Organizing Your Literature Review

©2001 Edward G. Rozycki, Ed. D.

edited 8/19/11


A. There are two basic concerns from which a literature review is developed:

relevance -- literature reviewed should show some(if only arguable) relationship to the topic of the dissertation; and

readability -- the literature should be organized so that the reader can perceive its relevance.

There is also a third consideration, not necessary, but optimal: a good literature review will often help the researcher clarify, even reconceptualize, his or her project and often discover overlooked facets of the undertaking which will add to the value of the research


B. The chart below suggests one way you might organize the literature review.

I. Issues
II. Pro
IV. Con
VI. Notes
Issue 1: Is treatment X effective for Y?
(Clark, 1997)
(Stevens, 1994)
Stevens n=28
Issue 2: Is treatment X cost-effective?
(Sy & Bharite, 1999)
(Glasgow, 1999)
Res Rev
Glasgow indicates mixed outcomes
Issue 3: Is treatment X politically viable?
(Cadwallader, 2000)
Res survey
(Glasgow, 1999)
Res Rev
Cadwallader n = 3212


The first column lists issues -- formulated as questions -- associated with the research to be undertaken. (These issues themselves may be organized in terms of, say, historical occurrence, or perceived urgency, for example. See The Structure of Issues on this site.)

The second column cites a publication supporting a positive answer, Pro, to the issue question.

ES in the third column indicates "epistemic strength," i. e. is this mere opinion, or is it backed up with research? If so, how good is the research? (See Avoiding Problems With Your Dissertation's Review of the Literature).

Con in the fourth column is for listing publications supporting a negative answer to the issue question.

Column V is the same as column III but with respect to the Con's.

Column VI. is for notes.


a. Not every kind of literature review may be organizable this way, but many are.

b. An advantage of this kind of chart is that it lets you see where research may be lacking on any of the issues.