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.

Literature Reviews

What is a Scoping Review?

Scoping reviews are used to synthesize research evidence and clarify working definitions and conceptual boundaries of a topic or field.  They are similar to other review types in that they summarize and disseminate research, identify gaps, and provide support for further research.

Comparison of key characteristics between three review types
  Literature Review Scoping Review Systematic Review
Review protocol No Some Yes
PROSPERO registration No No Yes
Robust search strategy No Yes Yes
Standardized data extraction No Yes Yes
Critical Appraisal No No Yes
Summary of findings and overall summary No No Yes

Adapted from Munn, Z., Peters, M.D.J., Stern, C. et al. Systematic review or scoping review? Guidance for authors when choosing between a systematic or scoping review approach. BMC Med Res Methodol 18, 143 (2018).

The basic steps include:

1. Assemble a team of at least two reviewers
Additional team members could be more reviewers, context experts, or a librarian.

2. Develop a scoping review protocol
The protocol is the plan for the review.  It outlines the review objectives, inclusion criteria, and methods.  The methods would include the search strategy and how articles will be screened and analyzed.  The main focus of the review should be explained in detail.  Concepts explored could be research design, frameworks, theories or classifications.  The context of the review will depend on the research question.  It may be limited by geographical locations, cultural factors, or population characteristics.

3. Develop and conduct a search strategy
The search strategy should have a robust search string and used in multiple sources.  A mixture of literature databases and grey literature should be used.  Read more about developing a search strategy on the Systematic Review Guide.

4. Extract and chart results
Documentation of searching decisions, retrieval numbers, screening decisions, and additions to the reference list is required in the final report.  A flow chart of reporting items should also be included.


Charting the results is the process of data extraction.  A draft chart should have been part of the protocol, and will be used to record characteristics from included studies. 

Example extraction fields

5. Summarize findings
The results can be presented in a number of ways and should align with the objective or scope of the review.  Results can be displayed in a table, chart, diagrammatically, or in a descriptive format.  A table or chart can show the time frame of published studies, the country of origin, area of intervention, and research methods.  A diagrammatic form can "map" studies together based on what makes sense for the review.

A conclusion in the final report should show how the review question was answered with the results of the review.  Future research can be recommended, to fill in the gaps of knowledge.  Another recommendation could be to conduct a full systematic review on the topic or new primary research in an area of interest.

Other names for Scoping Reviews: Scoping Study, Systematic Scoping Review, Scoping Report, Scope of the Evidence, Rapid Scoping Review, Structured Literature Review, Scoping Project, Scoping Meta Review

Adapted from Peters, Micah D.J. BHSc, MA(Q), PhD1; Godfrey, Christina M. RN PhD2; Khalil, Hanan BPharm, MPharm, PhD3; McInerney, Patricia PhD4; Parker, Deborah5; Soares, Cassia Baldini RN, MPH, PhD6 Guidance for conducting systematic scoping reviews, International Journal of Evidence-Based Healthcare: September 2015 - Volume 13 - Issue 3 - p 141-146 doi: 10.1097/XEB.0000000000000050

Guidance on a Scoping Review

Example Scoping Reviews