Scoping reviews (also known as mapping reviews) are exploratory research projects that systematically map the literature on a topic by identifying key concepts, theories and sources of evidence that inform practice in the field.
Main objectives of scoping reviews are to identify gaps in the current research and highlight areas that require further inquiry. They aim to assess the potential size and scope of available research literature (often including ongoing research) and the current level of synthesis available.
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 (for more information on systematic reviews see Understanding review types: systematic reviews and meta-analyses).
There are 5 main steps required to successfully complete a scoping review:
Scoping reviews can be completed rapidly and can use qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods approaches. The aim of evidence gathering in a scoping review is to gather as much as possible and map the results.
Analyses and syntheses are part of every scoping review but the depth and type of analysis are different than that found in a systematic review. The results garnered from a scoping review are usually displayed in a tabular format with some narrative commentary and statistical analysis (meta-analysis) is common.
Before beginning a scoping review project, it’s an excellent idea to consult a librarian who can help to create a robust search strategy (including assistance with grey literature searching), inform citation management and assist with search documentation.
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This article was originally part of the HSL News series Understanding review types. For more information about this series, read the series’ introduction.