More Liquid Literature Reviews




All the Liquid Information applications are designed to augment the process of authoring documents, including supporting the research which goes into authoring academic documents, chiefly the literature review process.  As a PhD student myself I felt that this would make sense as the primary work-flow to augment.


My single biggest surprise for how literature reviews are done is that there is no best practice or taught system and there is no digital ecosystem to support literature reviews. There are systems for reading and annotating PDFs (the primary substrate for academic knowledge transmission and storage which, in most cases, simply acts as ‘pictures’ or scans of documents, without even the meta-information of the title and authors’ attached to them) and for organising lists of them (citation management software such as Mendeley and EndNote) and nothing widely used to see how all the documents connect.


I have such a hard time working in this piecemeal environment that I feel I need to address this very basic act of research. After all, this is a clear & present opportunity and as an Old Man Navigator I can’t see my soul has a choice. I am therefore working on building the following to augment the process of richly authoring, actively reading and viewing academic documents with the guiding design principles being to reduce cognitive load, increase cognitive reach in order to produce a more credible work-product: A more hypertextual literature review process.




Goals of a Literature Review


Acquire knowledge of pertinent elements and how they relate:


  • The Knowledge Space. What is already known, what is already done or proposed and what gaps there seems to be in the knowledge.
  • Methods & Sources. What methods have been employed and on what data.
  • Concepts. How key concepts connect to other concepts, the knowledge space, methods & sources, people & organizations and documents (citations).
  • People & Organizations. Who the prominent people working in the field are, how they connect to each other, institutions and concepts, and how they have defined and measured key concepts.
  • The Academic Documents, as intellectual statements and artefacts.


This is in order to formulate new insights to support innovation or simply clarity in the researcher's and audience’s mind.


When conducted as part of a larger work, the literature review puts the work in context and can present support for the author's position and when conducted by a student, a literature review also provides the means to demonstrate the student's ability for critical evaluation and contextualisation.






To support these goals the following Views are suggested to be built:


  • Single Document Reading View To find specific documents to read or re-read. To read one or more documents and to Cite them
  • Documents View To keep track of what is read and what was interesting and in what way (through annotations & tags) and how they relate to other documents through citations, concepts, authors or organizations
  • People & Organization View to show who has collaborated with whom on what, where.
  • Concept View to show the mental picture of the field and how the concepts (both theoretical and practical, such as methods, data & so on) relate to the people, organizations and other documents. This is based on integration with the hyperGlossary.
  • Authoring View where the sources are presented as a knowledge product



Liquid Components

As with any other profession, it's important to have the right tools for the job. The Law of Instrument states  ‘If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail’. Literature Review tools at the moment is basically a printer and a database of titles. The components below intend to go further with integration of different tasks than that. All components will be built initially for macOS and iOS:



Liquid | Author
creation of academic documents


Word processor with quick citation creation and checking as well as other rich interactions, including what the companion app Liquid | Flow offers. Future plans include adding Quick-Citation Search & Creation for Academic Documents (Mendeley, EndNote etc. integration) and publishing the result as a Rich PDF (with complete meta-data, original document embedded as well as an XML file of information).




Liquid | Reader
reading academic documents


Proposed PDF Reader which will allow the user to read any PDF, highlight text and then later choose to search based on all text–or (uniquely)–only highlighted text, annotations etc. and to Copy from the document automatically as Citation.




Liquid | View
dynamic views of existing documents and thinking space


Proposed visual thinking space, ideally for large monitors, tablets and VR, where all the users literature review documents are available, visible in any way the user prefers, listing and laying out by keywords, highlighted text, citations, time, author etc.







Overview of how the components produce the views to aid in the goals. This diagram also represents the basic notion of the views but lacks movement interactivity and the nodes cannot be turned into links (without going into a complicated image-map procedure):






These components will allow the researcher (academic, business, government or any curios individual) to read, annotate and cite documents easily, while having a good overview of how they connect and clear means to add their perspective.


PDF in, PDF Out


PDFs are the base document format and will thus be the focus on the import and export, in order to remain open. Rich PDFs as well as JATS and ePubs and other, more flexible formats will also be supported over time.


Academic repositories will be supported so that the documents are actually findable easily by users searching by various criteria and I agree that we should support





Moves will also be made towards direct web publishing, including integration with the hyperGlossary and Liquid | Flow Web (augmented WordPress) in order to support even richer online document-based dialogue. The interactions which can be made possible when the knowledge work components are more atomic and well contextualised with useful meta-information can be powerful indeed. But first, the literature review process has the clearest need for augmentation.




Open Ecosystem


  • Liquid | Author will produce documents readable by any PDF reader as plain PDFs or Rich PDFs, including Reader. Author will also be able to create and show hyperGlossary concepts.
  • Liquid | Reader will be able to read and annotate any PDF documents created by any app and save with annotations for any other app to see. Reader will also be able to show hyperGlossary concepts.
  • Liquid | View will be able to import any documents and save the views in ways accessible from inside apps. When PDFs are opened from within View they will open in Reader. The View will also show hyperGlossary concepts.






Step By Step


These changes may seem incremental and not very exciting but I believe strongly that by making knowledge more liquid at every stage and every operation it becomes something more than a sum of features. This is something users seem to agree with, since Liquid | Author is now the 20thmost popular productivity app on the UK macOS App Store with very good reviews.   :-)     This is the initial proposal, with many revisions expected over the course of the project.