The Literature Review: The Literature Review Toolbox

The Literature Review Toolbox - handout

EndNote and NVivo for the literature review

NVivo can help you organise, manage and write your literature review. NVivo is a powerful tool to use when doing a qualitative analysis of your literature.

Organising your literature in EndNote

Keywords - You should separate your keywords with either a semi colon (;), backslash (\), or a carriage return (enter) and place each one on a separate line.

Notes - The Notes, Research Notes, and Abstract fields can each hold up to 64,000 characters, which is equivalent to about 16 pages of text. Use the Notes field to store personal reminders, such as the location of a quotation in a book or the quotation itself. Use the Abstract field for a brief description of the contents of the work.

Change Fields - An efficient way to add text to the above fields is to do a batch change using Change/ Move/Copy Fields. This can be found by clicking on ‘Tools’. This function can be especially helpful when you’re finding resources for your literature review and want to add to the results as you find them. For instance, you can use this technique to add text to the Name of Database field – i.e. Scopus – exported on 11/05/17. 

Searching - You can search your entire Endnote Library for the keywords or notes that you have added. You can limit your search to particular fields in your reference or to the text within all the PDFs or to the sticky notes you’ve added to your PDFs. You can even search for text within a single reference.

Groups - Grouping options include:

  • Custom Groups – you create and name these groups and have to add references to them manually.

  • Smart Groups – you set up the search criteria for this type of group and it will dynamically update itself as existing references are edited or new references are added to the library.

Annotating PDFs - You can not only attach a PDF to a reference as way of organising your files you can also annotate these PDFs. 

Create a template - You can adjust your reference style to incorporate a literature review template for the purposes of your analysis (as discussed in the Organising and analysing section of this guide). The Library has created a customised 5-item literature review template style for both VU Harvard and APA, which is available for you to download via our Endnote guide. This 5-item template includes:

  • Research question 
  • Scope 
  • Methodology
  • Theoretical framework
  • Major findings (such as gaps you notice that require further research or investigation)

If you'd like to learn how to create your own customised set of criteria, either attend a Literature Review Toolbox workshop, or consult the handout attached on this page.


Mind-mapping tools

Mind-mapping (or concept-mapping), whether aided by the use of a tool or not, is a great way to help you get a clear picture of your research area for your literature review. Put simply, a mind-map is a diagram that makes connections between ideas, arguments and concepts. A mind-map can be created using a pen and paper, or you can use an tool to create an online one. There are many online tools for mind-mapping to choose from such as iMindMap, TheBrain, Lucidchart and Xmind. Functionality to look out for when choosing the best mind-mapping tool for you includes:

  • Mind mapping
  • Brainstorming
  • Note-taking
  • Organising notes
  • Attachments
  • Hyperlinking
  • Charts, figures etc

Web content management tools

As a researcher, you are expected to read exhaustively on your topic, and this includes web content. Some web content such as grey literature may be included in your literature review, while others may come in the form of academic blogs and review articles that help inform your background knowledge of the topic. Either way, the seemingly never-ending barrage of web content can be overwhelming if not managed properly. Web content management tools such as Diigo and Delicious are great for this:

Name URL Description

Diigo is a versatile and powerful social bookmark manager which enables you to access your bookmarks anywhere. Has an easy to use bookmarklet tools that can be embedded in your browser. It offers the following functions:

  • Can add tags (curate)
  • Can share with others
  • Can annotate, highlight and make sticky notes
  • Can make personal notes
  • Can annotate PDFs (premium)
  • Cache webpages (premium)
Save to Pocket

Compatible across a host of different devices and platforms.


Flickr offers three types of account: Free, Ad Free and Doublr. The free option includes one terabyte of storage limited to 200 MB per photo and 1 GB per video with maximum length 3 minutes

Organise you photos using sets, collections, tags and groups.

Share images easily of keep them private.

Designate usage rights easily by using CC licensing.


Save all kinds of notes, files, web clips and images. You can annotate, organise and tag your content.


Helps you organise your notes in a meaningful way.


Apart from creating and saving notes you can also:


Use this to record and save audio


Save useful webpages and accompanying notes