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Scoping Reviews

What is a Scoping Review?

Scoping reviews (ScRs) generally provide an overview of a broad topic area. Both systematic reviews/meta‐analyses and scoping reviews begin with a primary question on which inquiry is focused. However, a ScR allows for a more general question and exploration of the related literature, rather than focusing on providing answers to a more limited/focused question. ScR questions are less narrow but broader in conceptual range.

ScRs suit topics with diverse, complex or heterogeneous bodies of literature nature not amenable to a more precise systematic review of the evidence. Theoretical and narrative reviews, grey literature, as well as both qualitative and quantitative research are all included within a scoping review.

Reported ScRs are generally presented in a narrative form, with minimal or limited statistical information. ScRs set out to synthesise the research in the topic area, by mapping the key concepts that underpin a field of research, clarify working definitions, and/or the conceptual boundaries of a topic and illustrate the types of evidence sources.

This mapping process illustrates what is known about the topic and points to where there may be gaps in knowledge or future research.

(Peterson et al., 2017)

Why do a scoping review?

According to JBI (Munn et al. 2018a), scoping reviews may be conducted for a number of reasons:

  • 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/ 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 is the difference between a scoping review, systematic review and literature review?

This table from UniSA provides a detailed overview of how these review types differ.

Further reading

  • Arksey, H., & O'Malley, L. (2005). Scoping studies: towards a methodological framework. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 8(1), 19-32. 
    • Seminal article which laid the groundwork for subsequent ScR methodological frameworks/guidelines