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Library Guide to Capstone Literature Reviews: Get & Stay Organized

Organize your research


Organization is essential as you work from start to finish of your capstone project. Good organization will allow you to see where you have been and help you to see how to proceed.

  • Staying organized throughout your research will help you to avoid repeating ineffective searches.
  • When it comes to writing your literature review, staying organized will provide you a concise overview of the research you have located, and help you group thoughts and ideas.
  • As you write your literature review section you will need to explain to your readers how you conducted your research.
    • This explanation does not need to be lengthy but you will need to share with your readers the databases and keywords that you used to find your research articles. This information can help future researchers pick up where your research left off.

To get an idea of how you might approach your literature review, look at the literature reviews of award-winning dissertations.


One method of organizing is to create an Excel spreadsheet to track your research, which will allow you to sort your information also. You can customize your spreadsheet to track the information you need. This is a list of some commonly used areas that you may want to track:

  • Database: Which specific databases did you use in your research?
    • NOTE: EBSCO and ProQuest are companies that provide access to many individual databases. Be sure to look for the specific database name rather than listing the company name.
  • Search Terms: What keywords did you use? Keeping track of this information can help you avoid using ineffective keywords and help you to build on previous searches.
  • Results: How many results did you find with this search?
  • Notes: Make note of anything that may help you later on. This could be a note regarding ineffective or effective keywords, future searches to try, prolific authors, etc.
Search Log Example
Database Search Terms Results Notes
ABI/INFORM leadership AND personality AND managers; limited to peer reviewed, 2018-present 17 term leadership styles used in many articles; possible new search term?
PsycINFO leadership styles AND managers; limited to peer reviewed, 2018-present 103 Lots of hits! Maybe narrow it down?
Emerald Insight leadership styles AND managers AND women; limited to peer reviewed, 2018-present 306 Wow, a lot also including cultural & international issues as well as gender. New direction for my search?

The Writing Center offers a similar method in the form of a literature review matrix. You can see sample matrices and download templates on their page:

There is no right or wrong way to organize. The best way is the way that makes sense to you.

Organize your resources

As you conduct your research you will read numerous sources on your topic. To keep track of all these resources, you will want to use some kind of organization system.

  • You may choose to print all of the resources and organize them in files.
  • You may save them on your computer in files.
  • You may also want to consider using citation management or reference management software to help store all of your resources electronically.

Citation management software

Citation management software will not only allow you to track all of your resources in one place, it will also provide a way of adding your reference list and in-text citations to your literature review. Most citation management software will allow you to add notes, create your own system for filing and organizing documents, and attach full text articles to citations for easy access.

There are many different citation management software programs available and they can range from free to rather expensive. You'll want to keep some things in mind when selecting the software that works best for you.

  • All programs will have a learning curve. There is no right or best program. The right or best program to use will be the one that makes the most sense to you.
  • All of them will import the information as it exists. If there are errors in an article title, those errors will be imported by any of the programs no matter what the program costs.
  • Different programs may or may not work with some computer operating systems or Internet browsers. For example, if you are using Safari on a Mac, you will want to make sure the program will work with these systems.

Wikipedia has a very handy list that compares the different citation management programs. You can quickly see the cost, what operating systems programs work with, and features of the programs.

Database vs. publishing company

EBSCO and ProQuest are often confused as databases.  They are actually two popular publishing companies that provide the Library with numerous academic database packages.  Walden contracts with them to provide you with access to a large assortment of resources, including journals, books and tests.


In any EBSCO database, from the Advanced Search page, you will find the name of the specific database listed right above the search boxes after Searching. For example, if you see Searching: Education Source, you are using the Education Source database.

You can change databases or add additional databases to your search.

  • Above the search boxes, to the right of the name of the specific database you are searching, click on Choose Databases.
  • This opens a box with a list of other EBSCO company databases. You can choose additional databases to add to your search by checking the box in front of the database name, and then clicking OK when you are finished.




In ProQuest, from the Advance Search page, you will see the name of the specific database you are using at the top of the page, under the ProQuest banner. For example, you might see Nursing & Allied Health Database listed if that is the database you were using.

To change databases, click on the Change databases link found under the name of the database at the top of the page.


This opens the Select Databases page, where you will see a list of options. Many of the options will already be checked. You may need to uncheck databases you do not want to include in a search, and possibly check others that you do.

Once you have made your choices, click the Use selected databases button toward the top of the page.