Skip to Main Content

Literature Mapping Tools

A guide to online tools for partially automating the process of literature mapping/citation chaining

Literature Reviews: A Working Definition

A literature review is a methodical or organized review of the published literature on a specific topic or research question designed to analyze--not just summarize--scholarly writings that are related directly to your research question. That is, it represents the literature that provides the context for your research and shows a correspondence between those writings and your own work.

Before you get started...

The past few years have seen an explosion of online tools designed to automate the process of doing literature reviews. These tools generally work by asking you to identify a relevant article (often called a "seed article") and use the metadata attached to articles (such as authors and keywords), or citations and reference lists to find related articles. Most tools offer some type of visualization feature to trace the connections between papers, and increasingly, tools offer summaries of the research content. These tools provide researchers with an option to at least partially automate some of their literature review work which can save a lot of time.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Very little independent research has been done to test the reliability, scope, and accuracy of these tools
  • In our own testing of tools that provide summaries of articles, we have sometimes found that summaries do not reflect the same key take-aways that we have identified
  • Reproducibility of searches is questionable so they may not be the best choice for things like systematic reviews
  • Because of the reliance on citation chaining, there is a built in bias towards heavily cited works which ends up creating a feedback loop that may cause you to miss relevant and/or newer materials
  • Not everything is indexed in the data sets used by a given tool; this is particularly the case in the arts and humanities which are more oriented towards books
  • Both the tools themselves, many of which are open access projects, and the indices they rely on may stop being updated/maintained, or go offline for a variety of reasons
  • You still need to use a library to access full text in a majority of cases

NOTE: This is a rapidly evolving field and we will be updating this guide on a regular basis.