Literature Review Process with Mendeley and Synthesis Matrix

When I decided to work in academia, I knew I would have to eventually restart my literature review to continue or extend my previous research in preparation for a PhD. I didn’t get around to really get back to my reading and writing habit as I just started to get myself acquainted with new lectureship and academic processes. When The Thesis Whisperer’s Dr Inger wrote about How to write faster and credited my idea of synthesis matrix (I sincerely thank Dr Inger for that!), I realized I have been neglecting my literature review and my matrices are left untouched for some times.

When I revisited my literature review process one day, I have identified some steps that I actually followed in doing my previous literature review. I thought it’s best that I share it in this blog, hoping that more people would find it useful and probably we could all do literature review together following this process.


This diagram shows my literature review process starting from searching for articles until writing a critical literature review. As you can see, this is a continuous process and it’s not actually that straightforward. My literature review process has two important (must-have) tools: Mendeley as my primary reference manager and synthesis matrix as the template to collect all my notes before writing.

This process is still a work-in-progress and it’s (definitely) not perfect. Oh, I’m definitely not the expert too! If you really want some professional help with literature review fast, I’d recommend you to check out Literature Review HQ. Dr Ben has great literature review bootcamp courses to help you get your literature review done effectively. Anyway, the diagram above is just one way of doing literature review and it might not suit you if you prefer other method. Nevertheless, you can always use this as a reference to kick start your own literature review process. I plan to write more in details about each step that I do in my literature review process and I probably need more posts to talk about them.

If you are currently doing your literature review and you have just stumbled upon this site, I hope you can be patient to read more about these later. I’ll try my best to share more soon. Meanwhile, you can see all other related posts under Literature Review category. I have briefly described how to use synthesis matrix for literature review in my previous posts.


5 thoughts on “Literature Review Process with Mendeley and Synthesis Matrix

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  1. I’m in the first month of my PhD and wondering how to approach my literature review. Don’t really want to dive straight in with the reading, without having some kind of framework to apply to capture my analysis of the literature. Your advice is really helpful – thank so much, Jenn!

    1. Hi Udeni,

      Sorry for late reply. I’m truly happy my posts are helpful to you. I hope I’ll be able to share more helpful techniques. Keep in touch 🙂

  2. Hi Jennifer,
    Your site has been a big help to me. I have a question regarding the literature review. How do you determine what sections need to be included. For example, I am researching faculty perceptions and usage of a course management system (CMS) at a Japanese university. I know I have to look at CMS, specifically the usage and perceptions of them, but what else? Some of the other things I am thinking of including are – Higher Education in Japan, Technology Adoption in Higher Education and Adult Learning Theory. Is there a scientific process to figure out what is necessary and what isn’t?

    1. Hi Daniel,

      Sorry for late reply. My recent schedule of workload is killing me a bit. Anyway, regarding your question of what to include, sorry I don’t have a scientific process but if you try to google search the Internet, maybe others may have.

      I normally look at what I want to argue in my literature review. I also look at how other articles mention/argue a particular topic. I guess it’s all up to you how much you want to include and your direction you want for your literature review. Don’t forget your literature review should help answer your research questions. So make sure you include topics that really answer your research questions, otherwise I believe your reviewers will further question you.

      To me, my literature review should have its own voice other than reviewing others. Hope my point of view helps. Otherwise, let me know, we can have further discussion.

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