Skip to content

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.

You can share this blog post on the following social networks by clicking on their icon.

Posted in academia, research.

Tagged with , , .

6 Responses

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

  1. Annabell Hazelton says

    In Excel, I actually am going to attempt to color code all of this so my neurodivergent brain can make sense of it instead of just seeing words and boxes! That way I can read across better. This helps me a great deal as an assistant.

  2. Nass says

    Thanks a lot !

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Using Overview Devices in scholarly research and academic writing – Raul Pacheco-Vega, PhD linked to this post on August 6, 2019

    […] Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump (CSED) – gives you an overview of the material you have read for your literature […]

  2. Writing a literature review assignment (and for instructors: providing guidance) – Raul Pacheco-Vega, PhD linked to this post on August 10, 2019

    […] a Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump […]

  3. Making your research “dialogue” with other scholars’ in your literature review – Raul Pacheco-Vega, PhD linked to this post on November 30, 2019

    […] idea with that of other scholars you need to know what they said and where. This is why the Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump (CSED) is important: you can search the Excel file for a particular idea or concept that may seem relevant […]

  4. Reading techniques for undergraduate students, a primer: Learn how to write arguments first, then how to read in depth, then how to skim – Raul Pacheco-Vega, PhD linked to this post on May 1, 2020

    […] may need in my class. I show them how to write synthetic notes, how to write memorandums, how to synthesize their research in an Excel dump and a whole lot of reading strategies, literature review writing processes and note-taking […]

Some HTML is OK

or, reply to this post via trackback.