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Using EndNote for Tracking and Organizing Literature for Your Lit Review

Doctoral students frequently need dissertation help in tracking and organizing literature. It is a daunting task – after all you will likely read on average three articles a week for over a year in order to accumulate the substantial understanding of your topic on which to base your expertise. While all of these will not be used in the final review of literature, it is likely that you will need to have about 75 peer reviewed articles referenced in the literature review chapter(s).

This article discusses EndNote as a database through which you will be able to build a robust library; one that allows you to notate, sort and, later recall for writing the vast quantity of ideas you are collecting for later use in your lit review.


First Step – collect quality articles.

Most universities track the relevance and scholarship of a review of literature through whether and to what extent your chapter references peer reviewed work. Not all books are peer reviewed, but many by reputable houses such as Sage, Pearson, McGraw Hill, Routledge, etc. will be. Check the publishing house for details. The same is true of journal articles and here you can check the front flap or the guidelines.

Second Step – take clear notes and be consistent as to what fields you put them in. EndNote had four or five useful fields for entry at the bottom of the database. Let's use the abstract field as an example. Many students would cut and paste the authors abstract here which is fair enough, however authors' abstracts vary widely as to the types of information they include. More rigorous journals use a format I have come to like, which involves stating the purpose, scope, methodology, findings, conclusions, limitations, and contributions of the work. I would recommend that, whether you put it in the abstract field or not, that you list this information in one consistent field in the data base.

Whatever way you use your fields, ALWAYS be sure to note what was of interest to you when you chose this article. You will likely be writing “a donkey's age” later (as they say in Ireland) and you will be dismayed by how much you forget.

Third Step – Sort your lit into groups. EndNote has the groups function in the left hand column. AS you begin to see subtopics of interest, start a group and sort what you have read that fits under this subtopic into the group. EndNote makes it easy you just click and drag.

Fourth Step – Attach your PDFs or cut and paste the significant portions of the work. When you are writing there will be cases when you want to go back and drill deeper into the ideas of one or more authors. Perhaps, you come to understand a subtlety and want to go back to see if your ideas hold up. Here you will need to be able to get to the original work. Since many online databases deliver work in PDF format, EndNote makes this easy – reference/attach file menu, browse to your work and link it in.

Since it is possible that you may move computers during your dissertation process, it will be helpful to place all your EndNote PDFs in one file – that way you can re-establish the links as necessary.

These four steps will help you build the robust and accessible library that you need. Work the process and keep your reading and notating level to at least three articles a week and you will soon be ready to come back to your library and use it as a tool for writing. That will be the subject of another article in this series.