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Knowledge Synthesis & Systematic Reviews

What is a Scoping Review?

Scoping reviews (also known as mapping reviews) are exploratory research projects that systematically map the literature on a relatively broad topic, by identifying key concepts, theories, and sources of evidence that inform practice in the field. The main objectives of a scoping review are to assess the size and scope of available research literature, identify gaps in current research, and highlight areas that require further inquiry. Scoping reviews can use qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods approaches. 

Scoping reviews are sometimes used as a preliminary research to justify further investigation, time, and resources; however, they can also be standalone projects, especially where the research topic is complex or has not been reviewed comprehensively in the past. They share several characteristics with systematic reviews by way of being systematic, transparent, and replicable. However, the scoping review process can be interative, where researchers adjust their focus based on what they discover as they analyise what they have found so far. Literature searches for scoping reviews are exhaustive, and often incorporate literature that is not published by commercial publishers, or indexed in commercial databases and catalogues - for example, governmental or private sector research, dissertations, and conference abstracts. 

The 5 main steps to successfully complete a scoping review are:

  1. Identify – What is the research question(s) - what domain needs to be explored?
  2. Find – locate relevant studies - electronic databases, reference lists, websites, conference proceedings, clinical trials, etc.
  3. Select – Choose studies that are relevant to the question(s) – use predetermined inclusion/exclusion criteria.
  4. Extract/chart – organize the data from relevant studies selected.
  5. Collate – Summarize and report the results.

Recommended Resources


Grant MJ, Booth A. (2009) A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. Health Info Libr J. 2009; 26(2): 91-108.

Daudt HM, van Mossel C, Scott SJ. Enhancing the scoping study methodology: a large, inter-professional team's experience with Arksey and O'Malley's framework. BMC Med Res Methodol. 2013; 13:48.