Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Gerstein Science Information Centre

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

Definition

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 systematic reviews are derived from Grant & Booth (2009), Peters et al. (2015) and O'Brien (2016)

Characteristics:

  • 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

Strengths:

  • 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).

Challenges:

  • 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:

METHODS & GUIDANCE

​REPORTING GUIDELINE

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

SUPPLEMENTARY RESOURCES

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