The literature review matrix is an incredibly useful tool. Again I’m indebted to my good friend Jenn (mastermind behind My Studious Life, and one of the very talented writers behind the #AcWri twitter group) for putting me onto the idea. One of the reasons for this post is a message from Kelsey (@Minnie_488) on Twitter. This just goes to show that it’s worth asking me stuff there – you never know, you might get a blog post and a video out of it ;).
What is a literature review matrix
Well it’s essentially a table, you put your themes in the first column and then you put journal titles as the headings for all of the other columns. You then go through all the journal articles you have and write in the relevant cells, how they correspond to a particular theme. I use Powerpoint to do my matrices, I just find it aesthetically pleasing and easy to increase the size to the table. There are probably many other ways to do it so let me know in the comments
It’s really that simple all you need are a few themes to get going. It should be easy to find these from reading a few papers or by asking your supervisor.
But if you need themes to get started how does it help you to find themes?
Well, basically at the very start the themes you choose have to be very fluid and open to change. The process of reading through articles and trying to fit information into your themes will help you find out if you need to change. You might find a chunk of information in an article that doesn’t fit into any particular theme you have. Chances are then you need to make a new theme, or you need to change the theme structure slightly to accomodate new information.
It’s very powerful
As a planning aid this is very powerful indeed. This is because it forces you to take information from the articles as you read it and put it into the very themes you will write about at a very early stage. Not only that, you are forced to address how each article might fit into every theme you have – you are forced to think! This means that you can find out if each article only fits into one theme or in reality spans several different themes. Knowing this at the start of your writing will dramatically help with the flow and the clarity of your text because you will know which references are discrete and which reference will be constantly referred to.
So please give it a try and let me know what you think in the comment below.