As defined by Judith Garrard in her handbook entitled Health Sciences Literature Reviews Made Easy: The Matrix Method, a “Review of the literature consists of reading, analyzing, and writing a synthesis of scholarly materials about a specific topic. When reviewing scientific literature, the focus is on the hypotheses, the scientific methods, the strengths and weaknesses of the study, the results, and the authors’ interpretations and conclusions.” When reading materials for a literature review, you should critically evaluate the study’s major aims and results.
The purpose of completing a literature matrix is to help you identify important aspects of the study. Literature matrixes contain a variety of headings, but frequent headings include: author surname and date, theoretical/ conceptual framework, research question(s)/ hypothesis, methodology, analysis & results, conclusions, implications for future research, and implications for practice. You can add additional columns as needed, and you might consider adding a “notes column” to proactively have important quotations and your thoughts already collected. As you read journal articles, have your literature matrix ready. It is best to fill in the matrix directly after reading a work, rather than returning to the matrix later.
You should use a literature matrix that best helps you to organize your reading and research. Excel workbooks can help to organize your research. Sample basic and complex literature matrixes are provided below:
When writing your literature review, you will not simply summarize the materials that you found related to your topic. A summary is a recap of the information provided in research articles. Summaries provide basic information about the study, but the details provided in a summary are not enumerative or systematic.
Synthesizing goes beyond summarizing to explore specific aspects of the research study. When synthesizing the literature, rely on your completed literature matrix to inform your writing. Do you see any tends across publications? Was one type of methodology used repeatedly, why or why not? Did separate teams of researchers come to the same conclusion, differing conclusions, or is the literature inconclusive? Synthesizing requires that you look at the current state of the research overall.
When preparing to write a synthesis, you will read the literature available, tease apart individual findings and supporting evidence across different articles, and then reorganize this information in a way that presents your understanding of the current state of research in this field.