Research management includes three essential tasks: collecting, organizing, and citing.


Manage your research to prevent duplication of effort; retrieve what you need from what you’ve collected; facilitate synthesis and writing; and avoid inadvertent plagiarism.


  • Select a research management tool. Librarians at Harvard support EndNote, RefWorks, Zotero, and Mendeley.
  • Develop a note-taking system matched to your research question.
  • Keep track of database searches.

Remember: the literature review is an iterative process!

The following is a transcript of a video lecture available here.

On your research journey, you’ll accumulate a lot of information. Manage your research to prevent duplication of effort; retrieve what you need from what you’ve collected; facilitate synthesis and writing; and avoid inadvertent plagiarism.

By the end of this E-lecture, you’ll be able to:

  • Describe the features and benefits of research management tools
  • Develop a note-taking system matched to your research question
  • Develop a way to keep track of database searches

The research journey can be long. As soon as you begin searching the literature, you’ll need to manage what you find.

Ask yourself: Will I be able to retrieve the references I need to support my argument? Will I be able to find key articles without having to download them again? Will I remember whether I’ve already read an article I rediscover? More importantly, will I remember what that article said and whether it’s relevant to my research question?

Early in the process, choose a research management tool like RefWorks, EndNote, Zotero, or Mendeley to help you stay organized.

Why choose a research management tool? Because these tools make the work of managing your research much easier and save you hours of time! With any of them, you’ll be able to create a personal database to collect, store, and retrieve citation information, research notes, and documents.

The tools work with your word processor to create bibliographies in APA, Chicago, MLA, and thousands of other citation styles.

Which tool to use? The tools share basic features and are constantly evolving. Some have features better suited to particular disciplines (the sciences vs. social sciences), formats (web vs. manuscript), or ease of sharing (desktop vs. cloud). Some are licensed by the library; some are free; some have subscription fees. Visit the product sites and try them out.

Ask your colleagues and friends what they use. Meet with a librarian to match your research needs to tools that are right for you.

The important thing is to choose a tool or tools and use them from the start of your research. Don’t lose valuable time and work. And don’t worry, if you decide to change tools later, most are compatible with each other.

Once you’ve selected a tool, import search results from the library catalog article databases, and the web. With a few clicks, your personal database will have all the information you need to cite to books and articles—no typing!

Save your full text articles in your research management tool—you’ll be able to find them later with the tool’s search features. No more need for elaborate naming of files or hunting for documents in folders and subfolders—the citation information in your database will help you retrieve articles easily.

We can’t say enough about the importance of systematic note taking. Use your research management tool for taking notes.

Instead of reading and passively highlighting the text, think as you read. Ask yourself, “How does this article address my research question?” “What will I need to remember about it?” And then record the answers so that you can retrieve them later when you’re writing.

As one student told us, note taking is like coding. Here are some categories to consider recording for each source you read:

  • Relevance to research question
  • Summary
  • Direct quotes (including page numbers)
  • Theory
  • Keywords/Tags
  • Findings
  • Methodology
  • Rating

(And here’s a tip: Make sure the notes you take on PDFs or print copies of sources are included in your research management tool. Otherwise, how will you find them?)

Research management tools also allow you to keep track of what you have, what you’ve read, and what you still need to read.

Now let’s talk about another part of managing your research that happens outside of research management tools. As you search for literature, you’re going to visit many databases. Develop a system for keeping track of where you’ve been and the search terms you’ve used. Take advantage of the personal accounts most databases offer to save your searches. Consider using a spreadsheet as a research log to track search terms and databases

Student and Faculty Voices

Creative Commons License
The Literature Review: A Research Journey by Colin Madland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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