Literature Grids can help organize research for creating hierarchical reasoned arguments.
Performing library research, data analysis, and writing is typically an iterative process. Published scientific papers often come to very different conclusions than the questions that initiated the research process in the first place. Therefore, REVISION, RE-REVISION, RE-RE-REVISION (etc.) are essential parts of the scientific process (Alley, 2018).
Sometimes people have the mis-perception that once a study has been designed to test a particular set of hypotheses, that the hypotheses (and therefore the conclusions) cannot subsequently change. For example, in some cases (such as some clinical trials or other types of studies that build on a large body of research), hypotheses cannot be reasonably or ethically changed.
However, for many types of exploratory research, the process of data collection and analysis may reveal limitations in the research questions and hypotheses, and require the questions and hypotheses to be changed. Discovering that we haven't asked a question or framed a hypothesis in the most useful way is still a discovery! Discovering a new hypothesis framework that accounts for the data actually collected is not unethical, and can be an important source of inspiration for research. Therefore, it is important to keep extensive records of all aspects of research, so that changes do not require us to start the research process over.
For example, our understanding and use of literature sources can change over the lifespan of a paper. Consequently, it is helpful to document and organize the process of literature research (in the same way it is necessary to document other experimental procedures). Documenting literature research by taking notes (e.g. summaries, etc.) can be helpful if there is a need to re-visit the research in the future. Instead of re-performing library searches to find studies, we can simply refer to our notes.
Organizing the process of literature research can help us incorporate the information we find into reasoned arguments and hierarchies. The process of annotating (adding notes to) literature sources that we find not only can help us understand the research better, but also proactively begin the process of building strong hierarchical frameworks.
One helpful strategy for organizing, documenting, and annotating our literature research is to use the graphical framework of an "Evidence Grid," or a "Literature Grid" (LitGrid). A LitGrid is a table that can guide our research and help us incorporate research into our documents. For example:
(a simple Google Sheet template for a literature grid can be found here). Clearly, literature grids can be changed and tailored to the particular needs of an individual project. The LitGrid example above includes a citation, a summary, and then a number of columns that categorize the reference. Deriving categories that can be applied consistently to many studies (so that many studies fall into the same category, and there are a limited number of categories) allows the LitGrid to be easily SORTED, and similar studies GROUPED. Spreadsheet like Google Sheets can almost instantly sort and re-sort a large number of references based on any number of categories and sub-categories.