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Synthesizing different bodies of work in your literature review: The Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump (CSED) technique

Since I’m writing a series of posts on literature reviews (and undertaking a few of my own), I figured I could expand on how you can combine citation tracing, concept saturation, results’ mind-mapping with a method that Professor Elaine Campbell showcases in her excellent post “How I use Excel to manage my literature review“.

I call this technique the “Conceptual Synthesis Excel dump” – I call it “dump” because I basically throw into the Excel file everything that is already in my research and conceptual/reflective memoranda. Doing the conceptual synthesis Excel dump as you do your reading allows you to create a nice map of the literature. It also helps reach conceptual saturation during the literature review.

What I am showing here is my Excel dump on bottled water. There are a number of themes (if you’re doing coding in qualitative methods, you’ll understand what I mean) that interest me:

  • Fear of the tap water.
  • Decisions on whether to consume tap water vs. bottled water.
  • Branding water and bottled water and the use of branding techniques in promoting bottled water.
  • Ethical bottled water.

I am showing three screen captures of the Excel file I created. Note that the columns I use are the following:

  • Concept – here I list the main idea or major theme of the specific literature review.
  • Citation – here I include the full citation (article, book, book chapter).
  • Main idea – here I summarize the full article in a sentence or two.
  • Notes 1 – here I make notes about specific ideas or whether I agree or disagree
  • Notes 2 – same as the above
  • Notes 3 – same as the above
  • Cross-reference – which references and citations are linked to one another.
  • Quote/quotation – specific quotes, as per my memorandum technique, that could be useful
  • Page – the page from where I drew the quote. Note that I can draw several quotes from same article

bottled water dump 3

concept dump bottled water 1

bottled water dump 2

My Conceptual Synthesis’ Excel dump technique is quite handy in the process of creating a literature review (both to reach concept saturation and to create the mind map). Hopefully it will be helpful to you too! I wrote this post partly as a response to the tweet below :-)

IMPORTANT EDIT – After many requests, I finally got around creating a Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump template that you can download and edit for your own purposes. I use a framing theory paper but you can adapt to your needs.

Posted in academia, research.

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