The framework

The literature and artifact review comprises three stages, as set out in the diagram below. Note that this stages are iterative and you will move back and forth between them.

Lit review framework.png

Compiling the literature

Compiling the literature is an iterative process, particularly as you refine your research question. You begin by defining your research question (which will change), identifying your field, the types of your literature you need to look at and the sources where you will find them, searching for the literature and then recording the literature you've found. Keeping a search log, along with a record of your search strategies will help you keep track of what you've done.

Compiling the literaure.png

Here is an example of a search log:

Search phrase
Date searched
Artists' books, 21st century
Academic Search Premier
Google Scholar
Smithsonian Libraries
10 Feb
11 Feb
11 Feb
Altered books, 21st century
Academic Search Premier
Google Scholar
Smithsonian Libraries
10 Feb
Book art, 21st century
Academic Search Premier
Google Scholar
Smithsonian Libraries

You will encounter four different types of literature, as set out below, with examples of each type.

Literature types.png

Keep a record of what you find for the next stage.

Making sense of the literature

Here is where you make sense of what you have found. Again, it is an iterative process as you will reread as you come across interesting concepts.

Making sense of the literature.png


Remember that you are reading with a purpose. Make notes as you read (see Coding below) and this will help you with your analysis and write-up. You may feel overwhelmed with the amount of reading you need to do, so here are a couple of techniques to help you.

Reading a book

From 'How to read a book a week' by Peter Bregman (Harvard Business Review, Feburary 2016)

Reading a book.png

Read the author's bio and see if you can find anything about her online, e.g. an interview, which you will give you some idea about her. Then read the title, subtitle, blurb and the table of contents. Read the introduction and the conclusion. Read/skim each chapter and then read the table of contents again. You want to understand the main argument, not necessarily the detail. Code as you read.

Reading a journal article

From Abbott, Andrew. (2014) Digital paper: A manual for research and writing with library and internet material. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Reading a journal article.png

Again, you are reading to understand the main argument, not the detail. Code as you read.


Coding is simply a methodical way of taking notes as you read. It helps you organise your thoughts, particularly when you have a large amount of material, and helps you when it comes to analysing the literature and writing your review. In essence, as you make notes, you organise them into categories ('codes'). These categories can include:

  • Keywords or concepts from your research question
  • Methods used
  • Materials or techniques used
  • Concepts that arise from your reading
  • Summaries of arguments
  • Great quotations that you encounter
  • Demographic information
  • Your own responses to what you are reading

As you code, you can record it in a few different ways: index cards, a commonplace book (example 1 and example 2), or in a table or spreadsheet (this last is known as the matrix method. Templates can be downloaded from these links.


Using the codes, you can now analyse the literature and write your literature review.


Your literature review is not an annotated bibliography as your aim here is to assess the literature critically and work out where your research interests and art practice sit in the broader arts landscape. As you read and code, you'll also start analysing and you'll continue to analyse as you write. Rereading your codes and the notes you have made under them will help your analysis. If you have kept your notes on index cards, you can spread them out on a table and move them around to identify patterns and connections. If you use an Excel spreadsheet, you can use the sort and filter functions to aid your analysis. Mindmapping can be very useful here.


When you write your literature review, you can structure it in a number of different ways: Davies and Beaumont of the University of Melbourne Library list three different ways:

Difference of approach
In this structure, you compare the different approaches taken by various critics to the topic.

From distant to closely related
In this structure, one critic may touch upon your topic briefly, whilst another will go more in-depth.

In this structure, you consider how critics have looked at a topic over time.

In each of these structures, you will seek to identify trends or themes about your research topic. You will also seek to describe how these themes or trends fit (or not) with your approach.

Maintaining awareness of the literature

We now come to the final stage - maintaining awareness of the literature. As your literature review is undertaken at the beginning of your research, you may find that you will need to update it at the end of your research. Maintaining awareness in-between will help you with this and it can be done in several ways.

Maintaining awareness.png
You can subscribe (usually for free) to receive Table of Content alerts or newsletters from magazine and journal publishers. You can subscribe (for free) to RSS feeds on various websites and you can follow chosen authors, artists, galleries, and journals on social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Doing this will help you to keep up-to-date and make it easier for you to update your literature review.

For a more detailed approach to the literature review, the University of Melbourne's Gibson Eulan Library has produced a helpsheet, though bear in mind that this has been written for business students.