As I write my dissertation proposal, I'm working on research process (since institutional research is my vocation). For the literature review phase, I've drafted a flowchart for sources.
There are, of course, several details beneath each box, but the most important bit I've picked up are the "NO" decisions and the "set aside" box. I've discovered the hard way that it's never too late to toss out a book or article that just doesn't fit.
Collecting resources for the literature review feels productive. You end each session with more articles that may inform your research. Your numbers look impressive. But knowledge is what you need and a pile of articles is not knowledge. It’s just a pile of articles.
Unfortunately, it took me over a year to get this—and I still struggle. Here’s the lesson. The literature review is not about the quantity or breadth of the literature collected. It is about the substantiation of your research. You need to synthesize and critique enough literature to show that you deeply understand the context of your question and to make a strong argument for your study. That’s it.
So, the intent is not to collect literature. The intent is to explore, understand, and synthesize just the high quality literature that provides context and justification for your study. It requires no more and no less. That’s the lesson I’m learning day by day and a well-drafted literature review turned in for comment by May 12, 2014, will show that I finally get it.
Admittedly, I am VERY early in my dissertation process, but I've already gathered a list of apps, programs, and manual tools that have been very helpful. [updated 4/18/2014]
PhinisheD: This great site describes itself as "A discussion and support group for people trying to finish their dissertations or theses, and those who have been there."I participate in one of the weekly boards and the discussion and accountability has been invaluable. [added 4/3/2014]
Google Keep: My new favorite note taker/task list. It captures photos, voice, and text, and syncs them across platforms. Superb! [added 3/6/2014]
Google Goggles: Super tool for converting a picture of text into actual text. It requires copy and paste, and a bit of text clean up, but is a super tool for Android smart phones.
Zotero: This is a free bibliographic organizer that can capture info direct from the web, produce reports on selected resources, and create citations and bibliography in one of several styles (APA, Chicago, etc.). I used to use EndNote, but it was pricey. Zotero is free and does everything I've needed so far.
Scrivener: Non-linear composition tool that I'm using for writing the text. Since I think in non-linear and often random bits, this has been great at allowing me to capture stuff as it comes and easily reorganize it later. It also produces output in several formats.
Send-to-Kindle: This Firefox add-on has been great for capturing tangential, but interesting, and wholly unrelated (re: fun) reading off the web and sending it via wifi to my Kindle.
Kindle text-to-voice: The lovely companion, in my mind, to send-to-Kindle, as this feature reads the articles and blog posts to my tired ears.
Dropbox: This makes my stuff available wherever I can connect to the web, is easy to back up to external drive (the all important just-in-case feature), has a handy text file creator, and is just plain amazing.
Adobe Acrobat: This program, combined with a Samsung tablet, is the reason I've not printed off one article or draft copy. I save them as pdfs, mark and edit on my tablet while I'm on the bus, and make the changes or input the notes when I get to the web.
Diaro: I'm using this handy journaling app for my dissertation and personal journals. It has folders that you can select and then save contents as a pdf. It's been indispensable for capturing notions on the go and freewriting.
Wunderlist: It's a to-do list that is available across platforms. Entries can be dated or left undated for processing later. Custom folders can be created to sort things the way you like. Great stuff.
Moleskine: While I rarely use the plain books any longer, the calendars--a small 12-month one for personal use and a large 18-month one for work--have done much to keep me on track with projects. They are also beautiful, which I consider indispensable.
XMind: Desktop mindmapping software that I use when the ideas are either wholly nonlinear or too fresh for prose. Unfortunately, there's no Android app, so...
SimpleMind: smartphone, tablet, and cloud app that reads XMind files, is easy to use, and nicely flexible. I've stopped using SimpleMind because the transition to XMind became clunky. Others may still find it useful.