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Scoping Reviews

This guide lists resources related to conducting a Scoping Review.

What is a Scoping Review?

A scoping review "is 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, pp. 1292-94

When is a Scoping Review necessary?

According to Munn et al. (2018), scoping reviews should be done:

  • to identify the types of available evidence in a given field

  • to clarify key concepts and/or definitions in the literature

  • to examine how research is conducted on a given topic

  • to identify key characteristics or factors related to a concept

  • to identify and analyze gaps in the knowledge base

  • as a precursor to a systematic review

Important: Before embarking on a scoping review, make sure that 1) a recent review on the same topic has not already been published, and that 2) a review protocol has not already been registered for the same topic. 

To check for published and registered (i.e. forthcoming) scoping reviews, search databases such as Ovid MEDLINE, CINAHL, and even Google Scholar. Also try searching in the following journals for scoping review protocols before you get started:

Is a Scoping Review the right type of review for my research project?

How does a Scoping Review differ from a Systematic Review?

Consult the chart below for some other differences between systematic reviews and scoping reviews.

  Scoping Review Systematic Review
Purpose/Aim Provides a narrative or descriptive account of available information Provides empirical evidence that meets pre-specified criteria
Protocol Required Developed a priori and post hoc Developed a priori
Research Question Broadly defined Highly focused
Comprehensive Search Explicit and transparent Explicit and transparent
Inclusion/Exclusion Criteria Developed at protocol stage Developed at protocol stage
Study Selection All study types Defined study types; need to meet quality standards
Critical Appraisal No critical appraisal of included studies Quality and risk of bias assessment included
Statistical Analysis "Charts" data according to key issues, themes, etc. Synthesizes and aggregates findings; often with a meta-analysis

Common Misconceptions about Scoping Reviews

Misconception #1: Scoping Reviews can be completed quicker than Systematic Reviews

Truth: Not always. In a study by Khalil et al (2020), 42% participants reported that the scoping review they had been involved with had taken between 6 and 12 months, and 32% of participants spent over a year completing their reviews. 

Misconception #2: Scoping Reviews are easier to complete than Systematic Reviews

Truth: Scoping Reviews are "systematic-like" and require a rigorous approach. The comprehensive search may be limited by time/scope restraints, but still aims to be thorough and to be transparent and replicable in its methods.

Misconception #3: Scoping Reviews have fewer articles to screen than Systematic Reviews

Due to the broader nature of this reviews, you may actually have more articles to screen than for a systematic review (i.e. 3000-4000 results). The teams for scoping reviews are often bigger than those for systematic reviews partially due to this reason. Like with a systematic review, results must be screened and appraised by a minimum of two reviewers, ideally  with a third available to settle any disagreements.

Creative Commons License

This guide was created by Ontario Tech Libraries and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution International 4.0 License, except where otherwise noted. 

Creative Commons Attribution International 4.0 License