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Gerstein Science Information Centre

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


According to Colquhoun et al. (2014), a scoping study can be defined as: "a form of knowledge synthesis, which incorporate a range of study designs to comprehensively summarize and synthesize evidence with the aim of informing practice, programs, and policy and providing direction to future research priorities" (p. 1291).

When is a Scoping Review methodology appropriate?

When to Use It: A scoping review might be right for you if you are interested in:
  • Examining the extent, range and nature of research activity
  • Determining the value of undertaking a full systematic review (e.g. Do any studies exist? Have systematic reviews already been conducted?)
  • Summarizing and disseminating research findings
  • Identifying gaps in an existing body of literature

Elements of a Scoping Review

The following characteristics, strengths, and challenges of conducting a scoping review are derived from Grant & Booth (2009), Peters et al. (2015) and O'Brien (2016)


  • Answers a broad question
  • Scoping reviews serve the purpose of identifying the scope and extent of existing research on a topic
  • Similar to systematic reviews, scoping reviews follow a step-by-step process and aim to be transparent and replicable in its methods


  • Identifies gaps in existing literature/research
  • Allows you to "map a body of literature with relevance to time, location (e.g. country or context), source (e.g. peer-reviewed or grey literature), and origin (e.g. healthcare discipline or academic field)" (Peters et al., 2015, p. 142). 

  • Scoping reviews are typically used "to clarify working definitions and conceptual boundaries of a topic or field" (Peters et al., 2015, p. 141). 

  • Scoping reviews can be useful when reviewing topics that aren't conducive to systematic reviews such as when the literature on a topic is complex or heterogeneous

  • Scoping reviews can be conducted "to summarize and disseminate research findings, to identify research gaps, and to make recommendations for future research" (Peters et al., 2015, p. 141).


  • Establishing boundaries may be difficult
  • They "cannot usually be regarded as a final output in their own right" (Grant & Booth, 2009, p.101)
  • Can possibly result in bias due to restraints on comprehensiveness & duration
  • They usually lack quality assessment
  • Scoping reviews cannot and should not be used to inform policy or practice

Methods and Guidance

The following resources provide methods and guidance in the field of scoping reviews:


A series of videos presented by Dr Andrea C. Tricco and Kafayat Oboirien. Learn the about what a scoping review is, see examples, learn the steps involved, and common methods from Dr. Tricco. Oboirien presents her experiences of conducting a scoping review on strengthening clinical governance in low and middle income countries.

An overview on best practices when executing a scoping review.

An extensive and detailed outline within the JBI Reviewer's Manual on how to properly conduct a scoping review.


Contains a 20-item checklist for proper reporting of a scoping review plus 2 optional items.


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