I have been almost the last four weeks ‘diving’ into my literature & practice review. One thing that I found extremely helpful was to have a previous organisation of authors, subjects and fields, and, at the same time, from different points of view.
As I did a very systematic and well-organised material classification, I realised this approach can be applied as a research method. This research method is also another manner to show how powerful diagrams could be, as they are the main tool used to organise the huge amount of references.
So, the 5-variables method (as I called it) consists in ordering raw material (e.i. references, including books, articles, journals, thesis and websites) following five variables: who, what, when, how and where.
The images below explain each variable.
1) who? Alphabetical order. This first approach is the more common one, and it is usually used to find alphabetically and easily each author.
2) what? Thematic order (themes, subjects, fields and disciplines). Sometimes, it is not easy to remember the name of the author, but, instead, it is easier to remember his/her specific subject. First of all, it is essential to define general thematic categories related to the research subject, to be aware of all the points of view covered (or that have to be covered). If the research theme is quite complex, it could be also beneficial to define sub-categories from each general category and distinguish them by colour-saturation.
3) when? Chronological order, following year of publication.
This is a useful approach for historical research, where knowing which period has been covered is key.
Having references chronologically ordered would help to notice if we have many new references, or that we are not taking into account previous authors. In addition, it can be noticed in which periods of time, a theme was most or less discussed.
4) how? Interdisciplinary order. Design is an interdisciplinary discipline, where many references come from academic disciplines beyond graphics, such as psychology, informatics, cartography, and so on… This approach shows the connections between authors and subjects from different disciplines (usually this approach follows the categories defined for the what variable). In a glance, it can be seen which disciplines are related to each other and which ones are not.
5) where? Geographical order (authors’ countries, cities). This is a useful approach for cultural research where, for example, the bias of a theme is crucial.
Of course, this classification can vary as more material is added, but it can be a useful starting point!