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The matrix method for literature reviews.
This handout is available for download in DOCX format and PDF format .
What is the Matrix Method, and why should I use it?
Using a review matrix enables you to quickly compare and contrast articles in order to determine the scope of research across time. A review matrix can help you more easily spot differences and similarities between journal articles about a research topic. While they may be helpful in any discipline, review matrices are especially helpful for health sciences literature reviews covering the complete scope of a research topic over time. This guide focuses on the review matrix step in the literature review process and offers tips on how to use it effectively.
Organize your sources
Once you complete your research, organize your source by date in order to make it easier to see changes in research over time.
Begin by creating the blank matrix. The matrices can be easily constructed using table-making software such as Microsoft Excel, Word or OneNote, Google Sheets, or Numbers. Every review matrix should have the same first three column headings: (1) authors, title, and journal, (2) publication year, and (3) purpose.
Be aware that it may be difficult to determine purpose from just a cursory review of the article. In some cases, it may be necessary to first read the paper fully to identify its purpose.
Choose your remaining column topics
Next, carefully read all your articles. Note any important issues you identify. The following broad categories provide some suggestions for determining your own subject headings:
Methodology is often an important question. For example, if you are looking at tests of an Ebola vaccine beyond human subjects, it will be important to note what type of animal the test was carried out on, i.e. macaques or mice.
Consider noting what was actually studied. For example, when looking at the effectiveness of traditional Chinese medicine in the treatment of illnesses, it would be important to note what illness was being studied.
It may be important to note where the research was completed. For example, if you want to compare the effects of the AIDS epidemic in different countries, you would use country as a column heading.
There are many ways to choose your column headings, and these are just a few suggestions. As you create your own matrix, choose column headings that support your research question and goals.
- Do not include column headings that are explicit in your research question. For example, if you are looking at drug use in adolescents, do not include a column heading for age of study participants. If the answer will be the same for every study, it's generally a bad choice for a column heading.
- Do not try to fully complete a review matrix before reading the articles. Reading the articles is an important way to discern the nuances between studies.
Credit: Adapted from David Nolfi, “Matrix Method for Literature Review: The Review Matrix,” Duquesne University, https://guides.library.duq.edu/matrix , 2020.
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The Review Matrix
Using a review matrix enables you to quickly compare and contrast articles in order to determine the scope of research across time. A review matrix can help you more easily spot differences and similarities between journal articles about a given research topic. Review matrices are especially helpful for health sciences literature reviews covering the complete scope of a research topic over time.
This guide focuses on the review matrix step in the literature review process. For more information on searching databases, see the Health Sciences Literature Searching Guide.
- Next: Organize Your Sources >>
- Last Updated: Aug 27, 2023 9:37 AM
- URL: https://guides.library.duq.edu/matrix
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What is a literature matrix?
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.
Literature Matrix Files
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:
- Literature Matrix Basic BLANK
- Literature Matrix Basic SAMPLE
- Literature Matrix Complex BLANK
Synthesize vs. Summarize
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.
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Search catalog, soc 303: introduction to research methods(orend): literature matrix.
- Literature Searching
- Research Question
- Annotated Bibliography
- Writing a Literature Review
- Literature Matrix
- Evaluating Sources
- Citing Souces
Literature Review Matrix: Section One
This section helps you analyze each individual article for its research question(s), method(s), results, and conclusions. It also enables you to evaluate it for its strengths and limitations and identify its themes before you attempt to connect it to other research.
Literature Matrix 2
This part helps you visually connect the themes and identify disparate themes so that you can begin to synthesize established knowledge on your topic and identify alternative points of view on the topic and speak to why those might exist.
Organize Your Articles
A literature review matrix serves to help you visually organize your thoughts on an article.
This is only one option of many that can help you organize your thoughts; you can easily change the first section to reflect your discipline
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- Next: Evaluating Sources >>
- Last Updated: Nov 6, 2023 5:11 PM
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How to Conduct a Literature Review (Health Sciences and Beyond)
- What is a Literature Review?
- Developing a Research Question
- Selection Criteria
- Database Search
- Documenting Your Search
- Reference Management
Using a spreadsheet or table to organize the key elements (e.g. subjects, methodologies, results) of articles/books you plan to use in your literature review can be helpful. This is called a review matrix.
When you create a review matrix, the first few columns should include (1) the authors, title, journal, (2) publication year, and (3) purpose of the paper. The remaining columns should identify important aspects of each study such as methodology and findings.
Click on the image below to view a sample review matrix.
You can also download this template as a Microsoft Excel file .
The information on this page is from the book below. The 5th edition is available online through VCU Libraries.
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- Next: Reference Management >>
- Last Updated: Aug 8, 2023 12:12 PM
- URL: https://guides.library.vcu.edu/health-sciences-lit-review