Online Tools for Easy Literature Review
Research Writing

Online Tools for Easy Literature Review

Arpit Sinha
Hands-on tools for literature review

What is a literature review?

A literature review recaps the previously published works on a specific topic. It provides the reader with a critical overview of the existing body of knowledge.

Six tools that will streamline your literature review

An academic literature review is one of the most critical stages in the composition of a research paper. It is a complex and complicated task since it requires extensive reading and careful organization. Using the tools mentioned below can help you overcome some of the existing challenges in literature reviews.

These tools will improve your productivity without additional effort or expenses and offer you enhanced control over your research. They will help you across the board, from collecting, classifying, and analyzing to publishing research outputs.

1. Mendeley

Mendeley Citation Manager is a free web and desktop application. It helps simplify your citation management workflow significantly. Here are some of the features provided by Mendeley to speed up the referencing game.

Generating citations and bibliographies

Easily add references from your Mendeley library to your Word document, change your citation style, and create a bibliography — all without leaving your document.


Using search to retrieve references

It allows you to access your references quickly. Search for a term, and it will return results by referencing the year, author, or source.


Adding PDFs

Add sources to your Mendeley library by dragging PDF to Mendeley Reference Manager. Mendeley will automatically remove the PDF(s) metadata and create a library entry.


Reading and annotating documents

It helps you highlight and comment across multiple PDFs and keep them all in one place using Mendeley Notebook. Notebook pages are not tied to a reference and let you quote from many PDFs.


2. Zotero

Zotero is a free, open-source tool for managing citations. It helps you gather the information you need, cite your sources, and lets you attach PDFs, notes, and images to your citations and create bibliographies. It works as a plugin in your browser.

Here are some of its main features:

Import research articles to your database

Search for research articles on a keyword, and add relevant results to your database. Then, select the articles you are most interested in, and import them into Zotero.


Add bibliography in a variety of formats

With Zotero, you can create a bibliography in a variety of formats. You can use the Zotero-Word plug-in to insert in-text citations and generate a bibliography.


Easy sharing of research

You can save a paper and sync it with an online library to easily share your research for group projects. Zotero can be used to create your database and decrease the time you spend formatting citations.


3. Sysrev

Sysrev facilitates screening, collaboration, and data extraction from academic publications, abstracts, and PDF documents using machine learning. The platform is free and supports public and open access projects only.

Here are some of the features of Sysrev:

Group Labels

Group labels can be a powerful concept to create database tables from documents. When exported and re-imported, each group label creates a new table.

To make labels for a project, go into the manage -> labels section of the project.

Group labels enable project managers to pull table information from documents. It makes it easier to communicate review results for specific articles.


In this case, the project manager wanted to know the types of tests listed within the Safety Data Sheet and identify related doses, results, species, etc.

Track Reviewer Performance

Sysrev's label counting tool provides filtering and visualization options for keeping track of the distribution of labels throughout the project's progress. Project managers can check their projects at any point to track progress and reviewer's performance.


Tool for concordance

The Sysrev tool for concordance allows project administrators and reviewers to assess their labels and evaluate them. Concordance is measured by calculating the number of times users have an agreement on the labels they have extracted.


4. Colandr

Colandr is a free, open-source, internet-based analysis and screening software based on machine learning. It was designed to ease collaboration across various stages of the systemic review procedure.


Steps involved in working with Colandr

1. Create a review

The first step to using Colandr is setting up an organized review project. This is helpful to librarians who are assisting researchers with systematic reviews.

2. Planning

The planning stage is setting the review's objectives along with research queries. Any reviewer can review the details of the planning stage; however, they can only be modified by the author for the review.

3. Citation Screening/Import

In this process phase, users can upload their results from databases searches. Colandr also offers an automated deduplication system.

4. Full-text Screening

The system in Colandr will discover the combination of terms and expressions that are most useful for the reader. If an article is selected to be included, it will be moved to the final step.

5. Data Extraction/Export

Colandr data extraction is more efficient than the manual method. The form fields for data extraction are created during the planning stage of the review procedure. Users can decide to revisit or modify the form for data extraction after completing the initial screening.


5. SRDR+

It is a Web-based tool for extracting and managing systematic review or meta-analysis data. It is open and has a searchable archive of systematic reviews and their data.


6. Plot Digitizer

Plot Digitizer is an efficient tool to extract information from graphs and images. It is equipped with many features that facilitate data extraction. The program comes with a free online application, which is adequate to extract data quickly.

Data extraction from graph images

  • Visit PlotDigitizer's online application and upload your image.
  • Choose your graph's type.
  • If the plot is an XY plot, you will need to calibrate two Axes. Drop and drag all 4 points (x1, the x2, y1, and y2) in the direction on the graph.


After calibrating the axes, start drawing points on the curves to capture data points. The values can be seen in the panel to your side.



There you have it, folks, our list of excellent software to use while conducting your literature review. Conducting research is not an easy task. The process can be highly time-consuming. However, researchers can maximize their efforts and get work done more efficiently with this impressive set of tools.

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