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Make the most out of your literature review

Literature reviews are an important step in the data analysis journey of many research projects, but often it is a time-consuming and arduous affair. Whether you are reviewing literature for writing a meta-analysis or for the background section of your thesis, work with MAXQDA. Our product comes with many exciting features which make your literature review faster and easier than ever before. Whether you are a first-time researcher or an old pro, MAXQDA is your professional software solution with advanced tools for you and your team.

Literature Review with MAXQDA - User interface

How to conduct a literature review with MAXQDA

Conducting a literature review with MAXQDA is easy because you can easily import bibliographic information and full texts. In addition, MAXQDA provides excellent tools to facilitate each phase of your literature review, such as notes, paraphrases, auto-coding, summaries, and tools to integrate your findings.

Step one: Plan your literature review

Similar to other research projects, one should carefully plan a literature review. Before getting started with searching and analyzing literature, carefully think about the purpose of your literature review and the questions you want to answer. This will help you to develop a search strategy which is needed to stay on top of things. A search strategy involves deciding on literature databases, search terms, and practical and methodological criteria for the selection of high-quality scientific literature.

MAXQDA supports you during this stage with memos and the newly developed Questions-Themes-Theories tool (QTT). Both are the ideal place to store your research questions and search parameters. Moreover, the Question-Themes-Theories tool is perfectly suited to support your literature review project because it provides a bridge between your MAXQDA project and your research report. It offers the perfect enviornment to bring together findings, record conclusions and develop theories.

Plan your Literature Review

Step two: Search, Select, Save your material

Follow your search strategy. Use the databases and search terms you have identified to find the literature you need. Then, scan the search results for relevance by reading the title, abstract, or keywords. Try to determine whether the paper falls within the narrower area of the research question and whether it fulfills the objectives of the review. In addition, check whether the search results fulfill your pre-specified eligibility criteria. As this step typically requires precise reading rather than a quick scan, you might want to perform it in MAXQDA. If the piece of literature fulfills your criteria and context, you can save the bibliographic information using a reference management system which is a common approach among researchers as these programs automatically extract a paper’s meta-data from the publishing website. You can easily import this bibliographic data into MAXQDA via a specialized import tool. MAXQDA is compatible with all reference management programs that are able to export their literature databases in RIS format which is a standard format for bibliographic information. This is the case with all mainstream literature management programs such as Citavi, DocEar, Endnote, JabRef, Mendeley, and Zotero.

Search, select, save your literature

Step three: Import & Organize your material in MAXQDA

Importing bibliographic data into MAXQDA is easy and works seamlessly for all reference management programs that use the standard RIS files. MAXQDA offers an import option dedicated to bibliographic data which you can find in the MAXQDA Import tab. To import the selected literature, just click on the corresponding button, select the data you want to import, and click okay. Upon import, each literature entry becomes its own text document. If full texts are imported, MAXQDA automatically connects the full text to the literature entry with an internal link. The individual information in the literature entries is automatically coded for later analysis so that, for example, all titles or abstracts can be compiled and searched. To help you keeping your literature (review) organized, MAXQDA automatically creates a document group called “References” which contains the individual literature entries. Like full texts or interview documents, the bibliographic entries can be searched, coded, linked, edited, and you can add memos for further qualitative and quantitative content analysis (Kuckartz & Rädiker, 2019). Especially, when running multiple searches using different databases or search terms, you should carefully document your approach. Besides being a great place to store the respective search parameters, memos are perfectly suited to capture your ideas while reviewing our literature and can be attached to text segments, documents, document groups, and much more.

Import and organize your literature

Analyze your literature with MAXQDA

Once imported into MAXQDA, you can explore your material using a variety of tools and functions. With MAXQDA as your literature review & analysis software, you have numerous possibilities for analyzing your literature and writing your literature review – impossible to mention all. Thus, we can present only a subset of tools here. Check out our literature about performing literature reviews with MAXQDA to discover more possibilities.

Code & Retrieve important segments

Coding qualitative data lies at the heart of many qualitative data analysis approaches and can be useful for literature reviews as well. Coding refers to the process of labeling segments of your material. For example, you may want to code definitions of certain terms, pro and con arguments, how a specific method is used, and so on. In a later step, MAXQDA allows you to compile all text segments coded with one (or more) codes of interest from one or more papers, so that you can for example compare definitions across papers.

But there is more. MAXQDA offers multiple ways of coding, such as in-vivo coding, highlighters, emoticodes, Creative Coding, or the Smart Coding Tool. The compiled segments can be enriched with variables and the segment’s context accessed with just one click. MAXQDA’s Text Search & Autocode tool is especially well-suited for a literature review, as it allows one to explore large amounts of text without reading or coding them first. Automatically search for keywords (or dictionaries of keywords), such as important concepts for your literature review, and automatically code them with just a few clicks.

Code name suggestions and quick resize
Paraphrase literature with MAXQDA

Paraphrase literature into your own words

Another approach is to paraphrase the existing literature. A paraphrase is a restatement of a text or passage in your own words, while retaining the meaning and the main ideas of the original. Paraphrasing can be especially helpful in the context of literature reviews, because paraphrases force you to systematically summarize the most important statements (and only the most important statements) which can help to stay on top of things.

With MAXQDA as your literature review software, you not only have a tool for paraphrasing literature but also tools to analyze the paraphrases you have written. For example, the Categorize Paraphrases tool (allows you to code your parpahrases) or the Paraphrases Matrix (allows you to compare paraphrases side-by-side between individual documents or groups of documents.)

Summaries & Overview tables: A look at the Bigger Picture

When conducting a literature review you can easily get lost. But with MAXQDA as your literature review software, you will never lose track of the bigger picture. Among other tools, MAXQDA’s overview and summary tables are especially useful for aggregating your literature review results. MAXQDA offers overview tables for almost everything, codes, memos, coded segments, links, and so on. With MAXQDA literature review tools you can create compressed summaries of sources that can be effectively compared and represented, and with just one click you can easily export your overview and summary tables and integrate them into your literature review report.

Summarize content with MAXQDA for your literature review
Use the power of AI for your analysis

AI Assist: Introducing AI to literature reviews

AI Assist – MAXQDA’s Ai-based add-on module – can simplify your literature reviews in many ways. Let AI Assist automatically summarize or paraphrase text segments. Automatically create summaries of all coded segments of a code or generate suggestions for subcodes. Visit our research guide for even more ideas on how AI can support your literature review:

AI for Literature Review

Visualize your data with MAXQDA

Visualize your qualitative data

The proverb “a picture is worth a thousand words” also applies to literature reviews. That is why MAXQDA offers a variety of Visual Tools that allow you to get a quick overview of the data, and help you to identify patterns. Of course, you can export your visualizations in various formats to enrich your final report. One particularly useful visual tool for literature reviews is the Word Cloud. It visualizes the most frequent words and allows you to explore key terms and the central themes of one or more papers. Thanks to the interactive connection between your visualizations with your MAXQDA data, you will never lose sight of the big picture. Another particularly useful tool is MAXQDA’s word/code frequency tool with which you can analyze and visualize the frequencies of words or codes in one or more documents. As with Word Clouds, nonsensical words can be added to the stop list and excluded from the analysis.

QTT: Synthesize your results and write up the review

MAXQDA has an innovative workspace to gather important visualization, notes, segments, and other analytics results. The perfect tool to organize your thoughts and data. Create a separate worksheet for your topics and research questions, fill it with associated analysis elements from MAXQDA, and add your conclusions, theories, and insights as you go. For example, you can add Word Clouds, important coded segments, and your literature summaries and write down your insights. Subsequently, you can view all analysis elements and insights to write your final conclusion. The Questions-Themes-Theories tool is perfectly suited to help you finalize your literature review reports. With just one click you can export your worksheet and use it as a starting point for your literature review report.

Collect relevant insights and develop new theories with MAXQDA

Literature about Literature Reviews and Analysis

We offer a variety of free learning materials to help you get started with your literature review. Check out our Getting Started Guide to get a quick overview of MAXQDA and step-by-step instructions on setting up your software and creating your first project with your brand new QDA software. In addition, the free Literature Reviews Guide explains how to conduct a literature review with MAXQDA in more detail.

Getting started with MAXQDA

Getting Started with MAXQDA

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Literature Review Guide

Literature Reviews with MAXQDA

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  • What is a literature review?

    A literature review is a critical analysis and summary of existing research and literature on a particular topic or research question. It involves systematically searching and evaluating a range of sources, such as books, academic journals, conference proceedings, and other published or unpublished works, to identify and analyze the relevant findings, methodologies, theories, and arguments related to the research question or topic.

    A literature review’s purpose is to provide a comprehensive and critical overview of the current state of knowledge and understanding of a topic, to identify gaps and inconsistencies in existing research, and to highlight areas where further research is needed. Literature reviews are commonly used in academic research, as they provide a framework for developing new research and help to situate the research within the broader context of existing knowledge.

  • What are literature review methods?

    A literature review is a critical evaluation of existing research on a particular topic and is part of almost every research project. The literature review’s purpose is to identify gaps in current knowledge, synthesize existing research findings, and provide a foundation for further research. Over the years, numerous types of literature reviews have emerged. To empower you in coming to an informed decision, we briefly present the most common literature review methods.

    • Narrative Review: A narrative review summarizes and synthesizes the existing literature on a particular topic in a narrative or story-like format. This type of review is often used to provide an overview of the current state of knowledge on a topic, for example in scientific papers or final theses.
    • Systematic Review: A systematic review is a comprehensive and structured approach to reviewing the literature on a particular topic with the aim of answering a defined research question. It involves a systematic search of the literature using pre-specified eligibility criteria and a structured evaluation of the quality of the research.
    • Meta-Analysis: A meta-analysis is a type of systematic review that uses statistical techniques to combine and analyze the results from multiple studies on the same topic. The goal of a meta-analysis is to provide a more robust and reliable estimate of the effect size than can be obtained from any single study.
    • Scoping Review: A scoping review is a type of systematic review that aims to map the existing literature on a particular topic in order to identify the scope and nature of the research that has been done. It is often used to identify gaps in the literature and inform future research.
  • What is the best way to do a literature-review?

    There is no “best” way to do a literature review, as the process can vary depending on the research question, field of study, and personal preferences. However, here are some general guidelines that can help to ensure that your literature review is comprehensive and effective:

    1. Carefully plan your literature review: Before you start searching and analyzing literature you should define a research question and develop a search strategy (for example identify relevant databases, and search terms). A clearly defined research question and search strategy will help you to focus your search and ensure that you are gathering relevant information. MAXQDA’s Questions-Themes-Theories tool is the perfect place to store your analysis plan.
    2. Evaluate your sources: Screen your search results for relevance to your research question, for example by reading abstracts. Once you have identified relevant sources, read them critically and evaluate their quality and relevance to your research question. Consider factors such as the methodology used, the reliability of the data, and the overall strength of the argument presented.
    3. Synthesize your findings: After evaluating your sources, synthesize your findings by identifying common themes, arguments, and gaps in the existing research. This will help you to develop a comprehensive understanding of the current state of knowledge on your topic.
    4. Write up your review: Finally, write up your literature review, ensuring that it is well-structured and clearly communicates your findings. Include a critical analysis of the sources you have reviewed, and use evidence from the literature to support your arguments and conclusions.

    Overall, the key to a successful literature review is to be systematic, critical, and comprehensive in your search and evaluation of sources.

  • How do you write a literature review?

    As in all aspects of scientific work, preparation is the key to success. Carefully think about the purpose of your literature review, the questions you want to answer, and your search strategy. The writing process itself will differ depending on the your literature review method. For example, when writing a narrative review use the identified literature to support your arguments, approach, and conclusions. By contrast, a systematic review typically contains the same parts as other scientific papers: Abstract, Introduction (purpose and scope), Methods (Search strategy, inclusion/exclusion characteristics, …), Results (identified sources, their main arguments, findings, …), Discussion (critical analysis of the sources you have reviewed), Conclusion (gaps or inconsistencies in the existing research, future research, implications, etc.).

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