Structuring your ideas: Creating a literature map

It is important to have a plan of the areas to be discussed, using this to indicated how these will link together. In the overall structure of the literature review, there should be a logical flow of ideas and within each paragraph there should be a clear theme, around which related ideas are explored and developed. A literature map can be useful for this purpose as it enables you to create a visual representation of the themes and how they could relate to one another.

A literature map (Cresswell, 2011) is a two dimensional diagrammatic representation of information where links are made between concepts by drawing arrows (which could be annotated to define the nature of these links). Constructing a literature map helps you to:

  • develop your understanding of the key issues and research findings in the literature
  • to organise ideas in your mind
  • to see more clearly how different research studies relate to one another and to group those with similar findings.

Your map can then be used as a plan for your literature review.

As well has helping you to organise the literature for your review, a literature map can be used to help you analyse the information in a particular journal article, supporting the exploration of strengths and weaknesses of the methodology and the resultant findings and enabling you to explore how key themes and concepts in the article link together.

It is important to represent the different views and any conflicting research findings that exist in the literature (Newby, 2014). There is a danger of selective referencing, only including literature that supports your own beliefs and findings, disregarding alternative views. This should be avoided as it is based on the assumption that your views are the correct ones, and it is possible that you could miss key ideas and findings that could take your research in new and exciting directions.