Q3. Are there any literature review tools specifically designed for systematic reviews or meta-analyses?

Yes, there are literature review tools that cater specifically to systematic reviews and meta-analyses, which involve a rigorous and structured approach to reviewing existing literature. These tools often provide features tailored to the specific needs of these methodologies, such as:

Screening and eligibility assessment: Systematic review tools typically offer functionalities for screening and assessing the eligibility of studies based on predefined inclusion and exclusion criteria. This streamlines the process of selecting relevant studies for analysis.

Data extraction and quality assessment: These tools often include templates and forms to facilitate data extraction from selected studies. Additionally, they may provide features for assessing the quality and risk of bias in individual studies.

Meta-analysis support: Some literature review tools include statistical analysis features that assist in conducting meta-analyses. These features can help calculate effect sizes, perform statistical tests, and generate forest plots or other visual representations of the meta-analytic results.

Reporting assistance: Many tools provide templates or frameworks for generating systematic review reports, ensuring compliance with established guidelines such as PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses).

Q4. Can literature review tools help with organizing and annotating collected references?

Yes, literature review tools often come equipped with features to help researchers organize and annotate collected references. Some common functionalities include:

Reference management: These tools enable researchers to import references from various sources, such as databases or PDF files, and store them in a central library. They typically allow you to create folders or tags to organize references based on themes or categories.

Annotation capabilities: Many tools provide options for adding annotations, comments, or tags to individual references or specific sections of research articles. This helps researchers keep track of important information, highlight key findings, or note potential connections between different sources.

Full-text search: Literature review tools often offer full-text search functionality, allowing you to search within the content of imported articles or documents. This can be particularly useful when you need to locate specific information or keywords across multiple references.

Integration with citation managers: Some literature review tools integrate with popular citation managers like Zotero, Mendeley, or EndNote, allowing seamless transfer of references and annotations between platforms.

By leveraging these features, researchers can streamline the organization and annotation of their collected references, making it easier to retrieve relevant information during the literature review process.

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software to organize literature review

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software to organize literature review

Accelerate your research with the best systematic literature review tools

The ideal literature review tool helps you make sense of the most important insights in your research field. ATLAS.ti empowers researchers to perform powerful and collaborative analysis using the leading software for literature review.

software to organize literature review

Finalize your literature review faster with comfort

ATLAS.ti makes it easy to manage, organize, and analyze articles, PDFs, excerpts, and more for your projects. Conduct a deep systematic literature review and get the insights you need with a comprehensive toolset built specifically for your research projects.

software to organize literature review

Figure out the "why" behind your participant's motivations

Understand the behaviors and emotions that are driving your focus group participants. With ATLAS.ti, you can transform your raw data and turn it into qualitative insights you can learn from. Easily determine user intent in the same spot you're deciphering your overall focus group data.

software to organize literature review

Visualize your research findings like never before

We make it simple to present your analysis results with meaningful charts, networks, and diagrams. Instead of figuring out how to communicate the insights you just unlocked, we enable you to leverage easy-to-use visualizations that support your goals.

software to organize literature review

Everything you need to elevate your literature review

Import and organize literature data.

Import and analyze any type of text content – ATLAS.ti supports all standard text and transcription files such as Word and PDF.

Analyze with ease and speed

Utilize easy-to-learn workflows that save valuable time, such as auto coding, sentiment analysis, team collaboration, and more.

Leverage AI-driven tools

Make efficiency a priority and let ATLAS.ti do your work with AI-powered research tools and features for faster results.

Visualize and present findings

With just a few clicks, you can create meaningful visualizations like charts, word clouds, tables, networks, among others for your literature data.

The faster way to make sense of your literature review. Try it for free, today.

A literature review analyzes the most current research within a research area. A literature review consists of published studies from many sources:

  • Peer-reviewed academic publications
  • Full-length books
  • University bulletins
  • Conference proceedings
  • Dissertations and theses

Literature reviews allow researchers to:

  • Summarize the state of the research
  • Identify unexplored research inquiries
  • Recommend practical applications
  • Critique currently published research

Literature reviews are either standalone publications or part of a paper as background for an original research project. A literature review, as a section of a more extensive research article, summarizes the current state of the research to justify the primary research described in the paper.

For example, a researcher may have reviewed the literature on a new supplement's health benefits and concluded that more research needs to be conducted on those with a particular condition. This research gap warrants a study examining how this understudied population reacted to the supplement. Researchers need to establish this research gap through a literature review to persuade journal editors and reviewers of the value of their research.

Consider a literature review as a typical research publication presenting a study, its results, and the salient points scholars can infer from the study. The only significant difference with a literature review treats existing literature as the research data to collect and analyze. From that analysis, a literature review can suggest new inquiries to pursue.

Identify a focus

Similar to a typical study, a literature review should have a research question or questions that analysis can answer. This sort of inquiry typically targets a particular phenomenon, population, or even research method to examine how different studies have looked at the same thing differently. A literature review, then, should center the literature collection around that focus.

Collect and analyze the literature

With a focus in mind, a researcher can collect studies that provide relevant information for that focus. They can then analyze the collected studies by finding and identifying patterns or themes that occur frequently. This analysis allows the researcher to point out what the field has frequently explored or, on the other hand, overlooked.

Suggest implications

The literature review allows the researcher to argue a particular point through the evidence provided by the analysis. For example, suppose the analysis makes it apparent that the published research on people's sleep patterns has not adequately explored the connection between sleep and a particular factor (e.g., television-watching habits, indoor air quality). In that case, the researcher can argue that further study can address this research gap.

External requirements aside (e.g., many academic journals have a word limit of 6,000-8,000 words), a literature review as a standalone publication is as long as necessary to allow readers to understand the current state of the field. Even if it is just a section in a larger paper, a literature review is long enough to allow the researcher to justify the study that is the paper's focus.

Note that a literature review needs only to incorporate a representative number of studies relevant to the research inquiry. For term papers in university courses, 10 to 20 references might be appropriate for demonstrating analytical skills. Published literature reviews in peer-reviewed journals might have 40 to 50 references. One of the essential goals of a literature review is to persuade readers that you have analyzed a representative segment of the research you are reviewing.

Researchers can find published research from various online sources:

  • Journal websites
  • Research databases
  • Search engines (Google Scholar, Semantic Scholar)
  • Research repositories
  • Social networking sites (Academia, ResearchGate)

Many journals make articles freely available under the term "open access," meaning that there are no restrictions to viewing and downloading such articles. Otherwise, collecting research articles from restricted journals usually requires access from an institution such as a university or a library.

Evidence of a rigorous literature review is more important than the word count or the number of articles that undergo data analysis. Especially when writing for a peer-reviewed journal, it is essential to consider how to demonstrate research rigor in your literature review to persuade reviewers of its scholarly value.

Select field-specific journals

The most significant research relevant to your field focuses on a narrow set of journals similar in aims and scope. Consider who the most prominent scholars in your field are and determine which journals publish their research or have them as editors or reviewers. Journals tend to look favorably on systematic reviews that include articles they have published.

Incorporate recent research

Recently published studies have greater value in determining the gaps in the current state of research. Older research is likely to have encountered challenges and critiques that may render their findings outdated or refuted. What counts as recent differs by field; start by looking for research published within the last three years and gradually expand to older research when you need to collect more articles for your review.

Consider the quality of the research

Literature reviews are only as strong as the quality of the studies that the researcher collects. You can judge any particular study by many factors, including:

  • the quality of the article's journal
  • the article's research rigor
  • the timeliness of the research

The critical point here is that you should consider more than just a study's findings or research outputs when including research in your literature review.

Narrow your research focus

Ideally, the articles you collect for your literature review have something in common, such as a research method or research context. For example, if you are conducting a literature review about teaching practices in high school contexts, it is best to narrow your literature search to studies focusing on high school. You should consider expanding your search to junior high school and university contexts only when there are not enough studies that match your focus.

You can create a project in ATLAS.ti for keeping track of your collected literature. ATLAS.ti allows you to view and analyze full text articles and PDF files in a single project. Within projects, you can use document groups to separate studies into different categories for easier and faster analysis.

For example, a researcher with a literature review that examines studies across different countries can create document groups labeled "United Kingdom," "Germany," and "United States," among others. A researcher can also use ATLAS.ti's global filters to narrow analysis to a particular set of studies and gain insights about a smaller set of literature.

ATLAS.ti allows you to search, code, and analyze text documents and PDF files. You can treat a set of research articles like other forms of qualitative data. The codes you apply to your literature collection allow for analysis through many powerful tools in ATLAS.ti:

  • Code Co-Occurrence Explorer
  • Code Co-Occurrence Table
  • Code-Document Table

Other tools in ATLAS.ti employ machine learning to facilitate parts of the coding process for you. Some of our software tools that are effective for analyzing literature include:

  • Named Entity Recognition
  • Opinion Mining
  • Sentiment Analysis

As long as your documents are text documents or text-enable PDF files, ATLAS.ti's automated tools can provide essential assistance in the data analysis process.

7 open source tools to make literature reviews easy

Open source, library schools, libraries, and digital dissemination

A good literature review is critical for academic research in any field, whether it is for a research article, a critical review for coursework, or a dissertation. In a recent article, I presented detailed steps for doing  a literature review using open source software .

The following is a brief summary of seven free and open source software tools described in that article that will make your next literature review much easier.

1. GNU Linux

Most literature reviews are accomplished by graduate students working in research labs in universities. For absurd reasons, graduate students often have the worst computers on campus. They are often old, slow, and clunky Windows machines that have been discarded and recycled from the undergraduate computer labs. Installing a flavor of GNU Linux will breathe new life into these outdated PCs. There are more than 100 distributions , all of which can be downloaded and installed for free on computers. Most popular Linux distributions come with a "try-before-you-buy" feature. For example, with Ubuntu you can make a bootable USB stick that allows you to test-run the Ubuntu desktop experience without interfering in any way with your PC configuration. If you like the experience, you can use the stick to install Ubuntu on your machine permanently.

Linux distributions generally come with a free web browser, and the most popular is Firefox . Two Firefox plugins that are particularly useful for literature reviews are Unpaywall and Zotero. Keep reading to learn why.

3. Unpaywall

Often one of the hardest parts of a literature review is gaining access to the papers you want to read for your review. The unintended consequence of copyright restrictions and paywalls is it has narrowed access to the peer-reviewed literature to the point that even Harvard University is challenged to pay for it. Fortunately, there are a lot of open access articles—about a third of the literature is free (and the percentage is growing). Unpaywall is a Firefox plugin that enables researchers to click a green tab on the side of the browser and skip the paywall on millions of peer-reviewed journal articles. This makes finding accessible copies of articles much faster that searching each database individually. Unpaywall is fast, free, and legal, as it accesses many of the open access sites that I covered in my paper on using open source in lit reviews .

Formatting references is the most tedious of academic tasks. Zotero can save you from ever doing it again. It operates as an Android app, desktop program, and a Firefox plugin (which I recommend). It is a free, easy-to-use tool to help you collect, organize, cite, and share research. It replaces the functionality of proprietary packages such as RefWorks, Endnote, and Papers for zero cost. Zotero can auto-add bibliographic information directly from websites. In addition, it can scrape bibliographic data from PDF files. Notes can be easily added on each reference. Finally, and most importantly, it can import and export the bibliography databases in all publishers' various formats. With this feature, you can export bibliographic information to paste into a document editor for a paper or thesis—or even to a wiki for dynamic collaborative literature reviews (see tool #7 for more on the value of wikis in lit reviews).

5. LibreOffice

Your thesis or academic article can be written conventionally with the free office suite LibreOffice , which operates similarly to Microsoft's Office products but respects your freedom. Zotero has a word processor plugin to integrate directly with LibreOffice. LibreOffice is more than adequate for the vast majority of academic paper writing.

If LibreOffice is not enough for your layout needs, you can take your paper writing one step further with LaTeX , a high-quality typesetting system specifically designed for producing technical and scientific documentation. LaTeX is particularly useful if your writing has a lot of equations in it. Also, Zotero libraries can be directly exported to BibTeX files for use with LaTeX.

7. MediaWiki

If you want to leverage the open source way to get help with your literature review, you can facilitate a dynamic collaborative literature review . A wiki is a website that allows anyone to add, delete, or revise content directly using a web browser. MediaWiki is free software that enables you to set up your own wikis.

Researchers can (in decreasing order of complexity): 1) set up their own research group wiki with MediaWiki, 2) utilize wikis already established at their universities (e.g., Aalto University ), or 3) use wikis dedicated to areas that they research. For example, several university research groups that focus on sustainability (including mine ) use Appropedia , which is set up for collaborative solutions on sustainability, appropriate technology, poverty reduction, and permaculture.

Using a wiki makes it easy for anyone in the group to keep track of the status of and update literature reviews (both current and older or from other researchers). It also enables multiple members of the group to easily collaborate on a literature review asynchronously. Most importantly, it enables people outside the research group to help make a literature review more complete, accurate, and up-to-date.

Wrapping up

Free and open source software can cover the entire lit review toolchain, meaning there's no need for anyone to use proprietary solutions. Do you use other libre tools for making literature reviews or other academic work easier? Please let us know your favorites in the comments.

Joshua Pearce

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  • Research Skills Blog

5 software tools to support your systematic review processes

By Dr. Mina Kalantar on 19-Jan-2021 13:01:01

4 software tools to support your systematic review processes | IFIS Publishing

Systematic reviews are a reassessment of scholarly literature to facilitate decision making. This methodical approach of re-evaluating evidence was initially applied in healthcare, to set policies, create guidelines and answer medical questions.

Systematic reviews are large, complex projects and, depending on the purpose, they can be quite expensive to conduct. A team of researchers, data analysts and experts from various fields may collaborate to review and examine incredibly large numbers of research articles for evidence synthesis. Depending on the spectrum, systematic reviews often take at least 6 months, and sometimes upwards of 18 months to complete.

The main principles of transparency and reproducibility require a pragmatic approach in the organisation of the required research activities and detailed documentation of the outcomes. As a result, many software tools have been developed to help researchers with some of the tedious tasks required as part of the systematic review process.

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The first generation of these software tools were produced to accommodate and manage collaborations, but gradually developed to help with screening literature and reporting outcomes. Some of these software packages were initially designed for medical and healthcare studies and have specific protocols and customised steps integrated for various types of systematic reviews. However, some are designed for general processing, and by extending the application of the systematic review approach to other fields, they are being increasingly adopted and used in software engineering, health-related nutrition, agriculture, environmental science, social sciences and education.

Software tools

There are various free and subscription-based tools to help with conducting a systematic review. Many of these tools are designed to assist with the key stages of the process, including title and abstract screening, data synthesis, and critical appraisal. Some are designed to facilitate the entire process of review, including protocol development, reporting of the outcomes and help with fast project completion.

As time goes on, more functions are being integrated into such software tools. Technological advancement has allowed for more sophisticated and user-friendly features, including visual graphics for pattern recognition and linking multiple concepts. The idea is to digitalise the cumbersome parts of the process to increase efficiency, thus allowing researchers to focus their time and efforts on assessing the rigorousness and robustness of the research articles.

This article introduces commonly used systematic review tools that are relevant to food research and related disciplines, which can be used in a similar context to the process in healthcare disciplines.

These reviews are based on IFIS' internal research, thus are unbiased and not affiliated with the companies.


This online platform is a core component of the Cochrane toolkit, supporting parts of the systematic review process, including title/abstract and full-text screening, documentation, and reporting.

The Covidence platform enables collaboration of the entire systematic reviews team and is suitable for researchers and students at all levels of experience.

From a user perspective, the interface is intuitive, and the citation screening is directed step-by-step through a well-defined workflow. Imports and exports are straightforward, with easy export options to Excel and CVS.

Access is free for Cochrane authors (a single reviewer), and Cochrane provides a free trial to other researchers in healthcare. Universities can also subscribe on an institutional basis.

Rayyan is a free and open access web-based platform funded by the Qatar Foundation, a non-profit organisation supporting education and community development initiative . Rayyan is used to screen and code literature through a systematic review process.

Unlike Covidence, Rayyan does not follow a standard SR workflow and simply helps with citation screening. It is accessible through a mobile application with compatibility for offline screening. The web-based platform is known for its accessible user interface, with easy and clear export options.

Function comparison of 5 software tools to support the systematic review process


EPPI-Reviewer is a web-based software programme developed by the Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre  (EPPI) at the UCL Institute for Education, London .

It provides comprehensive functionalities for coding and screening. Users can create different levels of coding in a code set tool for clustering, screening, and administration of documents. EPPI-Reviewer allows direct search and import from PubMed. The import of search results from other databases is feasible in different formats. It stores, references, identifies and removes duplicates automatically. EPPI-Reviewer allows full-text screening, text mining, meta-analysis and the export of data into different types of reports.

There is no limit for concurrent use of the software and the number of articles being reviewed. Cochrane reviewers can access EPPI reviews using their Cochrane subscription details.

EPPI-Centre has other tools for facilitating the systematic review process, including coding guidelines and data management tools.

CADIMA is a free, online, open access review management tool, developed to facilitate research synthesis and structure documentation of the outcomes.

The Julius Institute and the Collaboration for Environmental Evidence established the software programme to support and guide users through the entire systematic review process, including protocol development, literature searching, study selection, critical appraisal, and documentation of the outcomes. The flexibility in choosing the steps also makes CADIMA suitable for conducting systematic mapping and rapid reviews.

CADIMA was initially developed for research questions in agriculture and environment but it is not limited to these, and as such, can be used for managing review processes in other disciplines. It enables users to export files and work offline.

The software allows for statistical analysis of the collated data using the R statistical software. Unlike EPPI-Reviewer, CADIMA does not have a built-in search engine to allow for searching in literature databases like PubMed.


DistillerSR is an online software maintained by the Canadian company, Evidence Partners which specialises in literature review automation. DistillerSR provides a collaborative platform for every stage of literature review management. The framework is flexible and can accommodate literature reviews of different sizes. It is configurable to different data curation procedures, workflows and reporting standards. The platform integrates necessary features for screening, quality assessment, data extraction and reporting. The software uses Artificial Learning (AL)-enabled technologies in priority screening. It is to cut the screening process short by reranking the most relevant references nearer to the top. It can also use AL, as a second reviewer, in quality control checks of screened studies by human reviewers. DistillerSR is used to manage systematic reviews in various medical disciplines, surveillance, pharmacovigilance and public health reviews including food and nutrition topics. The software does not support statistical analyses. It provides configurable forms in standard formats for data extraction.

DistillerSR allows direct search and import of references from PubMed. It provides an add on feature called LitConnect which can be set to automatically import newly published references from data providers to keep reviews up to date during their progress.

The systematic review Toolbox is a web-based catalogue of various tools, including software packages which can assist with single or multiple tasks within the evidence synthesis process. Researchers can run a quick search or tailor a more sophisticated search by choosing their approach, budget, discipline, and preferred support features, to find the right tools for their research.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also be interested in our recently published blog post addressing the difference between a systematic review and a systematic literature review.


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5 literature review tools to ace your research (+2 bonus tools)


Table of Contents

Your literature review is the lore behind your research paper . It comes in two forms, systematic and scoping , both serving the purpose of rounding up previously published works in your research area that led you to write and finish your own.

A literature review is vital as it provides the reader with a critical overview of the existing body of knowledge, your methodology, and an opportunity for research applications.


Some steps to follow while writing your review:

  • Pick an accessible topic for your paper
  • Do thorough research and gather evidence surrounding your topic
  • Read and take notes diligently
  • Create a rough structure for your review
  • Synthesis your notes and write the first draft
  • Edit and proofread your literature review

To make your workload a little lighter, there are many literature review AI tools. These tools can help you find academic articles through AI and answer questions about a research paper.  

Best literature review tools to improve research workflow

A literature review is one of the most critical yet tedious stages in composing a research paper. Many students find it an uphill task since it requires extensive reading and careful organization .

Using some of the best literature review tools listed here, you can make your life easier by overcoming some of the existing challenges in literature reviews. From collecting and classifying to analyzing and publishing research outputs, these tools help you with your literature review and improve your productivity without additional effort or expenses.

1. SciSpace

SciSpace is an AI for academic research that will help find research papers and answer questions about a research paper. You can discover, read, and understand research papers with SciSpace making it an excellent platform for literature review. Featuring a repository with over 270 million research papers, it comes with your AI research assistant called Copilot that offers explanations, summaries , and answers as you read.

Get started now:

software to organize literature review

Find academic articles through AI

SciSpace has a dedicated literature review tool that finds scientific articles when you search for a question. Based on semantic search, it shows all the research papers relevant for your subject. You can then gather quick insights for all the papers displayed in your search results like methodology, dataset, etc., and figure out all the papers relevant for your research.

Identify relevant articles faster

Abstracts are not always enough to determine whether a paper is relevant to your research question. For starters, you can ask questions to your AI research assistant, SciSpace Copilot to explore the content and better understand the article. Additionally, use the summarize feature to quickly review the methodology and results of a paper and decide if it is worth reading in detail.

Quickly skim through the paper and focus on the most relevant information with summarize and brainstorm questions feature on SciSpace Copilot

Learn in your preferred language

A big barrier non-native English speakers face while conducting a literature review is that a significant portion of scientific literature is published in English. But with SciSpace Copilot, you can review, interact, and learn from research papers in any language you prefer — presently, it supports 75+ languages. The AI will answer questions about a research paper in your mother tongue.

Read and understand scientific literature in over 75 languages with SciSpace Copilot

Integrates with Zotero

Many researchers use Zotero to create a library and manage research papers. SciSpace lets you import your scientific articles directly from Zotero into your SciSpace library and use Copilot to comprehend your research papers. You can also highlight key sections, add notes to the PDF as you read, and even turn helpful explanations and answers from Copilot into notes for future review.

Understand math and complex concepts quickly

Come across complex mathematical equations or difficult concepts? Simply highlight the text or select the formula or table, and Copilot will provide an explanation or breakdown of the same in an easy-to-understand manner. You can ask follow-up questions if you need further clarification.

Understand math and tables in research papers

Discover new papers to read without leaving

Highlight phrases or sentences in your research paper to get suggestions for related papers in the field and save time on literature reviews. You can also use the 'Trace' feature to move across and discover connected papers, authors, topics, and more.

Find related papers quickly

SciSpace Copilot is now available as a Chrome extension , allowing you to access its features directly while you browse scientific literature anywhere across the web.

software to organize literature review

Get citation-backed answers

When you're conducting a literature review, you want credible information with proper references.  Copilot ensures that every piece of information provided by SciSpace Copilot is backed by a direct reference, boosting transparency, accuracy, and trustworthiness.

Ask a question related to the paper you're delving into. Every response from Copilot comes with a clickable citation. This citation leads you straight to the section of the PDF from which the answer was extracted.

By seamlessly integrating answers with citations, SciSpace Copilot assures you of the authenticity and relevance of the information you receive.

2. Mendeley

Mendeley Citation Manager is a free web and desktop application. It helps simplify your citation management workflow significantly. Here are some ways you can speed up your referencing game with Mendeley.

Generate citations and bibliographies

Easily add references from your Mendeley library to your Word document, change your citation style, and create a bibliography, all without leaving your document.

Retrieve references

It allows you to access your references quickly. Search for a term, and it will return results by referencing the year, author, or source.

Add sources to your Mendeley library by dragging PDF to Mendeley Reference Manager. Mendeley will automatically remove the PDF(s) metadata and create a library entry.‌

Read and annotate documents

It helps you highlight and comment across multiple PDFs while keep them all in one place using Mendeley Notebook . Notebook pages are not tied to a reference and let you quote from many PDFs.

A big part of many literature review workflows, Zotero is a free, open-source tool for managing citations that works as a plug-in on your browser. It helps you gather the information you need, cite your sources, lets you attach PDFs, notes, and images to your citations, and create bibliographies.

Import research articles to your database

Search for research articles on a keyword, and add relevant results to your database. Then, select the articles you are most interested in, and import them into Zotero.

Add bibliography in a variety of formats

With Zotero, you don’t have to scramble for different bibliography formats. Simply use the Zotero-Word plug-in to insert in-text citations and generate a bibliography.

Share your research

You can save a paper and sync it with an online library to easily share your research for group projects. Zotero can be used to create your database and decrease the time you spend formatting citations.

Sysrev is an AI too for article review that facilitates screening, collaboration, and data extraction from academic publications, abstracts, and PDF documents using machine learning. The platform is free and supports public and Open Access projects only.

Some of the features of Sysrev include:

Group labels

Group labels can be a powerful concept for creating database tables from documents. When exported and re-imported, each group label creates a new table. To make labels for a project, go into the manage -> labels section of the project.

Group labels enable project managers to pull table information from documents. It makes it easier to communicate review results for specific articles.

Track reviewer performance

Sysrev's label counting tool provides filtering and visualization options for keeping track of the distribution of labels throughout the project's progress. Project managers can check their projects at any point to track progress and the reviewer's performance.

Tool for concordance

The Sysrev tool for concordance allows project administrators and reviewers to perform analysis on their labels. Concordance is measured by calculating the number of times users agree on the labels they have extracted.

Colandr is a free, open-source, internet-based analysis and screening software used as an AI for academic research. It was designed to ease collaboration across various stages of the systematic review procedure. The tool can be a little complex to use. So, here are the steps involved in working with Colandr.

Create a review

The first step to using Colandr is setting up an organized review project. This is helpful to librarians who are assisting researchers with systematic reviews.

The planning stage is setting the review's objectives along with research queries. Any reviewer can review the details of the planning stage. However, they can only be modified by the author for the review.

Citation screening/import

In this phase, users can upload their results from database searches. Colandr also offers an automated deduplication system.

Full-text screening

The system in Colandr will discover the combination of terms and expressions that are most useful for the reader. If an article is selected, it will be moved to the final step.

Data extraction/export

Colandr data extraction is more efficient than the manual method. It creates the form fields for data extraction during the planning stage of the review procedure. Users can decide to revisit or modify the form for data extraction after completing the initial screening.

Bonus literature review tools

SRDR+ is a web-based tool for extracting and managing systematic review or meta-analysis data. It is open and has a searchable archive of systematic reviews and their data.

7. Plot Digitizer

Plot Digitizer is an efficient tool for extracting information from graphs and images, equipped with many features that facilitate data extraction. The program comes with a free online application, which is adequate to extract data quickly.

Final thoughts

Writing a literature review is not easy. It’s a time-consuming process, which can become tiring at times. The literature review tools mentioned in this blog do an excellent job of maximizing your efforts and helping you write literature reviews much more efficiently. With them, you can breathe a sigh of relief and give more time to your research.

As you dive into your literature review, don’t forget to use SciSpace ResearchGPT to streamline the process. It facilitates your research and helps you explore key findings, summary, and other components of the paper easily.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. what is rrl in research.

RRL stands for Review of Related Literature and sometimes interchanged with ‘Literature Review.’ RRL is a body of studies relevant to the topic being researched. These studies may be in the form of journal articles, books, reports, and other similar documents. Review of related literature is used to support an argument or theory being made by the researcher, as well as to provide information on how others have approached the same topic.

2. What are few softwares and tools available for literature review?

• SciSpace Discover

• Mendeley

• Zotero

• Sysrev

• Colandr


3. How to generate an online literature review?

The Scispace Discover tool, which offers an excellent repository of millions of peer-reviewed articles and resources, will help you generate or create a literature review easily. You may find relevant information by utilizing the filter option, checking its credibility, tracing related topics and articles, and citing in widely accepted formats with a single click.

4. What does it mean to synthesize literature?

To synthesize literature is to take the main points and ideas from a number of sources and present them in a new way. The goal is to create a new piece of writing that pulls together the most important elements of all the sources you read. Make recommendations based on them, and connect them to the research.

5. Should we write abstract for literature review?

Abstracts, particularly for the literature review section, are not required. However, an abstract for the research paper, on the whole, is useful for summarizing the paper and letting readers know what to expect from it. It can also be used to summarize the main points of the paper so that readers have a better understanding of the paper's content before they read it.

6. How do you evaluate the quality of a literature review?

• Whether it is clear and well-written.

• Whether Information is current and up to date.

• Does it cover all of the relevant sources on the topic.

• Does it provide enough evidence to support its conclusions.

7. Is literature review mandatory?

Yes. Literature review is a mandatory part of any research project. It is a critical step in the process that allows you to establish the scope of your research and provide a background for the rest of your work.

8. What are the sources for a literature review?

• Reports

• Theses

• Conference proceedings

• Company reports

• Some government publications

• Journals

• Books

• Newspapers

• Articles by professional associations

• Indexes

• Databases

• Catalogues

• Encyclopaedias

• Dictionaries

• Bibliographies

• Citation indexes

• Statistical data from government websites

9. What is the difference between a systematic review and a literature review?

A systematic review is a form of research that uses a rigorous method to generate knowledge from both published and unpublished data. A literature review, on the other hand, is a critical summary of an area of research within the context of what has already been published.

software to organize literature review

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Advanced Literature Review Software

Synthesis provides advanced literature review software with analytical and automation functionality for delivering timely evidence-based information in hours, not months, for better decisions.

Strategic Analysis

Perform Scoping and Systematic Reviews quickly and accurately using the latest automation and information management algorithms.

Reference Management

Synthesis organizes and manages all your references and PDFs. You can then quickly search the Abstract and Full-Text PDFs for keywords and phrases.

Advanced Analytics

Quickly summarize the reference by searching and tagging for keywords, preform topic clustering or word clouds on the literature, and then graph all your data.

Multiple Databases

PubMed, PubMed Central, IEEE, US Patents, Ovid (Medline, Embase, Global Health), Web of Science, Scopus, ProQuest, and many others..


Export capabilities for sharing the Knowledge that you have just created as either CSV files or for importing into Cite and Write managers.

Internationally Recognized

Synthesis is used in academic research universities, hospitals, government agencies, private corporations and non-governmental organziations throughout the world.

Synthesis applies the latest in automation and enhanced analytic functionality for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of conducting literature reviews...

Free HTML5 Template

How to get started

Explore the features of Synthesis to see what truly sets it apart from other approaches for managing and analyzing the academic and business literature.

Synthesis provides online embedded searching on major bibliographical databases, validated automated de-duplication of references, automated importing of PDFs, methods to analyze the literature, and many more features.

Synthesis is available for Windows, Macintosh, Linux and as a Java application that can be run on any platform.

Find out more

I want to have Access to the latest Literature in the Fastest Possible way and Quickly Assess it. Physician
We need Systems with Automation and Artificial Intelligence that Allows Literature Reviews to be conducted quickly and efficiently. Academic Researcher
We need a Computer System for Healthcare that Puts the Information at My Finger Tips and Tells Me Everything I Need to Know. Hospital Administrator
We need Information Systems that Aren't Based in 1970s Technology Medical Student

Keep Up to Date about Synthesis

Synthesis research inc..

Synthesis Research Inc is a software development company focused on improving the way that literature is managed and analyzed. This desire is based around the goal of providing the best synthesized knowledge for supporting evidence-based decision making.

Synthesis Research Inc applies the latest computer science algorithms based around automation and information retrieval and management for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of conducting literature reviews through automating manual processes and enhancing the workflow.

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Buyer’s Guide To Literature Review Software

About this guide.

Our team has been developing literature review software for the world’s leading research organizations for over 15 years. Though the software has evolved dramatically over that period, the questions we are asked about the features and benefits of review software haven’t changed much.

In this guide, we present a comprehensive list of things to consider when evaluating a literature review software solution.

This guide will:

  • Explain what literature review software does and how it is used
  • Discuss where literature review software fits within the overall review process
  • Provide a checklist of features to help you with the evaluation process

Who should read this guide?

If you are doing literature reviews today, you already know that they are increasingly required for regulatory compliance and safety monitoring. You also probably know that, while reviews sound simple on the surface, they are big projects that can consume significant amounts of time and resources. Doing reviews well can be a challenge.

This guide can benefit you if:

Market Readiness

You are struggling with the amount of time it takes to conduct a review

If you are involved in the preparation of literature reviews for Clinical Evaluation Reports (CERs), Performance Evaluation Reports (PER), or if you track literature for safety monitoring, you need to be able to enforce standardized review processes and methods across your organization. Since your work could be subject to an audit, you need to be prepared.

Client Demand

You need to reduce the time it takes to conduct a review

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You’re concerned about manual errors compromising the quality of your review

Did I make a transcription error? Did we forget to review that paper by Nosyk? Has any of my data changed? Worries like these can keep a researcher up at night and can seriously impact the quality and integrity of your review.

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You’re not sure which literature review software is the best fit for you

What does literature review software do.

Today’s literature review software automates the many manual tasks involved in conducting a review. Literature reviews are process intensive and data heavy, and not so long ago they typically involved circulating paper copies of articles and screening forms to the review team who captured their work on spreadsheets.

Most reviewers currently use some form of technology to help manage the information and data in their review projects. In fact, a recent survey showed that the vast majority of reviewers still use spreadsheets at some stage of their review process.

Of course, it is possible to produce results using spreadsheets, or even paper forms. That said, each of these methods has a number of drawbacks that can have significant impact on both the quality and the volume of research produced.

Just Say No To Spreadsheets

When using spreadsheets for review tasks such as screening, data extraction, or storing references, you may find yourself dealing with some or all of the following:

  • A reviewing “bottleneck” because each stage of the review must be completed before the next one is started
  • Manual data entry errors that can be difficult or even impossible to catch
  • Excessive manual work in checking for disagreements and creating reports
  • Questions about the validity of your results due to lost files or undocumented processes

Where does literature review software fit in the process?

Literature review software is designed to reduce the manual work involved in conducting reviews and maintain a complete record of the work that’s been done on your review projects.

But how does it do this?

Once you’ve defined your research question and completed your search of relevant databases, you can typically import your search results into your literature review software and start your screening and data extraction processes.

Similar to the paper forms used in the past, literature review software uses electronic forms to record the answers to inclusion/exclusion questions. Some forms can be configured for data extraction. One of the main advantages that electronic forms provide is that they collect all your review data in one place, eliminating the need to manually cut and paste collate individual responses for processing and analysis. 

Systematic Review Lifecycle

“Why input data twice when it only needs to be done once?”

Digital forms can be reused an unlimited number of times. Depending on the form and the reviewer, they can usually be completed faster than writing or typing since they can incorporate easy-to-use answer formats like checkboxes or radio buttons. They can also validate your data and even perform calculations before you submit it, giving you cleaner results and fewer errors.

Screening and data extraction are the most common review tasks facilitated by literature review software, but there are often other valuable features such as direct connection to popular databases such as PubMed, automated report generation, and reviewer roles and permissions management.

With regulatory bodies calling for continuous monitoring and assessment of safety data, having your entire review project and all its references, full text articles and audit trail stored within your literature review software can be a huge time saver when it comes time for updates.

As literature reviews have become a fundamental component of the risk management system for many organizations, they are increasingly scrutinized for thoroughness, standardized processes, and data integrity. By maintaining complete, accurate records of every reviewer action and decision, and allowing you to establish and enforce repeatable processes, literature review software makes it easier to deliver regulatory compliant, audit-ready literature reviews on time and on budget.

Top 5 Ways Systematic Review Software Can Help You

#1 compliance.

If there’s one thing that almost every reviewer wishes for, it’s more time. In our Survey of Literature Reviews, approximately one quarter of the respondents mentioned their greatest review challenge is the time involved in completing a review – to conduct searches, remove duplicates and irrelevant articles, complete screening, extract data, and prepare reports. In a recent survey of our user community, reviewers reported that literature review software reduced the time required to produce reviews by 40%-60%.

#3 Automation

No one wants to discover a mistake in their review right before – or worse, during – an audit.

Duplicate references, transcription errors, and data entry errors can skew, or even invalidate, your results. Literature review software can provide built-in automation and validation tools that dramatically reduce the potential for errors in your reviews.

#4 Compatibility

Although literature review software can help with many tasks throughout the review lifecycle, your process likely includes other tools for searching and storing references and data. You also likely need to use the information from your completed review in reports and submissions. Your literature review software should allow you to import and export your data in all the most common file formats, such as CSV, Excel, Word, PDF, RIS, and ENLX.

#5 Collaboration

Literature review software packages today are typically cloud-based and can be used from any browser on any device. With a centralized, shared data set, your team can collaborate in real time, regardless of location.

Your Literature Review Software Checklist

Deciding to adopt literature review software is more than just a monetary investment – it’s a commitment to a new way of doing things. And just like any significant purchase, it’s always a good idea to do your research first.

Make sure you conduct a thorough assessment of each of the available options to choose the software that is the best fit for your needs. Below is a list of features that may be offered by systematic review software packages.

This requirement applies to my assessement

Automatic reference updates to prevent the review from becoming out-of-date

Compatible with standard reference file types (RIS, CSV, and ENLX)

Direct integration with reference databases

Keyword highlighting for faster screening

Full-Text Retrieval

Data extraction, project management.

Real-time updates on project progress to inform stakeholders and facilitate planning

Live customer support, professional services offerings and training

Enterprise-Grade Software (High availability and redundancy,  scalable to handle hundreds of thousands of references per project, secure and regulatory compliant )

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Literature Review Tips & Tools

  • Tips & Examples

Organizational Tools

Tools for systematic reviews.

  • Free online brainstorming/mindmapping tool that also has a free iPad app.
  • Coggle Another free online mindmapping tool.
  • Organization & Structure tips from Purdue University Online Writing Lab
  • Literature Reviews from The Writing Center at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gives several suggestions and descriptions of ways to organize your lit review.
  • Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions "The Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions is the official guide that describes in detail the process of preparing and maintaining Cochrane systematic reviews on the effects of healthcare interventions. "
  • Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) website "PRISMA is an evidence-based minimum set of items for reporting in systematic reviews and meta-analyses. PRISMA focuses on the reporting of reviews evaluating randomized trials, but can also be used as a basis for reporting systematic reviews of other types of research, particularly evaluations of interventions."
  • PRISMA Flow Diagram Generator Free tool that will generate a PRISMA flow diagram from a CSV file (sample CSV template provided) more... less... Please cite as: Haddaway, N. R., Page, M. J., Pritchard, C. C., & McGuinness, L. A. (2022). PRISMA2020: An R package and Shiny app for producing PRISMA 2020-compliant flow diagrams, with interactivity for optimised digital transparency and Open Synthesis Campbell Systematic Reviews, 18, e1230.
  • Rayyan "Rayyan is a 100% FREE web application to help systematic review authors perform their job in a quick, easy and enjoyable fashion. Authors create systematic reviews, collaborate on them, maintain them over time and get suggestions for article inclusion."
  • Covidence Covidence is a tool to help manage systematic reviews (and create PRISMA flow diagrams). **UMass Amherst doesn't subscribe, but Covidence offers a free trial for 1 review of no more than 500 records. It is also set up for researchers to pay for each review.
  • PROSPERO - Systematic Review Protocol Registry "PROSPERO accepts registrations for systematic reviews, rapid reviews and umbrella reviews. PROSPERO does not accept scoping reviews or literature scans. Sibling PROSPERO sites registers systematic reviews of human studies and systematic reviews of animal studies."
  • Critical Appraisal Tools from JBI Joanna Briggs Institute at the University of Adelaide provides these checklists to help evaluate different types of publications that could be included in a review.
  • Systematic Review Toolbox "The Systematic Review Toolbox is a community-driven, searchable, web-based catalogue of tools that support the systematic review process across multiple domains. The resource aims to help reviewers find appropriate tools based on how they provide support for the systematic review process. Users can perform a simple keyword search (i.e. Quick Search) to locate tools, a more detailed search (i.e. Advanced Search) allowing users to select various criteria to find specific types of tools and submit new tools to the database. Although the focus of the Toolbox is on identifying software tools to support systematic reviews, other tools or support mechanisms (such as checklists, guidelines and reporting standards) can also be found."
  • Abstrackr Free, open-source tool that "helps you upload and organize the results of a literature search for a systematic review. It also makes it possible for your team to screen, organize, and manipulate all of your abstracts in one place." -From Center for Evidence Synthesis in Health
  • SRDR Plus (Systematic Review Data Repository: Plus) An open-source tool for extracting, managing,, and archiving data developed by the Center for Evidence Synthesis in Health at Brown University
  • RoB 2 Tool (Risk of Bias for Randomized Trials) A revised Cochrane risk of bias tool for randomized trials
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Suitable for all levels of experienced reviewers in a variety of sectors including health, education, social science and many others.

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Researchers and students, universities, societies and hospitals, reviews started, take a look inside, watch a quick demo.

See how Covidence makes doing your review more intuitive, streamlined and fun. 


Start streamlining your review, import citations.

Covidence works seamlessly with your favourite reference managers like EndNote, Zotero, Refworks, Mendeley or any tool that support RIS, CSV or PubMedXML formats.

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Libraries | Research Guides

Literature reviews.

  • What is a Literature Review?
  • Planning the Review
  • The Research Question
  • Choosing Where to Search

Concept Maps

Using bibliographic software, annotate your articles, group literature into categories.

  • Writing the Review

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

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.
  • EndNote Support by Jason Kruse Last Updated Apr 5, 2024 1650 views this year
  • Zotero Support by Geoff Morse Last Updated Apr 5, 2024 17662 views this year
  • Mendeley Support by Steven Adams Last Updated Aug 8, 2022 19141 views this year
  • How to Choose: EndNote, Mendeley, or Zotero by Becca Greenstein Last Updated Apr 5, 2024 11578 views this year

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.

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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How to Master at Literature Mapping: 5 Most Recommended Tools to Use

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After putting in a lot of thought, time, and effort, you’ve finally selected a research topic . As the first step towards conducting a successful and impactful research is completed, what follows it is the gruesome process of literature review . Despite the brainstorming, the struggle of understanding how much literature is enough for your research paper or thesis is very much real. Unlike the old days of flipping through pages for hours in a library, literature has come easy to us due to its availability on the internet through Open Access journals and other publishing platforms. This ubiquity has made it even more difficult to cover only significant data! Nevertheless, an ultimate solution to this problem of conglomerating relevant data is literature mapping .

software to organize literature review

Table of Contents

What is Literature Mapping?

Literature mapping is one of the key strategies when searching literature for your research. Since writing a literature review requires following a systematic method to identify, evaluate, and interpret the work of other researchers, academics, and practitioners from the same research field, creating a literature map proves beneficial. Mapping ideas, arguments, and concepts in a literature is an imperative part of literature review. Additionally, it is stated as an established method for externalizing knowledge and thinking processes. A map of literature is a “graphical plan”, “diagrammatic representation”, or a “geographical metaphor” of the research topic.

Researchers are often overwhelmed by the large amount of information they encounter and have difficulty identifying and organizing information in the context of their research. It is recommended that experts in their fields develop knowledge structures that are richer not only in terms of knowledge, but also in terms of the links between this knowledge. This knowledge linking process is termed as literature mapping .

How Literature Mapping Helps Researchers?

Literature mapping helps researchers in following ways:

  • It provides concrete evidence of a student’s understanding and interpretation of the research field to share with both peers and professors.
  • Switching to another modality helps researchers form patterns to see what might otherwise be hidden in the research area.
  • Furthermore, it helps in identifying gaps in pertinent research.
  • Finally, t lets researchers identify potential original areas of study and parameters of their work.

How to Make a Literature Map?

Literature mapping is not only an organizational tool, but also a reflexive tool. Furthermore, it distinguishes between declarative knowledge shown by identifying key concepts, ideas and methods, and procedural knowledge shown through classifying these key concepts and establishing links or relationships between them. The literature review conceptualizes research structures as a “knowledge production domain” that defines a productive and ongoing constructive element. Thus, the approaches emphasize the identity of different scientific institutions from different fields, which can be mapped theoretically, methodologically, or fundamentally.

The two literature mapping approaches are:

  • Mapping with key ideas or descriptors: This is developed from keywords in research topics.
  • Author mapping: This is also termed as citation matching that identifies key experts in the field and may include the use of citations to interlink them.

Generally, literature maps can be subdivided by categorization processes based on theories, definitions, or chronology, and cross-reference between the two types of mapping. Furthermore, researchers use mind maps as a deductive process, general concept-specific mapping (results in a right triangle), or an inductive process mapping to specific concepts (results in an inverted triangle).

What are Different Literature Mapping Methods?

literature mapping

The different types of literature mapping and representations are as follows:

1. Feature Mapping:

Argument structures developed from summary registration pages.

2. Topic Tree Mapping:

Summary maps showing the development of the topic in sub-themes up to any number of levels.

3. Content Mapping:

Linear structure of organization of content through hierarchical classification.

4. Taxonomic Mapping:

Classification through standardized taxonomies.

5. Concept Mapping:

Linking concepts and processes allows procedural knowledge from declarative information. With a basic principle of cause and effect and problem solving, concept maps can show the relationship between theory and practice.

6. Rhetorical Mapping:

The use of rhetoric communication to discuss, influence, or persuade is particularly important in social policy and political science and can be considered a linking strategy. A number of rhetorical tools have been identified that can be used to present a case, including ethos, metaphor, trope, and irony.

7. Citation Mapping:

Citation mapping or matching is a research process established to specifically establish links between authors by citing their articles. Traditional manual citation indexes have been replaced by automated databases that allow visual mapping methods (e.g. ISI Web of Science). In conclusion, citation matching in a subject area can be effective in determining the frequency of authors and specific articles.

5 Most Useful Literature Mapping Tools

Technology has made the literature mapping process easier now. However, with numerous options available online, it does get difficult for researchers to select one tool that is efficient. These tools are built behind explicit metadata and citations when coupled with some new machine learning techniques. Here are the most recommended literature mapping tools to choose from:

1. Connected Papers

a. Connected Papers is a simple, yet powerful, one-stop visualization tool that uses a single starter article.

b. It is easy to use tool that quickly identifies similar papers with just one “Seed paper” (a relevant paper).

c. Furthermore, it helps to detect seminal papers as well as review papers.

d. It creates a similarity graph not a citation graph and connecting lines (based on the similarity metric).

e. Does not necessarily show direct citation relationships.

f. The identified papers can then be exported into most reference managers like Zotero, EndNote, Mendeley, etc.

2. Inciteful

a. Inciteful is a customizable tool that can be used with multiple starter articles in an iterative process.

b. Results from multiple seed papers can be imported in a batch with a BibTex file.

c. Inciteful produces the following lists of papers by default:

  • Similar papers (uses Adamic/Adar index)
  • “Most Important Papers in the Graph” (based on PageRank)
  • Recent Papers by the Top 100 Authors
  • The Most Important Recent Papers

d. It allows filtration of results by keywords.

e. Importantly, seed papers can also be directly added by title or DOI.

a. Litmaps follows an iterative process and creates visualizations for found papers.

b. It allows importing of papers using BibTex format which can be exported from most reference managers like Zotero, EndNote, Mendeley. In addition, it allows paper imports from an ORCID profile.

c. Keywords search method is used to find Litmaps indexed papers.

d. Additionally, it allows setting up email updates of “emergent literature”.

e. Its unique feature that allows overlay of different maps helps to look for overlaps of papers.

f. Lastly, its explore function allows finding related papers to add to the map.

4. Citation-based Sites

a. CoCites is a citation-based method for researching scientific literature.

b. Citation Gecko is a tool for visualizing links between articles.

c. VOSviewer is a software tool for creating and visualizing bibliometric networks. These networks are for example journals, may include researchers or individual publications, which can be generated based on citation, bibliographic matching , co-citation, or co-authorship relationships. VOSviewer also offers text mining functionality that can be used to create and visualize networks of important terms extracted from a scientific literature.

5. Citation Context Tools

a. Scite allow users to see how a publication has been cited by providing the context of the citation and a classification describing whether it provides supporting or contrasting evidence for the cited claim.

b. Semantic Scholar is a freely available, AI-powered research tool for scientific literature.

Have you ever mapped your literature? Did you use any of these tools before? Lastly, what are the strategies and methods you use for literature mapping ? Let us know how this article helped you in creating a hassle-free and comprehensive literature map.

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Literature Review with MAXQDA

Interview transcription examples, make the most out of your literature review.

Literature reviews are an important step in the data analysis journey of many research projects, but often it is a time-consuming and arduous affair. Whether you are reviewing literature for writing a meta-analysis or for the background section of your thesis, work with MAXQDA. Our product comes with many exciting features which make your literature review faster and easier than ever before. Whether you are a first-time researcher or an old pro, MAXQDA is your professional software solution with advanced tools for you and your team.

Literature Review with MAXQDA - User interface

How to conduct a literature review with MAXQDA

Conducting a literature review with MAXQDA is easy because you can easily import bibliographic information and full texts. In addition, MAXQDA provides excellent tools to facilitate each phase of your literature review, such as notes, paraphrases, auto-coding, summaries, and tools to integrate your findings.

Step one: Plan your literature review

Similar to other research projects, one should carefully plan a literature review. Before getting started with searching and analyzing literature, carefully think about the purpose of your literature review and the questions you want to answer. This will help you to develop a search strategy which is needed to stay on top of things. A search strategy involves deciding on literature databases, search terms, and practical and methodological criteria for the selection of high-quality scientific literature.

MAXQDA supports you during this stage with memos and the newly developed Questions-Themes-Theories tool (QTT). Both are the ideal place to store your research questions and search parameters. Moreover, the Question-Themes-Theories tool is perfectly suited to support your literature review project because it provides a bridge between your MAXQDA project and your research report. It offers the perfect enviornment to bring together findings, record conclusions and develop theories.

software to organize literature review

Step two: Search, Select, Save your material

Follow your search strategy. Use the databases and search terms you have identified to find the literature you need. Then, scan the search results for relevance by reading the title, abstract, or keywords. Try to determine whether the paper falls within the narrower area of the research question and whether it fulfills the objectives of the review. In addition, check whether the search results fulfill your pre-specified eligibility criteria. As this step typically requires precise reading rather than a quick scan, you might want to perform it in MAXQDA. If the piece of literature fulfills your criteria and context, you can save the bibliographic information using a reference management system which is a common approach among researchers as these programs automatically extract a paper’s meta-data from the publishing website. You can easily import this bibliographic data into MAXQDA via a specialized import tool. MAXQDA is compatible with all reference management programs that are able to export their literature databases in RIS format which is a standard format for bibliographic information. This is the case with all mainstream literature management programs such as Citavi, DocEar, Endnote, JabRef, Mendeley, and Zotero.

Search, select, save your literature

Step three: Import & Organize your material in MAXQDA

Importing bibliographic data into MAXQDA is easy and works seamlessly for all reference management programs that use the standard RIS files. MAXQDA offers an import option dedicated to bibliographic data which you can find in the MAXQDA Import tab. To import the selected literature, just click on the corresponding button, select the data you want to import, and click okay. Upon import, each literature entry becomes its own text document. If full texts are imported, MAXQDA automatically connects the full text to the literature entry with an internal link. The individual information in the literature entries is automatically coded for later analysis so that, for example, all titles or abstracts can be compiled and searched. To help you keeping your literature (review) organized, MAXQDA automatically creates a document group called “References” which contains the individual literature entries. Like full texts or interview documents, the bibliographic entries can be searched, coded, linked, edited, and you can add memos for further qualitative and quantitative content analysis (Kuckartz & Rädiker, 2019). Especially, when running multiple searches using different databases or search terms, you should carefully document your approach. Besides being a great place to store the respective search parameters, memos are perfectly suited to capture your ideas while reviewing our literature and can be attached to text segments, documents, document groups, and much more.

Import and organize your literature

Analyze your literature with MAXQDA

Once imported into MAXQDA, you can explore your material using a variety of tools and functions. With MAXQDA as your literature review & analysis software, you have numerous possibilities for analyzing your literature and writing your literature review – impossible to mention all. Thus, we can present only a subset of tools here. Check out our literature about performing literature reviews with MAXQDA to discover more possibilities.

Use the power of AI for your analysis

AI Assist: Introducing AI to literature reviews

AI Assist – MAXQDA’s AI-based add-on module – can simplify your literature reviews in many ways. Let AI Assist automatically summarize entire papers and text segments. Automatically create summaries of all coded segments of a code or generate suggestions for subcodes, and if you don’t know a word’s or concept’s meaning, use AI Assist to get a definition without leaving MAXQDA. Visit our research guide for even more ideas on how AI can support your literature review:

AI for Literature Review

Code & Retrieve important segments

Coding qualitative data lies at the heart of many qualitative data analysis approaches and can be useful for literature reviews as well. Coding refers to the process of labeling segments of your material. For example, you may want to code definitions of certain terms, pro and con arguments, how a specific method is used, and so on. In a later step, MAXQDA allows you to compile all text segments coded with one (or more) codes of interest from one or more papers, so that you can for example compare definitions across papers.

But there is more. MAXQDA offers multiple ways of coding, such as in-vivo coding, highlighters, emoticodes, Creative Coding, or the Smart Coding Tool. The compiled segments can be enriched with variables and the segment’s context accessed with just one click. MAXQDA’s Text Search & Autocode tool is especially well-suited for a literature review, as it allows one to explore large amounts of text without reading or coding them first. Automatically search for keywords (or dictionaries of keywords), such as important concepts for your literature review, and automatically code them with just a few clicks.

Code name suggestions and quick resize

Paraphrase literature into your own words

Another approach is to paraphrase the existing literature. A paraphrase is a restatement of a text or passage in your own words, while retaining the meaning and the main ideas of the original. Paraphrasing can be especially helpful in the context of literature reviews, because paraphrases force you to systematically summarize the most important statements (and only the most important statements) which can help to stay on top of things.

With MAXQDA as your literature review software, you not only have a tool for paraphrasing literature but also tools to analyze the paraphrases you have written. For example, the Categorize Paraphrases tool (allows you to code your parpahrases) or the Paraphrases Matrix (allows you to compare paraphrases side-by-side between individual documents or groups of documents.)

Summaries & Overview tables: A look at the Bigger Picture

When conducting a literature review you can easily get lost. But with MAXQDA as your literature review software, you will never lose track of the bigger picture. Among other tools, MAXQDA’s overview and summary tables are especially useful for aggregating your literature review results. MAXQDA offers overview tables for almost everything, codes, memos, coded segments, links, and so on. With MAXQDA literature review tools you can create compressed summaries of sources that can be effectively compared and represented, and with just one click you can easily export your overview and summary tables and integrate them into your literature review report.

Summarize content with MAXQDA for your literature review

Visualize your qualitative data

The proverb “a picture is worth a thousand words” also applies to literature reviews. That is why MAXQDA offers a variety of Visual Tools that allow you to get a quick overview of the data, and help you to identify patterns. Of course, you can export your visualizations in various formats to enrich your final report. One particularly useful visual tool for literature reviews is the Word Cloud. It visualizes the most frequent words and allows you to explore key terms and the central themes of one or more papers. Thanks to the interactive connection between your visualizations with your MAXQDA data, you will never lose sight of the big picture. Another particularly useful tool is MAXQDA’s word/code frequency tool with which you can analyze and visualize the frequencies of words or codes in one or more documents. As with Word Clouds, nonsensical words can be added to the stop list and excluded from the analysis.

QTT: Synthesize your results and write up the review

MAXQDA has an innovative workspace to gather important visualization, notes, segments, and other analytics results. The perfect tool to organize your thoughts and data. Create a separate worksheet for your topics and research questions, fill it with associated analysis elements from MAXQDA, and add your conclusions, theories, and insights as you go. For example, you can add Word Clouds, important coded segments, and your literature summaries and write down your insights. Subsequently, you can view all analysis elements and insights to write your final conclusion. The Questions-Themes-Theories tool is perfectly suited to help you finalize your literature review reports. With just one click you can export your worksheet and use it as a starting point for your literature review report.

Collect relevant insights and develop new theories with MAXQDA

Literature about Literature Reviews and Analysis

We offer a variety of free learning materials to help you get started with your literature review. Check out our Getting Started Guide to get a quick overview of MAXQDA and step-by-step instructions on setting up your software and creating your first project with your brand new QDA software. In addition, the free Literature Reviews Guide explains how to conduct a literature review with MAXQDA in more detail.

Getting started with MAXQDA

Getting Started with MAXQDA

Literature Review Guide

Literature Reviews with MAXQDA

A literature review is a critical analysis and summary of existing research and literature on a particular topic or research question. It involves systematically searching and evaluating a range of sources, such as books, academic journals, conference proceedings, and other published or unpublished works, to identify and analyze the relevant findings, methodologies, theories, and arguments related to the research question or topic.

A literature review’s purpose is to provide a comprehensive and critical overview of the current state of knowledge and understanding of a topic, to identify gaps and inconsistencies in existing research, and to highlight areas where further research is needed. Literature reviews are commonly used in academic research, as they provide a framework for developing new research and help to situate the research within the broader context of existing knowledge.

A literature review is a critical evaluation of existing research on a particular topic and is part of almost every research project. The literature review’s purpose is to identify gaps in current knowledge, synthesize existing research findings, and provide a foundation for further research. Over the years, numerous types of literature reviews have emerged. To empower you in coming to an informed decision, we briefly present the most common literature review methods.

  • Narrative Review : A narrative review summarizes and synthesizes the existing literature on a particular topic in a narrative or story-like format. This type of review is often used to provide an overview of the current state of knowledge on a topic, for example in scientific papers or final theses.
  • Systematic Review : A systematic review is a comprehensive and structured approach to reviewing the literature on a particular topic with the aim of answering a defined research question. It involves a systematic search of the literature using pre-specified eligibility criteria and a structured evaluation of the quality of the research.
  • Meta-Analysis : A meta-analysis is a type of systematic review that uses statistical techniques to combine and analyze the results from multiple studies on the same topic. The goal of a meta-analysis is to provide a more robust and reliable estimate of the effect size than can be obtained from any single study.
  • Scoping Review : A scoping review is a type of systematic review that aims to map the existing literature on a particular topic in order to identify the scope and nature of the research that has been done. It is often used to identify gaps in the literature and inform future research.

There is no “best” way to do a literature review, as the process can vary depending on the research question, field of study, and personal preferences. However, here are some general guidelines that can help to ensure that your literature review is comprehensive and effective:

  • Carefully plan your literature review : Before you start searching and analyzing literature you should define a research question and develop a search strategy (for example identify relevant databases, and search terms). A clearly defined research question and search strategy will help you to focus your search and ensure that you are gathering relevant information. MAXQDA’s Questions-Themes-Theories tool is the perfect place to store your analysis plan.
  • Evaluate your sources : Screen your search results for relevance to your research question, for example by reading abstracts. Once you have identified relevant sources, read them critically and evaluate their quality and relevance to your research question. Consider factors such as the methodology used, the reliability of the data, and the overall strength of the argument presented.
  • Synthesize your findings : After evaluating your sources, synthesize your findings by identifying common themes, arguments, and gaps in the existing research. This will help you to develop a comprehensive understanding of the current state of knowledge on your topic.
  • Write up your review : Finally, write up your literature review, ensuring that it is well-structured and clearly communicates your findings. Include a critical analysis of the sources you have reviewed, and use evidence from the literature to support your arguments and conclusions.

Overall, the key to a successful literature review is to be systematic, critical, and comprehensive in your search and evaluation of sources.

As in all aspects of scientific work, preparation is the key to success. Carefully think about the purpose of your literature review, the questions you want to answer, and your search strategy. The writing process itself will differ depending on the your literature review method. For example, when writing a narrative review use the identified literature to support your arguments, approach, and conclusions. By contrast, a systematic review typically contains the same parts as other scientific papers: Abstract, Introduction (purpose and scope), Methods (Search strategy, inclusion/exclusion characteristics, …), Results (identified sources, their main arguments, findings, …), Discussion (critical analysis of the sources you have reviewed), Conclusion (gaps or inconsistencies in the existing research, future research, implications, etc.).

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  • Literature review assignments A video on how to organize literature reviews.
  • Select  the most relevant material from your sources  With your research question in mind, read each of your sources and identify the material that is most relevant to that question. This might be material that answers the question directly, but it might also be material that helps explain why it’s important to ask the question or that is otherwise relevant to your question. When you pull this material from your source, you can extract it as a direct quotation, or you can paraphrase the passage or idea. (Make sure you enclose direct quotations in quotation marks!) A single source may have more than one idea relevant to your question.  
  • Arrange  that material so you can focus on it apart from the source text itself Many writers put the material they have selected into a grid. They place each quotation or paraphrase in a cell in that grid. Arranging your selected material in a grid has two benefits: first, you can view your relevant material away from the source text (meaning you are now working with fewer words and pages!). Second, you can view all of the material that will go into your lit review in one place.  

Once you have created these groups of ideas, approaches, or themes, give each one a label. The labels describe the points, themes, or topics that are the backbone of your paper’s structure.

Now that you have identified the topics you will discuss in your lit review, look them over as a whole. Do you see any gaps that you should fill by finding additional sources? If so, do that research and add those sources to your groupings.

Once you have an assertion for each of your groupings, put those assertions in the order that you want to use in the lit review. This may be the order that has the best logical flow, or the order that tells the story you want to tell in the lit review.

Source:  Organizing Literature Reviews: The Basics from George Mason University

  • makes it easy to organize your ideas visually in a way that makes sense to you and others.
  • Coggle Coggle is online software for creating and sharing mindmaps and flowcharts.
  • Google Sheets Create a matrix with author names across the top (columns), themes on the left side (rows).
  • Microsoft Excel Create a matrix with author names across the top (columns), themes on the left side (rows).
  • Mind42 Mind42 is a free online mind mapping software. In short: Mind42 offers you a software that runs in your browser to create mind maps - a special form of a structured diagram to visually organize information.
  • Popplet Mind maps, flow charts, timelines, story boards and more.
  • Scapple Ever scribbled ideas on a piece of paper and drawn lines between related thoughts? Then you already know what Scapple does. It's a virtual sheet of paper that lets you make notes anywhere and connect them using lines or arrows.
  • XMind The full-featured mind mapping and brainstorming app.

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Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review

Marco pautasso.

1 Centre for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology (CEFE), CNRS, Montpellier, France

2 Centre for Biodiversity Synthesis and Analysis (CESAB), FRB, Aix-en-Provence, France

Literature reviews are in great demand in most scientific fields. Their need stems from the ever-increasing output of scientific publications [1] . For example, compared to 1991, in 2008 three, eight, and forty times more papers were indexed in Web of Science on malaria, obesity, and biodiversity, respectively [2] . Given such mountains of papers, scientists cannot be expected to examine in detail every single new paper relevant to their interests [3] . Thus, it is both advantageous and necessary to rely on regular summaries of the recent literature. Although recognition for scientists mainly comes from primary research, timely literature reviews can lead to new synthetic insights and are often widely read [4] . For such summaries to be useful, however, they need to be compiled in a professional way [5] .

When starting from scratch, reviewing the literature can require a titanic amount of work. That is why researchers who have spent their career working on a certain research issue are in a perfect position to review that literature. Some graduate schools are now offering courses in reviewing the literature, given that most research students start their project by producing an overview of what has already been done on their research issue [6] . However, it is likely that most scientists have not thought in detail about how to approach and carry out a literature review.

Reviewing the literature requires the ability to juggle multiple tasks, from finding and evaluating relevant material to synthesising information from various sources, from critical thinking to paraphrasing, evaluating, and citation skills [7] . In this contribution, I share ten simple rules I learned working on about 25 literature reviews as a PhD and postdoctoral student. Ideas and insights also come from discussions with coauthors and colleagues, as well as feedback from reviewers and editors.

Rule 1: Define a Topic and Audience

How to choose which topic to review? There are so many issues in contemporary science that you could spend a lifetime of attending conferences and reading the literature just pondering what to review. On the one hand, if you take several years to choose, several other people may have had the same idea in the meantime. On the other hand, only a well-considered topic is likely to lead to a brilliant literature review [8] . The topic must at least be:

  • interesting to you (ideally, you should have come across a series of recent papers related to your line of work that call for a critical summary),
  • an important aspect of the field (so that many readers will be interested in the review and there will be enough material to write it), and
  • a well-defined issue (otherwise you could potentially include thousands of publications, which would make the review unhelpful).

Ideas for potential reviews may come from papers providing lists of key research questions to be answered [9] , but also from serendipitous moments during desultory reading and discussions. In addition to choosing your topic, you should also select a target audience. In many cases, the topic (e.g., web services in computational biology) will automatically define an audience (e.g., computational biologists), but that same topic may also be of interest to neighbouring fields (e.g., computer science, biology, etc.).

Rule 2: Search and Re-search the Literature

After having chosen your topic and audience, start by checking the literature and downloading relevant papers. Five pieces of advice here:

  • keep track of the search items you use (so that your search can be replicated [10] ),
  • keep a list of papers whose pdfs you cannot access immediately (so as to retrieve them later with alternative strategies),
  • use a paper management system (e.g., Mendeley, Papers, Qiqqa, Sente),
  • define early in the process some criteria for exclusion of irrelevant papers (these criteria can then be described in the review to help define its scope), and
  • do not just look for research papers in the area you wish to review, but also seek previous reviews.

The chances are high that someone will already have published a literature review ( Figure 1 ), if not exactly on the issue you are planning to tackle, at least on a related topic. If there are already a few or several reviews of the literature on your issue, my advice is not to give up, but to carry on with your own literature review,

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The bottom-right situation (many literature reviews but few research papers) is not just a theoretical situation; it applies, for example, to the study of the impacts of climate change on plant diseases, where there appear to be more literature reviews than research studies [33] .

  • discussing in your review the approaches, limitations, and conclusions of past reviews,
  • trying to find a new angle that has not been covered adequately in the previous reviews, and
  • incorporating new material that has inevitably accumulated since their appearance.

When searching the literature for pertinent papers and reviews, the usual rules apply:

  • be thorough,
  • use different keywords and database sources (e.g., DBLP, Google Scholar, ISI Proceedings, JSTOR Search, Medline, Scopus, Web of Science), and
  • look at who has cited past relevant papers and book chapters.

Rule 3: Take Notes While Reading

If you read the papers first, and only afterwards start writing the review, you will need a very good memory to remember who wrote what, and what your impressions and associations were while reading each single paper. My advice is, while reading, to start writing down interesting pieces of information, insights about how to organize the review, and thoughts on what to write. This way, by the time you have read the literature you selected, you will already have a rough draft of the review.

Of course, this draft will still need much rewriting, restructuring, and rethinking to obtain a text with a coherent argument [11] , but you will have avoided the danger posed by staring at a blank document. Be careful when taking notes to use quotation marks if you are provisionally copying verbatim from the literature. It is advisable then to reformulate such quotes with your own words in the final draft. It is important to be careful in noting the references already at this stage, so as to avoid misattributions. Using referencing software from the very beginning of your endeavour will save you time.

Rule 4: Choose the Type of Review You Wish to Write

After having taken notes while reading the literature, you will have a rough idea of the amount of material available for the review. This is probably a good time to decide whether to go for a mini- or a full review. Some journals are now favouring the publication of rather short reviews focusing on the last few years, with a limit on the number of words and citations. A mini-review is not necessarily a minor review: it may well attract more attention from busy readers, although it will inevitably simplify some issues and leave out some relevant material due to space limitations. A full review will have the advantage of more freedom to cover in detail the complexities of a particular scientific development, but may then be left in the pile of the very important papers “to be read” by readers with little time to spare for major monographs.

There is probably a continuum between mini- and full reviews. The same point applies to the dichotomy of descriptive vs. integrative reviews. While descriptive reviews focus on the methodology, findings, and interpretation of each reviewed study, integrative reviews attempt to find common ideas and concepts from the reviewed material [12] . A similar distinction exists between narrative and systematic reviews: while narrative reviews are qualitative, systematic reviews attempt to test a hypothesis based on the published evidence, which is gathered using a predefined protocol to reduce bias [13] , [14] . When systematic reviews analyse quantitative results in a quantitative way, they become meta-analyses. The choice between different review types will have to be made on a case-by-case basis, depending not just on the nature of the material found and the preferences of the target journal(s), but also on the time available to write the review and the number of coauthors [15] .

Rule 5: Keep the Review Focused, but Make It of Broad Interest

Whether your plan is to write a mini- or a full review, it is good advice to keep it focused 16 , 17 . Including material just for the sake of it can easily lead to reviews that are trying to do too many things at once. The need to keep a review focused can be problematic for interdisciplinary reviews, where the aim is to bridge the gap between fields [18] . If you are writing a review on, for example, how epidemiological approaches are used in modelling the spread of ideas, you may be inclined to include material from both parent fields, epidemiology and the study of cultural diffusion. This may be necessary to some extent, but in this case a focused review would only deal in detail with those studies at the interface between epidemiology and the spread of ideas.

While focus is an important feature of a successful review, this requirement has to be balanced with the need to make the review relevant to a broad audience. This square may be circled by discussing the wider implications of the reviewed topic for other disciplines.

Rule 6: Be Critical and Consistent

Reviewing the literature is not stamp collecting. A good review does not just summarize the literature, but discusses it critically, identifies methodological problems, and points out research gaps [19] . After having read a review of the literature, a reader should have a rough idea of:

  • the major achievements in the reviewed field,
  • the main areas of debate, and
  • the outstanding research questions.

It is challenging to achieve a successful review on all these fronts. A solution can be to involve a set of complementary coauthors: some people are excellent at mapping what has been achieved, some others are very good at identifying dark clouds on the horizon, and some have instead a knack at predicting where solutions are going to come from. If your journal club has exactly this sort of team, then you should definitely write a review of the literature! In addition to critical thinking, a literature review needs consistency, for example in the choice of passive vs. active voice and present vs. past tense.

Rule 7: Find a Logical Structure

Like a well-baked cake, a good review has a number of telling features: it is worth the reader's time, timely, systematic, well written, focused, and critical. It also needs a good structure. With reviews, the usual subdivision of research papers into introduction, methods, results, and discussion does not work or is rarely used. However, a general introduction of the context and, toward the end, a recapitulation of the main points covered and take-home messages make sense also in the case of reviews. For systematic reviews, there is a trend towards including information about how the literature was searched (database, keywords, time limits) [20] .

How can you organize the flow of the main body of the review so that the reader will be drawn into and guided through it? It is generally helpful to draw a conceptual scheme of the review, e.g., with mind-mapping techniques. Such diagrams can help recognize a logical way to order and link the various sections of a review [21] . This is the case not just at the writing stage, but also for readers if the diagram is included in the review as a figure. A careful selection of diagrams and figures relevant to the reviewed topic can be very helpful to structure the text too [22] .

Rule 8: Make Use of Feedback

Reviews of the literature are normally peer-reviewed in the same way as research papers, and rightly so [23] . As a rule, incorporating feedback from reviewers greatly helps improve a review draft. Having read the review with a fresh mind, reviewers may spot inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and ambiguities that had not been noticed by the writers due to rereading the typescript too many times. It is however advisable to reread the draft one more time before submission, as a last-minute correction of typos, leaps, and muddled sentences may enable the reviewers to focus on providing advice on the content rather than the form.

Feedback is vital to writing a good review, and should be sought from a variety of colleagues, so as to obtain a diversity of views on the draft. This may lead in some cases to conflicting views on the merits of the paper, and on how to improve it, but such a situation is better than the absence of feedback. A diversity of feedback perspectives on a literature review can help identify where the consensus view stands in the landscape of the current scientific understanding of an issue [24] .

Rule 9: Include Your Own Relevant Research, but Be Objective

In many cases, reviewers of the literature will have published studies relevant to the review they are writing. This could create a conflict of interest: how can reviewers report objectively on their own work [25] ? Some scientists may be overly enthusiastic about what they have published, and thus risk giving too much importance to their own findings in the review. However, bias could also occur in the other direction: some scientists may be unduly dismissive of their own achievements, so that they will tend to downplay their contribution (if any) to a field when reviewing it.

In general, a review of the literature should neither be a public relations brochure nor an exercise in competitive self-denial. If a reviewer is up to the job of producing a well-organized and methodical review, which flows well and provides a service to the readership, then it should be possible to be objective in reviewing one's own relevant findings. In reviews written by multiple authors, this may be achieved by assigning the review of the results of a coauthor to different coauthors.

Rule 10: Be Up-to-Date, but Do Not Forget Older Studies

Given the progressive acceleration in the publication of scientific papers, today's reviews of the literature need awareness not just of the overall direction and achievements of a field of inquiry, but also of the latest studies, so as not to become out-of-date before they have been published. Ideally, a literature review should not identify as a major research gap an issue that has just been addressed in a series of papers in press (the same applies, of course, to older, overlooked studies (“sleeping beauties” [26] )). This implies that literature reviewers would do well to keep an eye on electronic lists of papers in press, given that it can take months before these appear in scientific databases. Some reviews declare that they have scanned the literature up to a certain point in time, but given that peer review can be a rather lengthy process, a full search for newly appeared literature at the revision stage may be worthwhile. Assessing the contribution of papers that have just appeared is particularly challenging, because there is little perspective with which to gauge their significance and impact on further research and society.

Inevitably, new papers on the reviewed topic (including independently written literature reviews) will appear from all quarters after the review has been published, so that there may soon be the need for an updated review. But this is the nature of science [27] – [32] . I wish everybody good luck with writing a review of the literature.


Many thanks to M. Barbosa, K. Dehnen-Schmutz, T. Döring, D. Fontaneto, M. Garbelotto, O. Holdenrieder, M. Jeger, D. Lonsdale, A. MacLeod, P. Mills, M. Moslonka-Lefebvre, G. Stancanelli, P. Weisberg, and X. Xu for insights and discussions, and to P. Bourne, T. Matoni, and D. Smith for helpful comments on a previous draft.

Funding Statement

This work was funded by the French Foundation for Research on Biodiversity (FRB) through its Centre for Synthesis and Analysis of Biodiversity data (CESAB), as part of the NETSEED research project. The funders had no role in the preparation of the manuscript.

Literature Reviews

  • "How To" Books
  • Examples of Literature Reviews
  • Collecting Resources for a Literature Review
  • Organizing the Literature Review
  • Writing the Literature Review
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Organization of your Literature Review

What is the most effective way of presenting the information? What are the most important topics, subtopics, etc., that your review needs to include? What order should you present them?

Just like most academic papers, literature reviews must contain at least three basic elements: an introduction or background information section; the body of the review containing the discussion of sources; and, finally, a conclusion and/or recommendations section to end the paper.

Introduction: Gives a quick idea of the topic of the literature review, such as the central theme or organizational pattern.

Body: Contains your discussion of sources and is organized either chronologically, thematically, or methodologically (see below for more information on each).

Conclusions/Recommendations: Discuss what you have drawn from reviewing the literature so far. Where might the discussion proceed?

Once you have the basic categories in place, then you must consider how you will present the sources themselves within the body of your paper. Create an organizational method to focus this section even further.

To help you come up with an overall organizational framework for your review, consider the following scenario and then three typical ways of organizing the sources into a review:

You've decided to focus your literature review on materials dealing with sperm whales. This is because you've just finished reading Moby Dick, and you wonder if that whale's portrayal is really real. You start with some articles about the physiology of sperm whales in biology journals written in the 1980's. But these articles refer to some British biological studies performed on whales in the early 18th century. So you check those out. Then you look up a book written in 1968 with information on how sperm whales have been portrayed in other forms of art, such as in Alaskan poetry, in French painting, or on whale bone, as the whale hunters in the late 19th century used to do. This makes you wonder about American whaling methods during the time portrayed in Moby Dick, so you find some academic articles published in the last five years on how accurately Herman Melville portrayed the whaling scene in his novel.


If your review follows the chronological method, you could write about the materials above according to when they were published. For instance, first you would talk about the British biological studies of the 18th century, then about Moby Dick, published in 1851, then the book on sperm whales in other art (1968), and finally the biology articles (1980s) and the recent articles on American whaling of the 19th century. But there is relatively no continuity among subjects here. And notice that even though the sources on sperm whales in other art and on American whaling are written recently, they are about other subjects/objects that were created much earlier. Thus, the review loses its chronological focus.

By publication

Order your sources chronologically by publication if the order demonstrates a more important trend. For instance, you could order a review of literature on biological studies of sperm whales if the progression revealed a change in dissection practices of the researchers who wrote and/or conducted the studies.

Another way to organize sources chronologically is to examine the sources under a trend, such as the history of whaling. Then your review would have subsections according to eras within this period. For instance, the review might examine whaling from pre-1600-1699, 1700-1799, and 1800-1899. Using this method, you would combine the recent studies on American whaling in the 19th century with Moby Dick itself in the 1800-1899 category, even though the authors wrote a century apart.

Thematic reviews of literature are organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time. However, progression of time may still be an important factor in a thematic review. For instance, the sperm whale review could focus on the development of the harpoon for whale hunting. While the study focuses on one topic, harpoon technology, it will still be organized chronologically. The only difference here between a "chronological" and a "thematic" approach is what is emphasized the most: the development of the harpoon or the harpoon technology.

More authentic thematic reviews tend to break away from chronological order. For instance, a thematic review of material on sperm whales might examine how they are portrayed as "evil" in cultural documents. The subsections might include how they are personified, how their proportions are exaggerated, and their behaviors misunderstood. A review organized in this manner would shift between time periods within each section according to the point made.


A methodological approach differs from the two above in that the focusing factor usually does not have to do with the content of the material. Instead, it focuses on the "methods" of the researcher or writer. For the sperm whale project, one methodological approach would be to look at cultural differences between the portrayal of whales in American, British, and French art work. Or the review might focus on the economic impact of whaling on a community. A methodological scope will influence either the types of documents in the review or the way in which these documents are discussed.

Once you've decided on the organizational method for the body of the review, the sections you need to include in the paper should be easy to figure out. They should arise out of your organizational strategy. In other words, a chronological review would have subsections for each vital time period. A thematic review would have subtopics based upon factors that relate to the theme or issue.

Sometimes, though, you might need to add additional sections that are necessary for your study, but do not fit in the organizational strategy of the body. What other sections you include in the body is up to you. Put in only what is necessary. Here are a few other sections you might want to consider:

Current Situation: Information necessary to understand the topic or focus of the literature review.

History: The chronological progression of the field, the literature, or an idea that is necessary to understand the literature review, if the body of the literature review is not already a chronology.

Methods and/or Standards: The criteria you used to select the sources in your literature review or the way in which you present your information. For instance, you might explain that your review includes only peer-reviewed articles and journals.

Questions for Further Research: What questions about the field has the review sparked? How will you further your research as a result of the review?

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    Synthesis provides online embedded searching on major bibliographical databases, validated automated de-duplication of references, automated importing of PDFs, methods to analyze the literature, and many more features. Synthesis is available for Windows, Macintosh, Linux and as a Java application that can be run on any platform. Find out more.

  10. The Buyer's Guide to Literature Review Software

    Time spent organizing and tracking down references, collating screening and data extraction information from spreadsheets, checking for disagreements between reviewers, and creating reports by hand are not good uses of a researcher's valuable time. ... Although literature review software can help with many tasks throughout the review ...

  11. Tools

    Free, open-source tool that "helps you upload and organize the results of a literature search for a systematic review. It also makes it possible for your team to screen, organize, and manipulate all of your abstracts in one place." -From Center for Evidence Synthesis in Health. SRDR Plus (Systematic Review Data Repository: Plus) An open-source ...

  12. Covidence

    We're a non-profit on a mission to streamline the review process while improving research quality. We love our community, and they say some very nice things about us. Syreeta Nolan. @nolan_syreeta. "I love you @Covidence. I love the YouTube series Covidence put out and my librarian is my hero. Let others help you and be careful when you set ...

  13. How to Write a Literature Review

    Examples of literature reviews. Step 1 - Search for relevant literature. Step 2 - Evaluate and select sources. Step 3 - Identify themes, debates, and gaps. Step 4 - Outline your literature review's structure. Step 5 - Write your literature review.

  14. Research Guides: Literature Reviews: Organizing the Review

    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.

  15. How to Master at Literature Mapping: 5 Most Recommended Tools ...

    Here are the most recommended literature mapping tools to choose from: 1. Connected Papers. a. Connected Papers is a simple, yet powerful, one-stop visualization tool that uses a single starter article. b. It is easy to use tool that quickly identifies similar papers with just one "Seed paper" (a relevant paper). c.

  16. Literature Review

    Literature reviews are an important step in the data analysis journey of many research projects, but often it is a time-consuming and arduous affair. Whether you are reviewing literature for writing a meta-analysis or for the background section of your thesis, work with MAXQDA. Our product comes with many exciting features which make your ...

  17. Lateral

    For literature reviews & collecting evidence. "Lateral is an AI-powered app for academics that will completely change the way you read and take notes." "Lateral presents a visual table which not only allows me to quickly identify themes but also relevant quotes and phrases (with references!) that could have easily been overlooked without."

  18. Research Guides: What is a literature review?: Organization

    Tools to help organize your literature review. makes it easy to organize your ideas visually in a way that makes sense to you and others. Coggle is online software for creating and sharing mindmaps and flowcharts. Create a matrix with author names across the top (columns), themes on the left side (rows).

  19. Rayyan

    Rayyan Enterprise and Rayyan Teams+ make it faster, easier and more convenient for you to manage your research process across your organization. Accelerate your research across your team or organization and save valuable researcher time. Build and preserve institutional assets, including literature searches, systematic reviews, and full-text ...

  20. Web-Based Software Tools for Systematic Literature Review in Medicine

    Systematic Review Costs and Gaps. According to the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, systematic reviews (SRs) of high-quality primary studies represent the highest level of evidence for evaluating therapeutic performance [].However, although vital to evidence-based medical practice, SRs are time-intensive, taking an average of 67.3 weeks to complete [] and costing leading research ...

  21. Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review

    How can you organize the flow of the main body of the review so that the reader will be drawn into and guided through it? It is generally helpful to draw a conceptual scheme of the review, e.g., with mind-mapping techniques. ... Performing systematic literature reviews in software engineering. Proc 28th Int Conf Software Engineering, ACM New ...

  22. Organizing the Literature Review

    Just like most academic papers, literature reviews must contain at least three basic elements: an introduction or background information section; the body of the review containing the discussion of sources; and, finally, a conclusion and/or recommendations section to end the paper.

  23. Best Tools and Software for Literature Review Process

    A literature review is a critical analysis of existing research on a topic, usually conducted as part of a larger project or study. It requires finding, evaluating, synthesizing, and organizing ...