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Knowledge syntheses: Systematic & Scoping Reviews, and other review types


According to Booth (2016), "a mapping review aims at categorizing, classifying, characterizing patterns, trends or themes in evidence production or publication" (p. 14). Grant & Booth (2009) add that the point in conducting a mapping review is to "map out" and thematically understand the pre-existing research on a particular topic including assessing any gaps that could be addressed by future research. 

Mapping reviews are not to be confused with scoping reviews and differ as the outcome of a mapping review can be to produce primary research or more reviews. Mapping reviews are also known as systematic maps.

When is a Mapping Review methodology appropriate?

When to Use It: Booth (2016) states that "a mapping review is best used where a clear target for a more focused evidence product has not yet been identified" (p. 14). Mapping reviews are especially useful for topics where there is a lot of preexisting literature, for investing if there are gaps in the literature, and are useful to conduct before larger knowledge syntheses such as a systematic review.

Elements of a Mapping Review

The following characteristics, strengths, and challenges of conducting mapping reviews are derived from Grant & Booth (2009) and Cooper (2016)

  • Although mapping reviews are sometimes called scoping reviews, the key difference is that mapping reviews focus on a review question, rather than a topic

  • Mapping review searches are often quick and are intended to provide a broad overview
  • Mapping reviews can take different approaches in what types of literature is focused on in the search
  • Allows you to map out the literature on a topic which lets you see gaps in the literature
  • An useful tool for policymakers, practitioners and researchers by providing "an explicit and transparent means of identifying narrower policy and practice-relevant review questions" (Grant and Booth, 2009, p. 97).

  • Time-constrained
  • Do not involve synthesis and analysis as with other knowledge syntheses
  • Broad nature of the search process can leave some articles out
  • Tend to describe studies on a broader level which can "oversimplify the picture or mask considerable variation (heterogeneity) between studies and their findings" (Grant and Booth, 2009, p. 98)

  • Often exclude quality assessment and "[characterize] studies only on the basis of study design" (Grant and Booth, 2009, p. 98)

Methods and Guidance

The following resource provides further support on conducting a mapping study:



Check out the supplementary resources page for additional information, including articles, on mapping reviews.