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Writing in the Health Sciences: Scoping Reviews

What is a Scoping Review?

Scoping reviews are similar to systematic reviews but are conducted for different reasons. A scoping review is a broad overview of a general topic that maps a large and diverse body of literature to provide forms of evidence .  

Scoping reviews tend to focus on the nature, volume, or characteristics of studies rather than on the synthesis of published data. Munn, et al. 2018 notes, "Researchers may conduct scoping reviews instead of systematic reviews where the purpose of the review is to identify knowledge gaps, scope a body of literature, clarify concepts or to investigate research conduct." 

Objectives of a Scoping Review 

  • To identify the types of available evidence in a given field 

  • To clarify key concepts/ definitions in the literature 

  • To examine how research is conducted on a certain topic or field 

  • To identify key characteristics or factors related to a concept 

  • As a precursor to a systematic review 

  • To identify and analyze knowledge gaps 

Scoping Reviews - Systematic Reviews and other evidence synthesis projects - Library Guides at University of Washington Libraries ( 

How a Scoping Review Differs from a Systematic Review

Timeframe: 12+ months, (same amount of time as a systematic review or longer).

Question: Answers broader questions beyond those related to the effectiveness of treatments or interventions.  A priori review protocol is recommended.

Sources and searches: Is still as comprehensive as a systematic review but much broader.  May involve multiple structured searches rather than a single structured search.  This will produce more results than a systematic review.  Must include a modified PRISMA flow diagram.

Selection: Based on inclusion/exclusion criteria, due to the iterative nature of a scoping review some changes may be necessary.  May require more time spent screening articles due to the larger volume of results from broader questions.

Appraisal: Not applicable for scoping reviews. 

Synthesis: The extraction of data for a scoping review may include a charting table or form.  Results may include a logical diagram or table or any descriptive form that aligns with the scope and objectives of the review.  May incorporate a numerical summary and qualitative thematic analysis.

Source: MDJ Peters et al. (2015), Levac et al. (2010)

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