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Evidence Based Practice: Introduction to Systematic and Scoping Reviews: Scoping 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)

Difference between Scoping Review and 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.  A priori review protocol is recommended.

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: Critical appraisal (optional), Risk of Bias assessment (optional) is not applicable for scoping reviews. 

Synthesis: The extraction of data for a scoping review may include a charting table or form but a formal synthesis of findings from individual studies and the generation of a 'summary of findings' (SOF) table is not required.  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.

Consultation: (optional) 

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

Doing Scoping Reviews Tutorial


Limitations of a Scoping Review

  • 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.


Munn Z, Peters M, Stern C, et al. Systematic review or scoping review? Guidance for authors when choosing between a systematic or scoping review approachBMC Medical Research Methodology. 2018;18:143.

Tricco AC, Lillie E, Zarin W, et al. PRISMA extension for scoping reviews (PRISMA-ScR): checklist and explanation. Ann Intern Med. 2018;169(7):467–73.

Morris M, Boruff J, and G Gore.  Scoping Reviews: establishing the role of the librarian.  J Med Lib Assoc. 2016;104(4):346-353.

Khalil H, Peters M, Godfrey C, et al.  An Evidence-Based Approach to Scoping Reviews.  Worldviews on Evidence-Based Nursing. 2016;00:0,1-6.

Tricco AC, Lillie E, Zarin W, et al. A scoping review on the conduct and reporting of scoping reviews. BMC Med Res Methodol. 2016;16:15.

Peters M, Godfrey C, Khalil H, et al. Guidance for Conducting Systematic Scoping Reviews.  Int J Evid Based Healthc. 2015;13:141-146.

Tricco AC, Antony J, Zarin W, et al. A scoping review of rapid review methods. BMC Med. 2015;13:224.

Pham MT, Rajic A, Greig JD, et al. A Scoping Review of Scoping Reviews: advancing the approach and enhancing the consistency. Research Synthesis Methods. 2014;5(4):371-385.

Colquhoun HL, Levac D, O'Brien KK, et al. Scoping reviews: time for clarity in definition, methods, and reporting. J Clin Epidemiol. 2014;67(12):1291–4.

Armstrong R, Hall BJ, Doyle J, Waters E. ‘Scoping the scope’ of a cochrane review. J Public Health. 2011;33(1):147–50.

Levac D, Colquhoun H, O'Brien K.  Scoping Studies: Advancing the Methodology. Implementation Science. 2010; 5(1).

Arksey H. and O'Malley L. Scoping Studies: towards a methodological frameworkInternational Journal of Social Research Methodology, 2005;8(1):19-32.