Using Google Forms for Literature Reviews

In this post, I discuss using Google Forms to organize a literature review with co-authors. Google Forms is designed to be used as survey software, but I have found it works for article reviews as well. Google Forms gathers responses to form fields and sends that data to a Google Sheet. It’s not complicated, but the beauty is that if you are working with multiple collaborators, all the data goes into the same place and in the same format.

Keep you data consistent

One of the challenges of gathering data with other researchers is achieving consistency and version control across users. Google Forms allows you to pre-set the type of answers that are acceptable, whether it be paragraph text, numbers, drop-down menues, or other types of data.

In the screenshot below, I am working in the survey field editor. You can see a form field with pre-set choices for the type of article: theory, practice, or teaching. Each form is editable and you can enable as many people as you wish to have various levels of permission in terms of changing, duplicating, or inviting others to collaborate.


The Data

For articles I’m reading for literature reviews, I use the following form field headers:

  • Citation
  • Research Question
  • Contribution to the Literature
  • Main Argument or Findings
  • Research Design & Data Sources
  • Theoretical Approach
  • Generalizability
  • Implications for Theory or Practice
  • Additional Research Cited
  • My Thoughts

Once you’ve created your form field questions to gather the information you want, just begin filling our the form. In the case of literature reviews, I use one form per citation.

You can preview the entered data either directly in the Google Sheets or use the summary tools Google provides in the Forms application which are formatted for easy viewing of the data in  each form field.

App Integration

If you want to use Google Forms in conjunction with other applications, you can browse Google approved Ad-ons or create your own workflows. One workflow I created was to send each form entry (article review) to my Evernote email address which automatically populates to Evernote notes.  Of course you can also export the data to other formats such as Excel.


Google allows you to customize your forms in both appearance and content. For example, in the screenshot below you can see I selected a gray-green header with a light gray background for my form. The dropdown box provides additional color palette options. You can also change the font size and style.

Now, all that is left is to write #acwri

Using Qualitative Data Analysis Software for Literature Reviews

This post is about my search for a qualitative data analysis (QDA) software solution for writing literature reviews. I review ATLAS.ti 8 and NVivo for Mac.

One of the challenges of writing a dissertation is compiling, organizing, and synthesizing sources. Reference managers such as Mendeley and EndNote are great for inserting bibliographic information into text documents or grouping sources by chosen tags, but they are not great for coding and analyzing connections between documents or keeping track of ideas and thoughts. Note-taking software such as Evernote is great for taking notes from classes or articles, clipping webpages, and organizing thoughts, but again, there is limited functionality for drawing connections between bodies of literature or visualizing connections. Hence the need for a software capable of organizing, coding, and connecting concepts, ideas, and themes.

Both NVivo and ATLAS.ti are designed for executing qualitative (text based) research. To be fair, neither program is specifically designed for writing literature reviews, however, literature reviews are essentially qualitative data analysis. This review is specific to the Mac versions of the two softwares which have slightly different functionality than the Windows versions.

Below are short bulleted lists of the pros and cons of each program. I ended up choosing ATLAS.ti because PDF rendering issues in NVivo were bad enough to be prohibitive of its use. I also have a feeling that knowing how to use ATLAS.ti will serve me in the future when I conduct qualitative research projects outside of literature reviews. However, had the rendering not been a problem, NVivo is easier and more effective for the purpose of conducting lit reviews. One additional suggestion that may make coding texts easier is to get a subscription to Adobe Acrobat Pro (they have special student pricing too) and use the enhance PDF tool to OCR every PDF you plan on importing into ATLAS.ti or any other QDA program. This process help with text recognition when you are selecting and coding text.

NVivo for Mac

Example of a list of coded text from one document in NVIVO
Example of a list of coded text from one document in NVivo. Click image for full-size.


  • Easy to create and code documents
  • Allows document importation from citation managers such as Mendeley
  • Allows memos to be edited and coded just like core document files
  • Has text query capability
  • Provides summary of coded text with marker for source document (see screenshot below)
  • Easy to create code hierarchies wherein multiple codes can be subcategories of a higher level code


  • PDFs do not properly render leading to choppy, slow scrolling action and in some cases, total program freeze—this makes the program very slow to use
  • When viewing documents with coded text visible, there seems to be a bug that causes the view to default back to the original hidden setting instead of your preferred view

Pricing As of January 9, 2017:

  • Student annual subscription $103
  • Student Full subscription $570

ATLAS.ti for Mac

Article coding in Atlas.ti.
Article coding in ATLAS.ti. Click image for full-size.


  • Easy to create and code documents
  • Decent PDF rendering and performance
  • Lots of functionality beyond coding including visualization, quantitative-type analysis of qualitative data, and network analysis capability
  • Sophisticated user interface


  • Cannot import bibliographic files with metadata and accompanying PDFs
  • Cannot code memos
  • Cannot edit documents even if they are in RTF or .docx formats
  • Cannot link memos to documents easily
  • Cannot easily create code hiearchies


  • 2-Year Student license $99


Neither tool is perfect: NVivo has performance issues, but good functionality for the purposes of a lit review. Maybe in the future, once they solve these issues, it will be a clear winner. For now, the bugs cripple the application beyond usability for me.

I’m in the early stages of getting to know ATLAS.ti and will post an update when I have new information to share.