Research Matrix

A research matrix is a tool to help organize the information in your research into a coherent paper. It takes a tremendous amount of work and many hours to do properly, but once complete, it makes writing both the Literature Review and the Final Writing Project extremely easy.

The research matrix can be completed in any electronic table format, but I recommend using this Microsoft Excel template.  Once you download the template, you can customize it to your own project, as in the example below:

How to complete your research matrix. (Click the image to make it slightly easier to read.)

What should my subheadings be?

Your Literature Review is not going to comprise a single unbroken block of text.  Instead, it will be broken into subsections, each with a subheading.  The subheadings should be smaller questions that one needs to answer in order to answer the Research Question. Good subheadings are the key to a good matrix.

For example, if my Research Question is “Should prisons be privatized,” then some good subheadings might be “How much do private and public prisons cost?” “Are private and public prisons equally secure?” and “How does privatization affect prisoner health and treatment?”

Some hints for thinking of good subheadings:

  1. Start with key background information, like definitions of terms, description of technologies, history, or other information a reader must know early in the paper.
  2. For the rest of your subheadings, think in terms of broad disciplines, like economic effects, environmental effects, political issues, legal issues, moral/ethical issues, health issues, etcetera.  This type of subheading tends to be effective in most projects.
  3. If you are researching a topic in which everybody agrees on the problem, but disagrees about the solution, then each proposed solution would make a good subheading.
  4. If you are researching a topic in which everybody disagrees about the source of the problem, then each potential explanation for the problem would make a good subheading.
  5. Consider your stakeholders.  The stakeholders are the groups of people who have something at stake – that is, something to gain or lose — depending on how your research question is answered.  In the example of prison privatization, the main stakeholders would be the taxpayers, the prisoners, the companies running private prisons, and the government.  Sometimes (not always), the viewpoints of individual stakeholders can make good subheadings.
  6. Avoid creating one subheading for “pro” and another for “con.” This results in subsections of your paper that are too long and broad, with arguments and direct responses to those arguments separated from one another.  Instead, create narrower subheadings for each mini-debate, with both “pro” and “con” arguments in the same column.

What kind of information should I put in each box of the matrix?

I recommend using direct quotes from the author (just copied and pasted from your source into the box, if it’s an electronic source).  I strongly recommend putting quotes around these words and citing your source inside the box. I also strongly recommend using the “Paste Special” command in Microsoft Word and choosing the “unformatted text” option when pasting anything from the web into your matrix.  This will get rid of most of the weird formatting problems that can occur when you’re copying and pasting HTML text.

Why do I need to cite inside each box?

Because you will probably want to copy and paste the information from your matrix into your papers while writing them, and if the citation doesn’t get copied and pasted with the information, you run a strong risk of getting in trouble for plagiarism.  Stay on the safe side; never save your citations for last.  Always cite as you write.