Literature Matrix

A literature (or synthesis) matrix is a digital tool that can replace notecards when helping you research and structure a large essay.
A Literature Matrix is similar to an outline.  The goal of a Literature Matrix is to synthesize your sources into one argument.  The Literature Matrix is organized by sources (both primary and secondary) AND by topic.  This dual organization allows you to identify more patterns in your research in order to make more insightful conclusions and communicate the information in a more sophisticated way.


  • Provides organized structure to your note taking
  • Helps you to organize your ideas
  • Allows you to reference information quickly
  • Helps you to avoid plagiarism
  • Gives you a foundation for a synthesis essay
  • Starts your essay for you

Literature Matrix Directions

The Literature Matrix should be completed while you are researching.  It is a living document, which means that your topics, the order that you have them and the entries may all change as your concept of your argument develops with the research.  The completed Matrix will have all of your primary and secondary sources included.  For each source you will need the complete MLA citation, the MLA in-text citation, appropriate topics, and specific entries that include both direct quotes and paraphrased explanations. 
While the Literature Matrix can be made using Microsoft Excel, most people are more familiar with Word.  

The Big Picture

It goes without saying that the research is an important part of the research paper; however, what makes the Literature Matrix most important is what it will do for you when you begin writing.  Here are a few ways that a focused and driven Literature Matrix will benefit your final product:
  1. Correctly cited sources now will make your final Works Cited page simple.
  2. The headings at the topic of your Matrix, if specific and appropriate, can be used to construct your thesis statement.
  3. The headings, if organized correctly, can provide an outline for your essay.
  4. Each column can easily become a paragraph.  The heading is your topic sentence and the sources that fall within the column are your support.  Write the paper one column at a time!
  5. Columns that only contain information from one source will need to be researched more in order to develop a more persuasive argument.