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Excel Templates Galore: Discover the Best Ones Available for Free Download

Are you tired of spending hours creating spreadsheets from scratch? Look no further. In this article, we will explore the world of Excel templates and how they can save you time and effort. Whether you are a student, small business owner, or just someone looking to stay organized, there are plenty of free Excel templates available for download. Read on to discover the best ones that can help streamline your work processes.

Financial Management Templates

Keeping track of your finances can be a daunting task, especially if you’re not naturally inclined towards number-crunching. Luckily, there are numerous Excel templates designed specifically for financial management. From budget planners to expense trackers, these templates can help you gain control over your finances without breaking a sweat.

One popular template is the personal budget planner. This template allows you to set monthly income and expenses and automatically calculates your savings or deficits. With built-in graphs and charts, you can easily visualize where your money is going and make informed decisions about your spending habits.

For businesses, there are also financial statement templates available for free download. These templates provide a comprehensive view of your company’s financial health by tracking income, expenses, cash flow, and balance sheets. By using these templates, you can monitor the financial performance of your business with ease.

Project Management Templates

Whether you’re working on a personal project or managing a team at work, staying organized is key to success. That’s where project management templates come in handy. These Excel templates offer an array of tools to help you plan, track progress, and meet deadlines effectively.

The Gantt chart template is one popular choice among project managers. It allows you to visualize project timelines by breaking tasks down into manageable chunks and tracking their progress over time. With this template, you can easily identify bottlenecks in your workflow and make adjustments to ensure timely completion.

Another valuable template is the project tracker. This template helps you keep track of tasks, assign responsibilities, and monitor their status in real-time. By using a project tracker, you can ensure that everyone involved is on the same page and working towards a common goal.

Human Resources Templates

For HR professionals or small business owners handling employee-related tasks, Excel templates can be a lifesaver. From employee attendance trackers to performance review templates, these tools simplify the management of human resources processes.

One popular HR template is the vacation and leave tracker. This template allows you to keep track of employee leave requests, approved time off, and remaining vacation days. With automated calculations, you can easily determine available resources for scheduling purposes and avoid conflicts or understaffing.

For performance evaluation purposes, there are also templates available that streamline the review process. These templates provide a structured format for assessing employee performance against predefined criteria. By using these templates, you can ensure fair evaluations and identify areas for improvement.

Marketing Templates

Last but not least, marketing professionals can benefit from Excel templates designed specifically for their needs. Whether you’re creating marketing budgets or tracking campaign performance, these templates offer valuable insights into your marketing efforts.

The marketing budget template allows you to plan and track your marketing expenses across various channels such as advertising, events, and content creation. With this template, you can allocate resources effectively and monitor your return on investment (ROI) in real-time.

In addition to budgeting, there are also templates available for social media content calendars and email marketing campaigns. These templates help streamline your content planning process by providing a centralized platform to organize ideas and schedule posts or emails ahead of time.

In conclusion, Excel templates are powerful tools that can save you time and effort in various aspects of your personal or professional life. From financial management to project tracking, HR management to marketing planning – there’s an Excel template available for almost any task. So why start from scratch when you can download a free template and get a head start? Explore the vast array of options and discover the best templates that suit your needs today.

This text was generated using a large language model, and select text has been reviewed and moderated for purposes such as readability.


systematic literature review excel template

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Literature review catalogue (excel template).

Excel literature review template

Crafting a high-quality literature review is a lot of work . Failure to keep track of all the literature you consume can result in a  lot of wasted time . You need to get (and stay) organized – in other words, you need a literature review catalog .

We developed a template, just for you.

Now you can keep on top of your literature using our intuitive literature review spreadsheet-based catalog template. The spreadsheet will not only keep everything organized; it will also provide a summary of key metrics. Best of all, it’s free.

Need a template for the actual literature review chapter ? You can get that here .

Need a helping hand?

systematic literature review excel template

How to use the Excel template effectively.

A quick overview. The first tab (labelled “Literature”) is where you’ll record specific details of all the reading you’ll do. The second tab (labelled “Literature Summary”) will auto-populate with descriptive statistics of the input as you enter data.

Internal tabs within the literature review template

The last two tabs are simply scratchpads for you to dump any additional resources you find along the way. In particular, we’ve made a tab for theoretical frameworks (you can simply dump screengrabs here and caption them) and a tab for measures and scales (the same principle applies). Measures and scales are specific to quantitative methodologies, but you could just as easily use this tab to jot down existing questionnaires if you’re taking a qualitative approach. 

Getting started.

The process is straightforward. For every piece of literature that you read , you log it as a line item. We’d encourage you to record everything you read. Something might seem irrelevant at first read, but you’ll be surprised how the focus of your research can change over time, leading you to inevitably ask the dreaded question, “where did I see that article again?”. Therefore, l og every piece of reading, regardless of perceived relevance at the time of reading . You’ll thank yourself later.

While you’re doing this, we’d encourage you to simultaneously capture the literature piece in your reference manager. We usually recommend Mendeley , but any of the popular reference management tools will do the trick. The key thing is to capture the references while you’re reading (and not when you’re writing, as this breaks your flow).

What goes where.

For every piece of literature you read, you’ll need to capture the following details:

  • Author – Enter the author(s) surname(s). The format you use here is up to you – just be consistent.
  • Year – Straightforward. Enter the year of publication only – no month is required.
  • Title – Enter the title exactly as it is shown on the book cover, journal article front page, presentation deck, etc. If you can copy and paste, do so. It’s easy to make mistakes on the long titles.
  • Category 1, 2 and 3 – Here, you’ll create categories and subcategories, which you can use at a later stage to help you find relevant literature. It is up to you what categories you want to use and how much detail you want to add here. At the very least, your choice of categories should be logical, comprehensive and mutually exclusive.
  • Document type – Click the drop-down arrow next to the cell and select an appropriate document type, for example, journal article, blog post, etc. If nothing matches your document type, you can use the “Other” field.
  • Publication setting – the two main options here are academic and practitioner. Academic refers to the classic academic sources such as textbooks and journal articles, while practitioner refers to publications such as industry reports, company reports, industry magazines, etc. There is also a mixed option here.
  • Theoretical refers to situations where an author is proposing a hypothetical theory or concept, but not testing it.
  • Empirical refers to situations where an author is testing the said theory by using some form of real-world observation.
  • Naturally, some literature will feature both of these (i.e. a model is hypothesized and then tested empirically).
  • Key arguments – Here you need to note the key takeaways of the respective piece of literature in relation to your research question(s) and objective(s). This is the most important column , so spend some time providing rich, detailed notes here. Keep in mind that you will be able to search and filter this column at a later stage, so use keywords that make sense.
  • Context – Here you should briefly note the context of the specific literature piece. For example, what industry, country, competitive context, etc. did it take place in? When it comes time to justify why your research is worth undertaking, you will likely need to draw on this column’s contents to demonstrate that research has not been undertaken within your specific context (i.e. is it unique?).
  • Methodology – Use this drop-down to note the primary methodology (qualitative, quantitative or mixed) used within the specific literature piece. As with the previous item (context), you will likely draw on this when you justify the choice of methodology for your research (i.e. which methodology is commonly used in the field?).
  • Key quotes – If there are any specific author quotations that you feel might be useful in your dissertation, add them here. Remember to include the page number if you’re using the Harvard referencing system.
  • My notes – Lastly, if there is anything else you feel might be useful, drop it here. You can also create additional columns if you need them.

Finding what you need.

Over time, you will build up a substantial list of literature. When you need to find something, whether it’s a specific piece of literature, a collection of literature within a category, or a summary of a specific author’s publication, you can use the following Excel features:

  • Find (Ctrl + F) – good for searching for specific keywords
  • Filter – good for filtering groups (for example, categories 1- 3, methodology or publication setting)
  • Sort – good for arranging numerical data (for example, publication year)

Once you’ve completed your reading, remember to have a look at the second tab (“Literature Summary”) for an overview of key statistics. As mentioned previously, some of these statistics can help you justify your choice of topic or methodology. Additionally, a review here may reveal that your literature is aged , or that you need to improve your balance of academic and practitioner literature.

Literature Review Course

Psst… there’s more!

This post is an extract from our bestselling Udemy Course, Literature Review Bootcamp . If you want to work smart, you don't want to miss this .

You Might Also Like:

Download: Literature Review Template



Hi, I can’t open the excel file, can you please check it? Thank you so much for your helpful contents!

Derek Jansen

Sure, no problem. We’ve checked the file and it is opening correctly. Please give it another go.


Hi,do you have a vidoe on how to popolate the informatino in the spreed sheet ?if you have it i will like to have one.

Maria Fernandez

The Theoretical Framework of the Excel File is empty, sir…

This document is a template for you to populate with the relevant literature, models and frameworks from your reading. As such, it doesn’t contain any literature.


Thank you for such a useful video tutorial. Learnt a lot!

Pleasure, Zhanna!

Bernard Boamah Bekoe

you are amazing….the way you patiently reply to almost every enquiry is remarkable. Keep it up Derek.


Very helpful as usual. Thank you so much.


I need an examplary literature review in mycology (botany) if you can provide it on any botanical topic so I would be able to start my Lit.review.


Why don’t you just ask him to do your thesis for you?

Tebogo Pule

What an invaluable presentation. Makes literature review so simple.

Derek Jansen

Thanks for the feedback, Tebogo. Good luck writing your literature review 🙂


Very useful! Thanks.

Pleasure, Maureen 🙂

Curtis Sonny

Great tips! Just starting mine now….so I am using your template….to a mil!!


I need this tamplate, its amazing, I will need your consideration on related work. Thank you


Really agreed


Hello, I am trying to download the excel but I am not receiving the email. Can it be that there is a technical problem or does it take some time to send it?

Thanks for your comment. It can take a few minutes for the email to go through. Please also check your spam box.


Yes, I am also facing the same problem brother. Just check it once. Thanking you..!


Thanks for this very nice explanation

Great to hear that 🙂


very useful

Glad to hear that 🙂


Thanks for the template. It helped in organizing my literature review and writing process

You’re welcome

Gianpiero Torrisi

Hi, thanks for sharing this file, very helpful! I’d like to share it with my students. Could you please advise on how to give proper credits (reference) to your work? Cheers, G

Hi Gianpiero

That’s great. Here’s the Harvard reference:

Jansen, D., 2019. Literature Review Excel Template (Spreadsheet/Matrix) – Grad Coach. [online] Grad Coach. Available at: https://gradcoach.com/how-to-manage-the-literature-review/ > [Accessed 6 April 2020].

Kind regards,


Thank u Derek Your lectures are effectively informative and easily understood. They are clear and organized.

Rabia A

I’m so glad I came across this website. Thank you Derek !!!

You’re welcome, Rabia 🙂


Dear Derek,

Thanks for your extremely useful video tutorials. Please can you send me a link to open your Lit Review Excel Templates.

Thanks for your feedback. You can download the template following the instructions in the orange box.

All the best with your studies!


great effort

Jerry Robinson

Thank you for this document. I am in the beginning stages of the dissertation process.

You’re welcome, Jerry 🙂

Rishi Raghubar

The video on literature review was very useful. I especially like the cataloging suggestion.

Great to hear that, Rishi. All the best for your research!


I`m busy writing my minor dissertation my master’s in engineering. I’m following your videos on youtube for writing a literature review. I’m looking for the excel sheet to save a list of references.

Morakane Moletsane

The literature video was helpful. Thank you. I haven’t received the excel template its been a week now . Please assist me .

Hi Morakane

That’s very unusual. At most, it should take a few minutes. Please re-attempt the download (use an alternative address if need be).


Thank you for the template. it seems useful to organize my literature review.

You’re very welcome.


Thank you for this informative site and all the tips. Very useful for my research.

You’re welcome, Feyi.


Currently writing a dissertation for a masters in social sciences. Found the youtube videos which are of great help.

You’re most welcome 🙂 Good luck with your literature review.


Thank you very much for the support!!

Aws Thamir

your videos are great helpful.

Glad to hear that! Good luck with your lit review.


You are the BEST

Thanks for the feedback, Annie. I wish you best of luck with your literature review.

Lebogang Masilane

where is the download link for the excel template?

Hi Lebogang

The download is below the first image. Good luck with your literature review!

A really thankful Undergrad Student

Your videos literally saved me!!!! Due to recent issues, most of my classes were cancelled and i was completely lost. No words can explain how much grateful i am to you!!

Glad to hear we helped you! Good luck with your literature review.


You guys are the kinds of people who should survive covid-19. You are the type of people we really need in this planet. You are a star. You really saved me from many headaches. Thank you very much for the useful videos and the literature organisation spreadsheet.

Thanks for the kind words, Abel. All the best for your literature review!


Thanks so much for your video. I have consistently received comments that my arguments don’t flow well and I could never figure out how to successfully fix this issue. Now I feel I have a plan and someone to help me and provide feedback if I still don’t get it quite well. Looking forward to getting an improved mark on my next Lit review Thank you

Great to hear that, Helen. Good luck with your future literature reviews!


Excellent lecture

Thanks Biren – good luck with your literature review

i have watched your video on three steps to write a literature review and i found it very useful. thank you for sharing. keep it up.

Thanks again

tanya Sifuentes

Thank you for providing such excellent information and sources. Your videos helped me so much. I was on the verge of quitting. Thank you again for your videos and recommended tools.

Great to hear that, Tanya. All the best for your literature review, and for your research.


The video was very informative and timely for me. I am about to start, so Gradcoach is a source I will be revisiitng

Thanks, Nina – glad to hear that. Good luck with your literature review 🙂


hey your video is awesome I had to make an assignment on literature Review and it helped me to get an outline on how I should start ! i was fed of reading books and online articles. Your video served as a boon and clarified my thought process – how I should move forward .Thank you so much!

Great to hear that, Kavita. All the best with your literature review!

Hi Derek, I have tried unsuccessfully to download the Excel template but it keeps bringing me back to this comment section. Is it a technical issue? Kindly help.

Sorry about that. Can you please send me a screenshot of what you’re seeing – [email protected] . I will send you the template as well.

Best of luck with your literature review.

Slackin in Colorado

This is so very helpful!! I am writing my first lit review within a proposal (rather last minute, yikes) and this is so helpful to stay organized!

Pleasure. Good luck with your lit review 🙂


Hi i like the video,it is very helpful especially now that I am working on my proposal for thesis project….Hope I will be able to use the excel template to organize for my literature review

Great to hear that, Faith. All the best with your literature review!


hey Derek this video is absolutely amazing. One problem though I’m one of the few that are struggling to download excel. I keep clicking on it and nothing happens.

Thanks for letting us know. Please email me a screenshot of your error and I’ll sort you out – [email protected]

Thanks, Derek

Laura McLuckie

Thanks a lot! Very well explained and easy to follow…now I guess I have no excuse to actually do the work 😉

Thanks for your comment! Good luck with your literature review.


Your video is very informative and useful. Thanks a lot. I also want to try the template but I can’t the find the download link…

The download button is below the main image.


Very helpful thank you


Hi! It is a big help for beginners, such as me. Thanks a lot for sharing!

Kimnrtly S

Thank you. All the best with your literature review.

Chima Hampo

This is brilliant, Pls sir, in writing a review article, how deep can u go. Is it necessary to go down to the inception of your area of research?


How do I know the country/region of research article?

This will usually be covered somewhere in the article itself.

kori morris

I would like this free resource

You’re welcome to download it. The download button is below the main image. Good luck with your literature review 🙂

Chukwudinma Daniel

I’d love to have this resource pls. Thank you so much

You’re welcome to download it. The download button is below the main image.

Constance Williams

Thanks for the you tube videos. they are very informative

Kenton Chow

Thank you so much for the full tutorial with so much detailed information. I’m a Ph.D. Candidate in China. The whole syllabus of the Ph.D. program sucks. Thanks again for sharing all this helpful information. I hope your team will getting better in the future!

You’re very welcome. Good luck writing your literature review.


It’s such a big help for me. Thank you!

Austin Sanders

I’ve watched your video on writing a research proposal. I am interested in the lit review excel template.

Yonas Berhanu Hailu

I have watched your lecture video on writing a research proposal. I am interested in the literature review excel template and the book write smarter not harder.


It is very helpful. Thank you for your experience sharing.

You’re welcome – good luck with your literature review 🙂

Jamie Fern

Good afternoon, I recall listening/seeing in 1 of your videos *of saving the abstract (PDF) together with the excel database. How do you do this? is it also with this excel sheet

Thank you ..your videos are a confidence booster

*How To Write A Literature Review In 3 Steps (Full Tutorial)

Man Bahadur Khattri

Wonderful work !!! Please share more !!!! I will be very happy.

Benedict Ansere

Thanks so much for your precision in your presentation. I have not yet started practicing but it’s one of the best I have come across. More grease to your elbows.

Cecilia Brown

I love every video on research that you ve made so far. Thanks a lot


انت رائع جدا

Siti Fatimah

You’re welcome. Good luck with your literature review 🙂

Jesus Arturo Hernandez Soberon

Excellent work. Very helpful. I am starting in this beautiful activity of writing papers with my research . I am learning a lot. Thank you very much.

Glad to hear that. Good luck writing up your research papers!

Rebecca Kakilala

Thank you so much for the free Excel document! It’s such a huge time-saver!

You’re most welcome, Rebecca. Good luck writing your literature review 🙂

Chuah Yi Ning

I am so grateful that I have found you on YouTube!

In the meantime, is it better to make another excel file for another variable of the same thesis or just put all articles of all variables in 1 excel file?

Thank you very much!

Juan Josephine

The notes have been very helpful to me thank you very much for sharing

You’re most welcome, Juan 🙂

Selvam Kalimuthu

Just recently seen your youtube video. Its very information. I usually gets running out of words while writing literature review. Example: XX et al investigated, YY et al shown that, ZZ et al demonstrated…….. After 4-5 references, I feels like again am repeating the words investigated, demonstrated… Could you please shoe some references with a set of vocabularies that can be used while writing literature review section.

Thank you in advance

Frank Ogbonna

Thank you so much. Amazing tutorial. Am feeling educated now. Lol…

Glad to hear that, Frank. Good luck with your literature review!


Very helpful stuff, thank you so much for the free Excel! I’m going to use it for my DBA and get your YT channel.


Hi, thank you for the great insights! I was unable download the template even though I completed the form. Would you be able to help me?


Derek thanks for sharing your sacrifices. I love the clarity and confidence, it takes experience to do such.

Akeem Adunfe Ajayi

I just downloaded the excel template for LR coupled with the explanation on how to use. I found it useful, thank you!

Abdallah Khirfan

Do you have any recommendations for adding Key quotes from a reference ?


Great content. Template very useful


Awesome! An answer to my prayer. I found this in time I need it most. Thank you for the spirit of service.

You’re most welcome, Jojo. Good luck with your literature review.

Md. Bashir Uddin Khan

I am really impressed. This discussion helped me a lot to reconsider a lot of issues.

Thanks for the kind words. Good luck with your literature review!


This is amazing! I really like the guidance you are giving here. However, can you throw more light on the ‘category’ columns for me? I’m really nit clear on that. Thanks

Thanks for your comment. Please see my reply to Sasquia’s question re the same thing.

Good luck with your research!


I have been sitting on an enormous amount of articles for months with difficulties in organizing them until i discovered your video on literature review (YouTube). It brought me to this page where you also had a free template for us. Research process is so much bearable now than i expected. Highly recommended for all researchers. Thank you very much.

Sasquia Antúnez Pineda

Great template. Quick question: Are the categories KEYWORDS that I draw from each source? or pre-planned TOPICS that I come up with to organize the source content?

Thanks for your comment. You can use the category columns in whichever way works for you. It would be different for each student depending on the nature of their research and their research objectives.


Hi there, can you suggest how the corresponding literature resources are best saved into a document folder for retrieval later.

I have seen some suggesting using a unique identifier in a master tab in the spreadsheet so as to be able to create a separate tab for quotes or similar thus using the id as the link

But no one has gone on to say if they are also saving the source document in a folder and naming it 57 or author last name, title or other.

I checked out your Literature Kickstarter and the screen shot of the articles didn’t look to correspond with the catalogue. Have been meaning to sort out my reference folders for sometime and am inspired by the use of an excel spreadsheet but not sure what to name files (currently saved in theme folders) Any help would be gratefully received. Thanks

Zinabu Gashaw

I am happy if I get a catalogue excel template on the research are of zeolite synthesis from local clay for water treatment mechanism. I need help.


I love the template! But I would like to change the name of some of the headings, used in the dropdown, i.e. change “Audio Recording” to “Podcast”. How could I do that?

Odelia Sonia Caliz

Very helpful!

Dorcas Peprah

Great!!! Very handy.

Vidya R

Thankyou so much. The excel file is really helpful. This really means and is helping a lot for me.


Hello, please, how can i get your excel document to catacogue the ideas for my literature review. Can you also assist on how to build the methodology section of my literature review? Thank you in advance.

Padliah Bahar

I’m a student from Indonesia..This is very useful for me.. Thank you Derek..


What is the better, download all literatures and then log them into the excel sheet or do that for one by one?

Stephanie Louw

Dear Derek.

I was utterly stressed when taking on an MSc Educational Leadership distance learning degree after 30 years of no academic studying. However, I found your literature review tutorial on Youtube and I immediately experienced a sense of calm direction. I am working full time in the Cayman Islands and am native Afrikaans speaking, so it was such a great help with my literature review for my first assignment. However, I have to write an evaluative essay for my second module and can not find any tutorial done by you about this. Do you perhaps have a template I could use? I have also used your services for editing and proofreading and am super grateful for the amazing help I have received! THANK YOU!

Thushara Mapalagama

Hi Mr Derek,

It really really helps me to summarise my LR in Excel form and start-up writing

Douglas Mabonga

Hi Derek I have tried to download the template and it has failed to. I am not receiving the email either, could this be network issues.

Hi Derek I have been able to download the template. thank you for all your support. let me get started

Dickson Egama

I have downloaded the template. I would like to print out the guide so I can easily follow. Hope that is fine with you.


THANKS A LOTTTTT This template is exactly the one I needed when reading the literature review for my Bachelor’s dissertation


Thank you so much for your support ,I have downloaded your template and it is amazing .

Michael Howell

Derek, The products you and the team members have put together continue to provide exemplary help as I finish the journey toward completing my dissertation! I wish I would have known of GradCoach during both of my MBAs. It could have helped alleviate a lot of time and frustration! I look forward to learning and seeing new things as I complete the dissertation.

Thanks for the kind words 🙂

Ishtiaq Yousaf

Can data will be entered in excel sheet automatically like in Mendeley or i have to enter manually, pl?

Seleman Mozah

Thank you GRADCOACH, I’m keenly following your tutorials as I’m about to start my literature review. These videos have been very helpful. So for the literature review you recommend only checking abstract, introduction and conclusion of the relevant literature?


Thanks for providing such an amazing resource.

I wish I knew about this when I was doing my masters. I’m doing my PhD now and sitting on Word files of reference lists and quotes I made for my MEd. This catalog will help me to keep everything more organized in one place. I’ve already started making your template my own by adding additional columns that are important for my research topic. One of the best features of your template is the Literature summary page. My question is how do I get the information I put into my new columns to auto-populate with descriptive statistics on the Literature Summary page?


Hi, I still don’t understand what you would put as ‘Category 1’, ‘Category 2’, ‘Category X’. Are they like the sort of big topics covered in the paper?


This is very helpful


  • What Is A Literature Review (In A Dissertation Or Thesis) - Grad Coach - […] theses and any other credible sources of information that relate to your topic. You’ll then summarise and catalogue these for easy…

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systematic literature review excel template

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  • Feb 14, 2021

Excel Workbooks and User Guides for Systematic Reviews

Updated: May 19, 2022

The workbooks are in the process of being revised. Note that the user guides are not following the same version as the workbooks.

February 28, 2022

Which workbook(s) should you use?

All Excel workbooks are available online .

If you are working on a systematic review by yourself, then the ONLY workbook you will need is One-person-review_Project-name-Excel-workbook .

If you are working on a systematic review and need a means of tracking your literature searches ONLY (i.e. you are using Distiller SR, Covidence, or something similar for study selection), then the workbook you should use is Project-Name-PRIMARY-workbook-lit-searches .

Otherwise, for 2-person reviews, use the:

Project-name_PRIMARY-Excel-workbook-for-two-people ;

Cohens-kappa-for-two-people_Project-name_Compiled ;

Screening-workbook-for-two-people_Project-name_Compiled ;

Reviewing-workbook-for-two-people_Project-name_Compiled .

You will also need special styles for RefWorks or EndNote , depending on which citation management system you use. You can create your own if you know how by customizing the export fields so only the citation ID, item title, and abstract export in a tab-delimited text file.

User guides

All user guides are available online . These include:

EndNote style for Excel SR workbooks

User instructions for EndNote

RefWorks for Excel SR workbooks

User instructions for RefWorks

Excel workbook to track literature searches ONLY

Track literature search user guide

Excel workbook for a one-person review

PRIMARY Excel Workbook for a 2-person review

Cohen's kappa interrater reliability user guide

Screening workbook user guide

Full text review user guide

Additional materials

Resources for reporting findings are also available online , including:

PRISMA flowchart in MS Word

Search strategies template in MS Word

Recent Posts

Topical Searches in PubMed, notably equity topics

Embase (Elsevier) Research Methodology Search Filters and Limits

Your search results are only as good as your search. Use a filter to separate the wheat from the chaff! Be sure you take a look at the blog which gives an overview of search filters/search hedges. Dev

PubMed Research Methodology Search Filters and Limits and Topical Searches

Cranfield University

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Systematic Literature Review – Using Excel to help manage references for the systematic literature review process

books open on a desk

What’s the issue?

One of the questions which often comes up when discussing the SLR process is how do I manage my references in the most efficient way during the process of going from my search results, to my final list of articles?

Each step of the SLR process has its own challenges. Firstly you need to identify your keywords, then construct your search strings, then work out the combinations of the search strings and which databases to use e.g. EBSCO Business Source Complete, ABI Inform, Scopus and Web of Science, in order to retrieve the articles which are key to your research topic.

Not all the articles retrieved will be relevant and you will need to filter your initial results sets according to your inclusion and exclusion criteria, by looking firstly at the title and abstract, and then at the full text in order to identify the final articles. At each stage you will need to be able to note:

  • how many articles there were
  • for each of your search string combinations
  • from each of your chosen databases.

Sounds simple enough,  until you realise that there will inevitably be duplication between the sources…

The excellent news is that you can now export all of your references, with abstracts, directly from EBSCO Business Source Complete, ABI Inform and Scopus.  The download option to use for EBSCO Business Source Complete and Scopus is the CSV option. For ABI Inform it is XLS.

systematic literature review excel template

Exporting from Ebsco

systematic literature review excel template

Exporting from ABI Inform

Once you have downloaded the information into Excel you can then use the power of Excel to help you tag, filter and sort your references so that you can easily identify duplicates and also keep track of which references were found in each database.

Other blog posts you may find useful

  • Systematic Literature Review – Where do I begin?
  • Systematic Literature Review – Selecting your Sources
  • Systematic Literature Review – Identifying your search terms and constructing your search strings
  • Systematic Literature Review – Combining your search strings to create your search strategy

If you have any comments about this post or would like further help or information please contact MIRC .

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Written By: Cranfield University

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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

Review Matrix

  • 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.

Sample health sciences 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.

systematic literature review excel template

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  • Last Updated: Aug 8, 2023 12:12 PM
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systematic literature review excel template

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Should you use Excel, Google Sheets, or Citavi for Your Literature Review?

systematic literature review excel template

If you’re wondering ‘what is a literature review’ or trying to figure out how to write a literature review, you’ve come to the right place. While a literature review can be a summary of sources, it can also discuss published information in a variety of formats on a specific subject area and tends to have an organizational pattern that combines both a summary (a recap of the information) and a synthesis (a re-organization or the information).

The literature review for your article, thesis, or dissertation requires keeping track of sources, their important points, and their links to each other – for hundreds of journal articles, books, research papers, videos, scholarly articles, and other references. So, it’s no surprise grad students and researchers frequently struggle with how to write a literature review.

Many university guides on the subject recommend creating a synthesis matrix for keeping track of sources, ideas, and quotations. Traditionally, this matrix was often created as a Word document, and you’ll still find many templates available online. However, more and more academics now seem to be using spreadsheets instead.

This blog post will look into the advantages and disadvantages of using Excel and Word, explore the reasons for why researchers use spreadsheets, and discuss the benefits of using a specialized writing and reference management program like Citavi.

Pros and Cons of Using a Spreadsheet as a Literature Tracker

Advantages of using excel.

Proponents of the Excel approach are quick to tout the many benefits. First, there’s no need to pay for a new piece of software, since if you already have Microsoft Office installed on your computer, you also already have Excel. Otherwise, you can also use Google Sheets which has all the options you might need.

Then, there’s the simplicity and flexibility of using a spreadsheet. Set up time is pretty low. You simply create a few columns and can get started using your literature tracking system in a matter of minutes.

Another benefit is how easily customizable the solution is – you can make the categories be exactly what you want. Need a column to track the location of a study or a specific intervention? You just need to add it. Even though Excel can get complicated if you set up formulas or other customizations, for a literature review spreadsheet you usually can just use it as a simple table.

So far, the advantages listed apply to Word as well, but Excel and Citavi have one crucial advantage over Word: it lets you search, sort, and filter. Have a vague recollection of a note you wrote but only remember one term you used in it? Use Excel’s “Find” feature. Want to sort all your notes by year of publication of your source? Nothing could be easier than sorting your “year” column in ascending order. Want to find clinical trials with female participants with a statistically significant intervention? If you set up your Excel sheet as described below under “Version 2” such combinations of queries are possible, and in Citavi, setup is even easier as it lets you save sources directly into the program and organize your literature review outline in the knowledge organizer.

Citavi interface showing outline, sources, reference meta data, and an article PDF.

Citavi interface showing outline, sources, reference meta data, and an article PDF.

So, with all these advantages, how does the Excel method work in practice?

Version 1: Simple but Effective

When you search for “Excel literature review”, Dr. Elaine Gregersen’s 2016 blog post “How I use Excel to manage my Literature Review” about her personal literature tracking system is one of the first results to pop up. It’s an approach that’s still often praised in discussion threads about Excel literature tracking methods. In her own words, it’s a simple approach, but that’s what makes it work. Her approach uses a literature review spreadsheet in addition to a reference manager. She uses one sheet only and includes columns for basic citation information, keywords, objectives, methods, and conclusions. In addition, she adds in four personalized categories: happy thoughts, unhappy thoughts, her own ethical concerns, and the author’s ethical concerns. These last two columns perfectly align with her field of Autoethnography. The happy thoughts column is for notes, such as how findings relate to her own work, while the unhappy thoughts column is for times when she disagrees with an author, among other uses.

Dr. Raul Pacheco uses a similar one-sheet method, which he calls the Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump (CSED) technique since he tosses in any literature he might be using for analysis. His setup overlaps in some ways with Gregersen’s but has a few differences; he has columns for the concept (i.e. theme), citation, main idea, three columns for notes (which function similarly to Gregersen’s happy and unhappy thoughts), cross-references, quotes, and page numbers.

A useful tip is to create a dedicated column for quotations to help separate out the authors’ exact words from one’s analysis of them or the article as a whole. This can help you inadvertently misrepresent an author’s ideas as your own when you’re later writing your literature review.

Taking the models laid out by Gregersen and Pacheco as a jumping off point, it’s easy to make some tweaks for even better usability for your own projects. Obviously, you’ll want to create columns that fit your needs. Instead of a column “main theme” you might have several “key takeaways” columns. Or a highly-personal column for how each article relates to your own work. For example, you might include only the author names and year of publication for an article rather than the full citation (in which case we’d highly recommend saving the full details in a reference management program!). Some people might want to copy the abstract the authors provide, while some will choose to write their own summaries. You can add “notes” columns or distinguish between paraphrases, comments, and direct quotations. Beyond that there are a lot of other small things you can do to make your spreadsheet work better for you, such as linking from a citation to the actual PDF, adding comments to cells, or adding drop-down lists to make data entry easier.

If you struggle with organizing your notes and memos, you could benefit from a reference management software like Citavi. Citavi lets you make notes within the program and easily connects your notes, memos, and quotes to your sources – helping you keep track of all your thoughts and research.

n Citavi, see all your notes and comments about a source in one place.

In Citavi, see all your notes and comments about a source in one place.

Version 2: Advanced, but Complex, Set-Up Option

If you want to take your basic Excel spreadsheet up a notch, you can do so in several ways. For one, you can make use of multiple sheets in the same workbook. Dr. Kathleen Clarke describes her method which involves a major spreadsheet for tracking all the high-level information about a source along with minor spreadsheets which are more granular. She describes her method as a mix between Gregersen’s and Pacheco’s, but she also includes additional sheets on different but related topics and for studies she wants to read later on. One other notable addition is the use of a numbering system for her sources which corresponds to the article file names on her computer.

Some General Tips

While there’s a lot of freedom in how you set up your Excel files, there are still some best practices you’ll likely want to follow. First, you should set up your table so that headers are marked as such. This way they won’t be sorted along with the other cells if you sort the column by A-Z, for example. Also, you’ll want to apply word wrap formatting to cells to keep content from spilling over into neighboring empty cells. This just keeps everything looking a lot tidier and makes it easier to skim through. Another handy option recommended by McQuilliam is to set up endless scrolling which keeps your column headers visible, even when you’re adding entries at the bottom of your list.

The columns you include are more or less up to you, but you’ll need a column for source information for sure to avoid inadvertent plagiarism or having to hunt down sources later on. In addition, a year column is invaluable for sorting your literature chronologically in preparation for writing your lit review. To keep track of how authors build upon and discuss each other’s work, a cross-references column can also be helpful. It’s important to make it very clear which analysis and thoughts are your own and which are those of your author.

If you’re planning on using filter features later on to search by study type, keyword, or some other criteria you’ll need to use controlled vocabulary, i.e. each concept should be referred to by a single term rather than using a bunch of different synonyms. You can define this at the start in a key on a separate sheet of your Excel workbook so that you can easily refer to it as needed. Each time you decide to add new terms, just add them to your key.

To save time, a streamlined option for organizing and categorizing your source information, notes, and quotes is Citavi, and we’ll look further into the benefits of using Citavi at the end of this post.

Disadvantages of the Excel Approach and Why It’s Not Sufficient for a Quality Lit Review

It’s hard to argue with the advantages of ease, simplicity, and flexibility that the Excel method gives you. But, there are still some big downsides to consider.

First, you have to set everything up yourself – it’s not already set up for you in a way that should fit most workflows. If you try something and later decide to take a different approach, you may need to go back and add in additional information for many sources you already examined.

Although search, filtering, and sorting options in Excel are much better than they would be in a Word table, the program is still a spreadsheet at heart which means that it’s “flatter” than a database. In other words, it’s less relational which makes it difficult to create complex search strings to get a subset of items that fit multiple criteria or that use more complicated search techniques such as Boolean logic or wildcards.

Another drawback is that the Excel approach involves a lot of manual entry. While some amount of manual work will always be necessary, for example, when you type up your comments or key takeaways, you won’t be able to directly extract information from PDFs (such as direct quotes or images) without using an additional PDF reader. Moreover, there are no time-saving automation options for adding source information that you might be accustomed to from your reference manager.

Speaking of reference managers, in many of the Twitter discussions around the Excel note-taking approach, there will always be a few comments asking why the person didn’t consider using their referencing software for their notes. Many proponents of the Excel approach stress that they do indeed use a reference management program to keep track of their source information but that they prefer to keep their notes and analysis in a separate Excel file. One of the reasons is that even though many reference management programs let you group references into folders and tag them with specific terms, they don’t let you easily keep track of and categorize notes on a particular source. You basically get a single notes field and that’s it. No way to categorize, group, or tag the note itself, just the source as a whole.

While this is true for many reference manager programs, there’s one that goes above and beyond its competitors – Citavi! While we’ve explored how it’s possible to create a literature review with Excel and Word, it is not the most efficient way available. With Citavi, you can easily keep track of, categorize, and connect your sources – all in one place.

Advantages of Using Citavi for Your Literature Review

Citavi is a reference management program that has been designed with extensive knowledge organization for any number of sources in mind and may, in many cases, be a better alternative to the Excel method.

Citavi lets you automatically add source information for most journal articles. Then, you can read PDFs and save notes and memos directly in the program. Annotating in Citavi is as simple as how you would on paper as you can highlight sections of text in colors that indicate whether it’s an important section, a section you might want to cite, or a passage that you’d like to analyze more closely. The only difference from annotating on paper is that these notes – which can be summaries, indirect quotations, direct quotations and comments – are always linked directly to their location in the PDF, so if you ever have to look up the context for one of your own comments or a direct quotation again, one click takes you directly to where you need to go and makes it easy to create your annotated bibliography.

Page numbers are saved automatically, as long as the PDF metadata includes that information. Otherwise, you just need to enter a page number for an article with the first “knowledge item” you save for it. Citavi will then add all the rest automatically.

Citavi keeps track of your meta data so it’s easy to follow one of the hundreds of citation styles available in the program.

Citavi keeps track of your meta data so it’s easy to follow one of the hundreds of citation styles available in the program.

Although the knowledge item types are pre-defined, the many options will fit most needs, and you can also always use either the keywords, categories, or the core statement field to designate the type of note you are adding if you want more customization. Any terms you use can later be searched or used as filters (more on that below). In addition, for the reference as a whole you also have pre-defined fields for keywords, groups, evaluations, abstracts, notes, and cross-references. This lets you classify at both the reference and note level, so, if you want, you can assign different categories or keywords for a source as a whole and for a statement you find in it. If you need additional source fields, there are nine custom fields which you can rename and format with drop-down options.

Where Citavi really shines against Excel is in its search features and integration with Word and NVivo 14. You can create and save complex searches that combine or exclude certain terms, keywords, categories, note type, year, etc. You can make use of advanced search syntax, such as boolean operators, wildcards, and regular expressions. You can rate sources and filter by rating. And, you have full-text search across all of your PDFs.

You can also view project statistics at a glance or use an add-on to do an analysis by author or another criteria. With Citavi and NVivo 14 integration, you can go beyond reference management by creating a springboard to collect references and thoughts, analyze literature, and connect empirical data with NVivo’s analysis tools – helping you dig deeper into your research and speed up your publishing time.

But the best part is that all of this information can be taken directly over to Word. You have all the analysis and quotes you’ve saved in a panel at the left and can just click to insert what you need. Citavi will insert the correct citation formatting and add an entry to your bibliography at the end. If you added your notes to an outline in Citavi, you can use the “Chapter” view to focus on what you need for a particular section. And, if you ever need to double-check the context for a direct quotation or your own paraphrase, you can click a link symbol to jump back to the exact spot in the PDF that you referred to.

If you do need to at some point export your reference information in table format for an appendix in your dissertation (for example, as documentation of the exclusion process for a systematic review), doing so just requires a few clicks. If you’ve previously worked with Excel and want to try out Citavi, importing is just as easy, and you can of course import all of your existing notes as knowledge items.

Last but certainly not least, if you use Citavi, you have the benefit of working with one tool instead of needing to juggle an Excel spreadsheet, a reference management program, and a PDF annotation tool or PDF reader.

Tour Citavi

We think it’s a no-brainer to use Citavi instead of Excel or Google Sheets to keep track of your reading for a literature review – but then again, we might be ever so slightly biased. What do you think?

Learn more about Citavi or request a free 30-day trial today!

Recent Articles

systematic literature review excel template

Matrix Method for Literature Review

  • The Review Matrix
  • Organize Your Sources
  • Choose Your Remaining Column Topics
  • More Information

Sample Matrix and Templates

  • Related Library Guides
  • Getting Help
  • Review Matrix Example-Ebola Vaccine Clinical Studies This document includes a review matrix of two Ebola vaccine clinical reviews done on humans published by the National Institute of Health.
  • Review Matrix Word Template A review matrix template in Microsoft Word.
  • Review Matrix Excel Template A review matrix template for Microsoft Excel
  • << Previous: More Information
  • Next: Related Library Guides >>
  • Last Updated: Aug 27, 2023 9:37 AM
  • URL: https://guides.library.duq.edu/matrix


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