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Systematic Reviews

What is a Scoping Review?

"Scoping reviews have great utility for synthesizing research evidence and are often used to [categorize or group] existing literature in a given field in terms of its nature, features, and volume."  Note: Often a scoping review is confused with a mapping review.  They are two different types of descriptive reviews and are not systematic reviews, but the methodology is closely related.  

According to Grant and Booth (2009), Scoping reviews are "preliminary assessment of potential size and scope of available research literature.  Aims to identify nature and extent of research evidence (usually including ongoing research)."

Scoping Reviews are best designed for:

"When a body of literature has not yet been comprehensively reviewed, or exhibits a large, complex, or heterogeneous nature not amenable to a more precise systematic review."

  • Map existing literature in terms of nature, features, volume
  • Clarify working definitions and conceptual boundaries of a topic or field
  • Identify gaps in existing literature/research

(Peters M, Godfrey C, Khalil H, et al)


  • Is not easier than a systematic review.
  • Is not faster than a systematic review, may take longer.
  • More citations to screen
  • Different screening criteria/process than a systematic review
  • Often leads to a broader, less defined search.
  • Requires multiple structured searches instead of one.
  • Increased emphasis for hand searching the literature.
  • May require larger teams because of larger volume of literature.
  • Inconsistency in the conduct of scoping reviews.

How a Scoping Review Differs from a Systematic Review

Timeframe: 12+ months, (same amount of time as a systematic review or longer)   
*Varies beyond the type of review. Depends on many factors such as but not limited to: resources available, the quantity and quality of the literature, and the expertise or experience of reviewers" (Grant et al. 2009)

Question: Answers broader questions beyond those related to the effectiveness of treatments or interventions

Sources and searches: Is still as comprehensive as a systematic review but much broader.  May involve multiple structured searches rather than a single structured search.  This will produce more results than a systematic review.  Must include a modified PRISMA flow diagram.

Selection: Based on inclusion/exclusion criteria, due to the iterative nature of a scoping review some changes may be necessary.  May require more time spent screening articles due to the larger volume of results from broader questions.

Appraisal: No critical appraisal/Uses only qualitative synthesis.

Synthesis: The extraction of data for a scoping review is called "charting the results"  and should include a charting table or form.  Results may include a logical diagram or table or any descriptive form that aligns with the scope and objectives of the review.  May incorporate a numerical summary and qualitative thematic analysis.

(Sources: MDJ Peters et al. (2015), Levac et al. (2010))

Before you Meet With A Librarian

To get a better sense of your project, we suggest making an appointment with a librarian. 

Before your consultation, we suggest you do the following prior to the consultation:

  • Educate yourself about the type of review you will be undertaking
  • Familiarize yourself with the processes involved for that type of review
  • Develop a protocol/proposal for your prospective review
    • If you have already developed a protocol/proposal, provide this to the librarian you will be meeting with.
    • If you haven't already developed a protocol/proposal, take a look at how to create one. 
  • Find 2-5 articles that fit your research question.
  • If you do not already have some basic familiarity with search principles, consider viewing Finding Health Literature: Keys to Searching PubMed, CINAHL & Scopus