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Do a Literature Review with Litmaps

Here's how to use Litmaps to find articles, stay organized and accomplish your literature review more efficiently.

Marina Kisley avatar
Written by Marina Kisley
Updated over a week ago

Whether you're starting on your first literature review, or your hundredth, you can streamline your search and management of literature by using Litmaps. By finding and suggesting literature visually, Litmaps lets you:

  • See how literature connects

  • Find relevant articles

  • Not miss important papers

  • Get updated on changing literature

  • Stay organized

In this article, we'll cover all you need to know about accomplishing your literature review with Litmaps.

What's a literature review?

A literature review is a summary of the existing knowledge and research on a particular subject. By identifying gaps in the literature, it provides a foundation for future research. As such, it’s a crucial first step in any research project.

A literature review serves several purposes:

  • identifies knowledge gaps

  • evaluates the quality of existing research

  • provides a foundation for newly presented research

Looking at existing examples of literature reviews is beneficial to get a clear understanding of what they entail. Find examples of a literature review by using an academic search engine (e.g. Google Scholar). As a starting point, search for your keyword or topic along with the term "literature review".

Example Literature Review, with Litmaps

Now, we'll walk through all the steps involved in how to do a literature review. Keep in mind, a literature review isn't a straight line from the first to last step. You'll loop over some of these steps, repeating them iteratively until you're satisfied. However, these steps are the basic structure you'll need to successfully complete a literature review.

Let's get started!

Define your research question or topic

First, identify your research question or topic, making it as narrow as possible.

In our literature review example, we're examining the effects of urbanization on the migration of birds.

Search for relevant literature

Now, we get into the thick of the literature review by diving into the existing scientific publications on our subject.

There are many ways to search for literature, and it can be overwhelming when considering the thousands of resources and databases available. In this example, we'll follow a simple but comprehensive strategy with 3 steps:

  1. Find one or more "starting articles"

  2. Search for related literature using Litmaps

  3. Expand and repeat until satisfied

Repeat these steps until you are satisfied with the coverage of sources you have. You'll know you've covered everything once you don't find any more relevant articles on your topic.

πŸ’‘ Use the techniques in the next step, "Evaluate the sources" to decide if an article is relevant or not to your work.

Find starting articles

To get started, look for just one paper on your topic.

In our example, we start by searching for our topic in Google Scholar and selecting the most relevant article. Here, we find "Bird Migration Advances More Strongly in Urban Environments".

Tip: Look for highly-cited articles. In this example, our starting paper has been cited 174 times. That will make it easier to find more related literature in the next step.

Find related literature using Litmaps

Next, we'll find additional literature on our topic, by using our article from the last step as a starting point.

Litmaps can find relevant literature from a single article by using the citation network. By looking at how this article connects to the rest of the scientific literature (through citations and references), Litmaps finds relevant and important articles on your topic.

Here's how to find related literature to your initial article:

  1. Go to the Litmaps app and set up a free account

  2. Click the search bar at the top left.

  3. Type in the name or DOI of your starting article and hit enter to see the results. Select your article and click "Explore Related Articles".

  4. Examine your article's Litmap and the suggested articles. The Litmap shows the top connected papers based on your article's citations and references.

  5. Save relevant articles by Tagging them (click on an article to save it)

Expand and repeat your search

Although your initial Litmap will give you a good idea of the scientific literature related to your input article, it's only a small part of the bigger picture.

To dive deeper into your topic, click "More like this" for articles you find relevant. After you've done this for a few papers, you can hit "Update Results". Litmaps will use these articles as inputs to the search algorithm in order to find more relevant literature.

Just like before, you can save articles that seem important by Tagging them. It's easy to forget or lose track of work, so saving early and often is a good practice.

Evaluate the sources

As you search for articles, you'll need to decide if they are important or not for your topic.

For each article, identify its relevance, quality and importance for your topic. The good news is you don't need to read an entire article to figure this out. Before even opening up the article, you can check the following to evaluate its importance for you:

πŸ” 1️⃣ Date of publication β†’ How recent is the paper?
Newer papers have less citations because they simply haven't been around long enough to be cited by even newer research.​

πŸ” 2️⃣ Citation count β†’ This is the number of other papers that have cited this one in their work. Has it been cited heavily since publication, or overlooked by the community?

πŸ” 3️⃣ Journal β†’ Do you recognize it? Is it peer-reviewed? Impactful?
Most papers on Litmaps are peer-reviewed, but some may be pre-prints.

πŸ” 4️⃣ Authors β†’ Do you recognize the authors? Learn these names and you'll start to recognize the key contributors in your field.

πŸ” 5️⃣ Well-written abstract β†’ Can you understand the gist from the abstract? If not, the paper itself may be a challenge to read.

Read and analyze the sources

Now that you've collected some articles on your topic, and reviewed their metadata to ensure their relevance, you're ready to start reading!

Take notes on the key findings, methodologies, and theoretical frameworks used in the articles you read.

Use a research-friendly note-taking software, like Obsidian, that provide tagging mechanisms to keep track of key concepts and how they connect. The more you link your notes to one another, the better you can learn and form new ideas.

Organize the literature

As you read and take notes on your articles, make sure to keep your sources organized. You can organize your literature according to themes, subtopics, or categories, whatever helps you to later outline the layout of your literature review.

Write the literature review

You've collected dozens, or perhaps hundreds of sources. You've reviewed each one, taken notes, and tried to stay organized throughout the process. Now, you're well-equipped to start writing up your literature review.

In this step, you'll summarize and synthesize the findings from all the sources you've analyzed. Start with an introduction that defines the research question, followed by the themes, subtopics, or categories identified. After that, provide a discussion or conclusion that addresses any gaps in the literature to motivate future research. Lastly, edit and revise your review to ensure it is well-structured, clear, and concise.

Depending on your field or project, you may have different objectives for your literature review. You could be doing a literature review to learn a new field, or to write a systematic review, a meta-analysis, an umbrella review, or another kind of review article. Make sure to review the requirements, expectations and specific best practices for your kind of review.

This review on the Urban effects on native avifauna neatly summarizes a range of articles in a table, with corresponding notes and references for each one.

Cite and reference the sources

The final the step to your literature review is to make sure you've accurately referenced all the sources you used in the literature review. Consider any referencing style requirements of the institution, journal or venue you're submitting to. APA is the most common. However, you may need to familiarize yourself with other citation styles such as MLA, Chicago, or MHRA depending on your venue. See the image below for a literature review example APA of references.

To create a bibliography from the articles you've collected on Litmaps, simply:

  1. Export articles from Litmaps

  2. Import articles into a reference manager

  3. Save them as the necessary file-type. For example, either directly as a bibliography (Zotero example), or as a BibTeX that will be formatted in you writing software (Overleaf example).


A successful literature review tells a brief story about the topic at hand and leaves the reader satisfied with the state of the topic, field or question up to this point in time. Most importantly, a high-quality literature review addresses any gaps in the field and frame any newly presented research to follow.

To create a high quality literature review, it's important to understand the key steps required and look at the many literature review examples available.

We hope this article provided all you to need to know to get started on your literature review - good luck!


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