In my research, I collected not only a group discussion but also the data. I have conducted a quantitative survey on this. This serves the fast collection of data, which I was able to evaluate in the roundtables together with the participants. All are always based on a dedicated literature analysis. In this article, I’ll give you some tips.

Reading tip: Literature recommendations

The literature analysis summarizes existing knowledge in a meaningful way. Searching academic databases using search strings describes, summarizes, evaluates, clarify, and integrates similar results and approaches (Fettke 2006). Although this does not primarily generate new knowledge, this can help to structure and build on the existing knowledge. The procedure includes the search for literature, the evaluation of literature and the analysis and interpretation in the context of the research question. The literature analysis consists of the following steps:

  • Literature research (search, reduction and possibly clustering)
  • Literature analysis (content analysis and presentation of literature)

Tip: An example of a literature analysis with many thematic suggestions for a thesis can be found in my study of 2019.

Lindner, D., & Christian Leyh. (2019). Digitization of SMEs – questions, recommendations for action as well as implications for IT organization and IT service management. HMD – Practice of Business Informatics, 4, 21.

At the beginning of my doctorate I had to read a lot and i thought a lot about literature analysis as a method.

Overview of procedures and authors

You will also need to provide a description of the methodology for your literature analysis. I would therefore like to give you four sources, which are considered to be the “urpapers” of literary analysis. You can quote these:

A literature analysis always has two steps. They go in search of literature and evaluate it. I will give you a fairly comprehensive explanation for both steps. In short, in the first step, select database, journals, and quality criteria. This has been done by Brocke et al. best represented. Then optionally start a Forward or Backward search (later more) and evaluate the literature for Webster and Watson (2002) or Mayring (2000). I do not count the last step, the writing directly, as a step, but I notice that students here always have problems and therefore explain it as well.

PS: You can download the template here and like to quote it in your work.

literature analysis-systematic
Steps and possible concepts of systematic literature analysis


In the literature search, selected literature databases (e.g. scholar, springerlink, etc.) are searched as part of the answer to the central research question. Here I follow strictly from the Brocke et al. (2009). So you define journals, databases and variables such as period (I recommend 3-5 years), focus and research method.

In the first step, search strings are defined, such as

  • digi* AND (workplace OR “knowledge work”) AND (mobile* OR individu* OR agile*)
  • (company OR “organization”) AND (taylor* OR agile* OR digi*) AND (“transformation” OR “framework”)

These will enter into the different databases and you will see how many results have been found. For example, Search String 2 currently yields 1,169 results. Finally, all abstracts were examined and pre-sorted for consideration. Now comes the reduction.

In this case, I examined 97 posts in more detail after examining the abstracts. By the way, the study can be found here. After a more detailed review of the content, 13 primary sources remained as relevant papers for my research, which I used for the conception of my study.

This means that I have looked at all 97 posts in more detail and evaluated them by relevance. Below is a large selection of relevant academic databases. I then categorized these 13 sources into 4 categories as part of the clustering (Workplace, Agile Methods, NewWork and Activity Based Working).

Reading tip: Book scientific reading

  • ScienceDirect
  • Emerald Web of Science
  • Acm
  • Aisel
  • EconBiz
  • Ieee
  • Proquest
  • Springerlink

Excursion: what is academic?

The supervisor will have told you to use academic literature. But what is academic? The VHB-JOURQUAL3 is a ranking of business-relevant journals based on judgments of the VHB members. Soon the VHB4 should also come.

Over 1,100 members of the VHB have carried out a total of 64,113 reviews of magazines in recent months. Of the 934 journals that were rated, 651 journals exceeded the 25 rating threshold and received a rating. These are divided as follows:

  • 22 outstanding and world-leading scientific journals in the field of business administration (A+ = 3.4%),
  • 72 leading scientific business journals (A = 11.1%),
  • 217 important and respected scientific business journals (B = 33.3%),
  • 273 recognised business journals (C = 41.9%) And
  • 59 scientific business journals (D = 9.1%).

Alternative: Backword and Forward Search

In addition, there is the possibility not only to examine the results of the database, but also to make a forward and backword search. I was inspired by Webster and Watson (2002). Backward Search is defined as the search for relevant literature from the quoted sources of the article under consideration. Forward Search is defined as the search for literature that quotes this article. This preys concretely: Look who quotes the author and whom the author quotes.

The difference with the method is that, for example, you search only the A+ journals of business informatics and then identify other papers from this recursive.

Literature evaluation

In the analysis, all papers are sorted and best described by year or category. You start first with the content analysis and then with the presentation (writing) of the literature.

Reading tip: Search for literature in 7 steps

There is more than one content analysis

In total, I know four different elements of content analysis. These are:

  • Structured Content Analysis (Mayring 2000)
  • Summary Content Analysis (Mayring 2000)
  • Replicate content analysis (Mayring 2000)
  • Concept matrix (Webster and Watson 2002)

Structured content analysis identifies existing content and sorts it into categories based on a defined procedure. This type is very suitable if you have a fairly broad and complex subject.

Example:Let’s take guidance, for example. There are various debates about agile or virtual leadership. You will also find professional and disciplinary guidance. So it is a very ready discussion. They therefore divide the literature into the above categories and describe the relevant content in each category. Example is the Study Lindner et al. (2018).

The summary content analysis reduces the text material to the extent that essential content is captured, creating a manageable short text. This is a good way to do this if you have a fairly manageable and linear topic or if it is a topic that is being discussed in ever new contexts. For example, the term innovation, which in the 90s was still more mechanical products and is now researching more digital services. Example is the Study Lindner et al. (2017).

Example: The aim is to present the debate on the research topic from the first mention of the context examined. Here we can sum up the last few years, for example, computers in workplaces have been around since 1985 and we have not examined them until then. Then from about 2000 onwards there will be numerous publications on this and these will be summarized in the debate on workplace IT. Now at the end of the analysis (last 2-3 years) it is more widely presented what current opinions there are. Example: In the workplace IT, research differs. Some are researching home office workplaces, others are looking for flex desks and third is looking for ergonomics in the workplace and so on.

The goal of the explicit content analysis is to identify additional information (background information) on the research topic in order to achieve a higher degree of understanding. I think this is more used in the natural sciences and I mention it only for the sake of completeness.

Example:While you previously reduce the literature and limit it to the essential content, the goal is now to describe targeted content in great detail. I’ve never experienced this directly, but I could imagine the following: They’re investigating the impact of the introduction of agile frameworks. Now you could make a very detailed analysis of e.g. two selected frameworks (Holacracy and LeSS). However, I have not yet seen such an analysis in economics or business informatics. The example may also be wrong, but I haven’t found anything better on Google either. If you have a study or example for me – very happy!

The concept matrix is the original method of Webster and Watson (2002). The two authors recommend that a research area be explained on the basis of concepts. It is examined on the basis of concepts of a topic, which works pursue which concepts.

Example:You want to investigate the introduction of agility and divide the literature according to research methodology. This is how you can find e.g. case studies and expert interviews and find that there are hardly any quantitative surveys. You can also organize the literature according to the theory used. For example, see which change model an author used in introducing agility (Kotter, Rogers, …).

Presentation of literature

No matter which of the four types of content analysis you choose, you must present the selected literature, i.e. write it down. After the reduction, you have completely read a number of sources and evaluated them in the form of your chosen type of content analysis.

Now you are a source by source. The important thing is that it is not a text that mixes the sources. It comes one source after another. For each source, answer the following questions:

  • What was the author’s goal/context?
  • How did the author do research?
  • What are the most important results in the sense of my research question?

To make this more clear to you, I’ll show a small example from three sources on the topic of “Efficiency of agile teams”.

Example:O’Connor and Kelly (2012) interviewed the agile teams of 300 food SMEs in Ireland. The most important results are that, according to the SME managers surveyed, agile teams have increased employee and customer satisfaction and work speed. In 2017, Srivastava and Jain surveyed 75 Scrum Masters from India online with the same focus. The most important result is that agile teams bring higher project success and customer satisfaction. The study by Lindner and Leyh (2019) provides a further perspective. In a group discussion with 12 SME decision-makers from Germany, the authors conclude that complex projects such as process digitization require greater autonomy in the execution of work and exploratory approach, which is given by agile methods and leads to higher successes.

You notice that I have always mentioned the authors as well as the research goal. I then presented the methodology (e.g. interviews with 300 agile teams from SMEs in Ireland) and the main results for the research question. In doing so, you package source to source according to this scheme.

Tip: Don’t forget to limit your methodology cleanly.

Tip: “Help! I can’t find literature!”

I often receive e-mails asking me the following: I write about topic X and can’t find any literature. Do you have any tips? In 99% of cases, I also send literature back. However, this is not to your advantage. This is because you have to state in the thesis: Why did you take this literature? An answer like: Did Mr. Lindner send me or happened to come to Google, your supervisor will probably not be happy.

That’s why I want to help you find literature. For example, a student wrote to me who studied scrum in production. So build a search string that contains all the relevant words as well as synonyms: Scrum AND (Manufacturing OR Production OR Industry) and search first on Google Scholar. Then also with the other databases, which I listed above. I found in this search string directly some papers about Scrum in production on the first page.

Reading tip: I can’t find literature!

“But I still can’t find anything!”

You have followed my steps and still find nothing? Then it could be at different points. You should reconsider your topic and possibly make a change with the caregiver.

  • Your subject is too new and there is no literature yet
  • Their topic is not relevant in the Academy, but a purely practical topic
  • You write for a group and the topic is group-specific
  • Your topic is examined in a different context

Reading tip: Find literature for specific contexts

For almost all reasons, you have no choice but to spin the theme or aim for the Grounded Theory listed below. However, you should first try to rotate your theme by thinking something around the corner. Perhaps their subject will be explored from other points of view. For example, I would change the subject of the student (scrum in production) by examining the influence of digitization on the agility in production. Already numerous sources can be found and the point of view of Scrum can then be derived from the data. This is how research starts with the current discussion and the original focus can be retained.

Reading tip: Go through the topic without literature

Alternative: “Grounded Theory”

If you still want to go through the topic because your practice partner pays for it or you simply love the topic, then of course you can. Simply generate information for yourself by starting with interviews or by collecting case studies yourself. Thus, you do not rely on a literature analysis, but on empirical data. So you start on the green meadow without literature. I have already supervised such a master’s thesis. It’s a lot of work, so think carefully about whether you want to get through it. If you want to know more, I have written an extra article about it.

Reading Tip: Grounded Theory

Conclusion: Tips on the method of literature analysis

The method is very suitable for almost any research and focuses on the structuring of the current state of knowledge. In this way, a researcher can show that he is at the current state of knowledge. The evaluation takes a long time, but is an important foundation stone of any research. My tips should give an initial orientation to the methodology. In any case, take a look at my other book tips!

Are there any questions?

If you have any questions, I have two tips. I have summarized my experience from 5 years in the supervision of theses in the book: "Recommendations for the Bachelor and Master thesis". This is available at Springer and Amazon since August 2020. The book is an official reference book and can be quoted. You are also welcome to give me a call. Just look in the booking system for a free appointment . I take a few hours every month to help students.

My tip before submitting your thesis

It is always worth doing a professional thesis Proofreading or check plagiarism to let. The benefit is that you will also get feedback and improve your academic style. Providers such as Scribbr help with good prices for the thesis.

Gender note: I have used the masculine form for easier readability. Unless an explicit distinction is made, women, diverse and men as well as people of all origins and nations are meant. Read more about this.

Verwendete Quellen anzeigen

P. Fettke, State-of-the-Art of State-of-the-Art. “A study of the research method “Review” within business informatics”. Business Informatics, vol. 46, No. 5, 331-340, 2006.

Mayring, P. (2000). Qualitative content analysis. In Forum Qualitative Social Research 1 (p. 10).

O’Connor, C., & Kelly, s. (2017). Facilitating knowledge management through filtered big data: SME competitiveness in an agri-food sector. Journal of Knowledge Management, 21(1), 156-179.

Srivastava, P., & Jain, S. (2017). A leadership framework for distributed self-organized scrum teams. Team Performance Management: An International Journal, 23(5/6), 293-314.

Lindner, D., & Leyh, C. (2018). Organizations in Transformation: Agility as Consequence or Prerequisite of Digitization? BT – Business Information Systems. In W. Abramowicz & A. Paschke (Eds.) (pp. 86-101). Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Brocke, J. vom, Simons, A., Niehabes, B., & Riemer, K. (2009). Reconstruction the giant: on the importance of regour in documenting the literature search process. In 7th European Conference on Information Systems (ECIS) (p. 14).

Webster, J., & Watson, R. T. (2002). Analyzing the past to prepare for the future : Writing a literature review Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner . Further reproduction prohibited without permission . MIS Quarterly, 26(2), XIII-XXIII.

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I blog about the impact of digitalization on our working environment. For this purpose, I present content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday work. I am a manager in an SME myself and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the chair of IT Management.

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