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Scoping Reviews

This guide provides a step by step breakdown of how to conduct a scoping review and how librarians can assist in the process.

What Is a Scoping Review?

"Scoping reviews are a type of evidence synthesis that aims to systematically identify and map the breadth of evidence available on a particular topic, field, concept, or issue, often irrespective of source (ie, primary research, reviews, non-empirical evidence) within or across particular contexts. Scoping reviews can clarify key concepts/definitions in the literature and identify key characteristics or factors related to a concept, including those related to methodological research."

Source: What are scoping reviews? Providing a formal definition of scoping reviews as a type of evidence synthesis

Common Reasons for Conducting a Scoping Review:

  • To identify the types of available evidence in a given field.
  • To identify and analyze knowledge gaps.
  • To clarify key concepts/definitions in the literature.
  • To examine how research is conducted on a certain topic
  • To identify key characteristics or factors related to a concept.
  • As a precursor to a systematic review.

Required elements of a Scoping Review:

  • A team to ensure unbiased screening
  • Conducted according to JBI guidelines
  • Reported according to the PRISMA-ScR standards
  • File a protocol a priori
  • Reproducible and transparent search strategies of multiple applicable databases and grey literature sources
  • Two phases of screening: Title/Abstract and Full Text by at least 2 screeners
  • Documentation of included and excluded studies according to the PRISMA flow diagram
  • Documentation of data extraction process per protocol
  • Citation of included studies, guidelines and tools utilized

Scoping Review v. Systematic Review

Systematic and scoping reviews share similar characteristics, including:

  • Protocol registration
  • Adherence to accepted guidelines
  • Adherence to PRISMA for reporting
  • Use of complex, systematic search techniques
  • Use of standardized data extraction techniques
  • Requiring at least 2 team members for independent screening and data extraction

That being said, scoping reviews differ from systematic reviews in key ways:

  • Scoping reviews focus on broad questions without defined answers, such as analyzing the state of the literature on a given topic, seeking to define the boundaries or definitions of a topic, identifying research gaps, or identifying the value and need for a systematic review
  • Scoping reviews do NOT require critical appraisal of their included studies
  • Clinical questions, such as those related to clinical practice or the feasibility, safety or effectiveness of treatments, are not appropriate for a scoping review

If you are in doubt about which type of review suits your research question, reach out to your liaison librarian.

Scoping Review Process

  1. Planning and choosing tools
  2. Developing a protocol
  3. Developing a search strategy
  4. Registering your protocol
  5. Running your searches
  6. Screening articles
  7. Extracting data
  8. Synthesizing and publishing results


Time estimates vary widely for the completion of a scoping review, but most estimates say that a scoping review takes 6-12 months to complete. Ultimately it will depend largely on the size of your team, the time available to put towards the project, the state of the current literature on your research topic, and your expertise with systematic searching. To get an estimate of how long your review might take, use the PredicTER tool linked below.

Liaison Librarians

Julia Peters, KCOM Liaison Librarian


Julia Peters

660 626 2336