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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?

"Unlike other reviews that tend to address relatively precise questions (such as a systematic review of the effectiveness of an intervention assessed using a predefined set of outcomes), scoping reviews can be used to map the key concepts that underpin a field of research, as well as to clarify working definitions, and/or the conceptual boundaries of a topic. A scoping review may address one of these aims or all of them. A scoping review of scoping reviews found that the three most common reasons for conducting a scoping review were to explore the breadth or extent of the literature, map and summarize the evidence, and inform future research."

Source: JBI Manual for Evidence Synthesis

Common Reasons for Conducting a Scoping Review:

  • As a precursor to a systematic review.
  • To identify the types of available evidence in a given field.
  • To identify and analyse knowledge gaps.
  • 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.

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, although critical appraisal can add more value to 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. (Optional) Critically appraising the literature
  8. Extracting data
  9. 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