Using a speadsheet grid for a literature review – a thematic analysis grid

Author column
Author column

I’ve tried many different techniques for organising literature reviews, including mind mapping software, little black notebooks with long lists of bullet points, A3 paper full of multi coloured sharpie doodles – the list would go on for a long time.

Eventually I came across this technique, introduced to me by Dr Deborah Anderson who completed her PhD at Lancaster a few years ago. In its original form she used large squares of paper, my addition to this was the idea of using a cloud based spreadsheet.

This is how it works:

In a blank spreadsheet, keep the furthest column on the left for authors, dates and journal articles. As you read articles add them down the grid, ordered by publication date.

If you find something ‘in between’ two entries, simply insert a new row.

As you read articles, some of the key points or themes will stand out. Add a column on the right for this theme, with the theme as the column heading. Place a summary or a useful quote in this column at the “article” row.

When you read a new article, either new themes will emerge (create/insert a new column) or it will cover an existing theme (add an entry to the existing column) – or both.

Grid with papers and themes
Grid with papers and themes

If you use a cloud based spreadsheet (Google Docs, Apple’s Numbers or Microsoft’s Excel in Office 365), you will always have access to the grid on whatever device you are using. Zooming in and out on a tablet is nice.

This strategy may also provide some comfort in the Viva – I will print a few out on A4 pages (tiny print) as I can’t seem to remember names and dates too well. The original paper presented by Deborah Anderson is The thematic analysis grid, which was presented at a Festival of Learning at Kingston University.

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2 thoughts on “Using a speadsheet grid for a literature review – a thematic analysis grid”

  1. What a super idea. I use a card index system myself – old fashioned I know but it means I can physically move references around on my desk grouping them in new ways and by various criteria. I also use envelopes as the cards so I can keep relevant things inside too.

    Liked by 1 person

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