Skip to Main Content

Scoping Reviews

A guide introducing the process of conducting a scoping review


What is a Scoping Review?

"A scoping a form of knowledge synthesis that addresses an exploratory research question aimed at mapping key concepts, types of evidence, and gaps in research related to a defined area or field by systematically searching, selecting, and synthesizing existing knowledge" (Colquhoun et al, 2014).

Researchers are publishing scoping reviews in the health sciences, medicine, social sciences, and education at an increasing rate. A PubMed search for scoping reviews found 10 scoping reviews were published in 2010 while over 7000 were published in 2023.

Other names for scoping reviews include: Scoping Study, Systematic Scoping Review, Scoping Report, Scope of the Evidence, Rapid Scoping Review, Structured Literature Review, Scoping Project, Scoping Meta Review

Why Conduct a Scoping Review?

There are several reasons why one might conduct a scoping review. Purposes for a scoping review can include (Peters et al., 2020):

  • As a precursor to a systematic review
  • To identify the types of available evidence in a given field
  • To identify and analyse knowledge gaps
  • To clarify key concepts and definitions in the literature
  • To examine how research is conducted on a certain topic or field
  • To identify key characteristics or factors related to a concept

What makes Scoping Reviews different?

Scoping reviews still involve the development of a research question, creation and publication of a protocol, exhaustive literature searching, and data extraction from included studies. However, rather than a clear, synthesized report of results appraising the quality of a given methodology, scoping reviews "aim to provide an overview or map of the evidence" (Peters et al., 2020). 

While systematic reviews are required to include critical appraisal of studies as well as risk of bias assessment, this is an optional step for scoping reviews. Because this is not always included, scoping reviews have different implications for practice (be it clinical, policy-making, or general) than systematic reviews might.

Because there is a wide variety of factors why a research team may conduct a scoping review, it is incredibly important to clarify the rationale and objectives of the scoping review (Peters et al., 2020).

Things to Consider Before Starting a Scoping Review

  • The timeframe for a scoping review is not short, scoping reviews typically take 12 or more months
  • A team of researchers is needed for a scoping review, and the team may need to be larger than one used in a systematic review
    • Librarians are often consulted for the development of a comprehensive search strategy--request assistance from Gumberg librarians using the Systematic Review Librarian request form
    • Other members of the research teams hold include experts in scoping review methodology, clinical content area experts, experts in qualitative/quantitative methods and statistics, and other experts as needed
  • The methodology of a scoping review is evolving and therefore may be unclear or inconsistent 
  • Use the PRISMA-ScR checklist to make sure you document and keep track of all needed information