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How to Conduct a Literature Review

This course guide is designed to help faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students in the process of conducting and writing a literature review for any discipline.

Synthesis Matrix

Another helpful idea to manage the process of reviewing the literature is a Synthesis Matrix. Virginia Commonwealth University explains that a Synthesis Matrix can help in the organization and relatability of each source.

Ways to Organize Your Literature Review

Chronologically by Events 

  • Organize the review by when materials were published
  • Works best when there is a clear chronological trail of literature building on previous publications

By Publication Date

  • Organize the review by publication date if the order demonstrates an important trend in methodology or research practice. 

Thematically (“conceptual categories”)

  • Organize the review primarily by theme rather than time
  • There may be a chronological breakdown within each theme to show change over time.
  • More common template for literature reviews


  • Focuses on the methods utilized by the researcher.
  • Organization may indicate changes in methodology or how the method is used throughout the research trail.

(adapted from "The Literature Review"  from Organizing Your Social Research Paper, University of Southern California)