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Systematic Reviews: Scoping Reviews

Collaborative support for researchers undertaking systematic reviews

What is a Scoping Review?

Our Systematic Review Service can also assist you and your team with Scoping Reviews. 


A scoping review is a relatively new approach to evidence synthesis and differs from systematic reviews in its purpose and aims. The purpose of a scoping review is to provide an overview of the available research evidence without producing a summary answer to a guide clinical decision-making.


Scoping reviews are a form of knowledge synthesis, which incorporate a range of study designs to comprehensively summarize and synthesize evidence with the aim of informing practice, programs, and policy and providing direction to future research priorities.


The general purpose for conducting scoping reviews is to identify and map the available evidence.


Adapted from: Arksey H, O’Malley L. Scoping studies: towards a methodological framework. Int J Soc Res Methodol. 2005 Feb;8(1):19–32.

Sucharew H, Macaluso, M. Methods for Research Evidence Synthesis: The Scoping Review Approach. J. Hosp. Med 2019;7;416-418.

How is this different from a Systematic Review?

  • Scoping reviews share a number of the same processes as systematic reviews, as they both use rigorous and transparent methods to comprehensively identify and analyze all the relevant literature pertaining to a research question.


  • The key differences between the two review methods can be attributed to their differing purposes and aims. The purpose of a scoping review is to map the body of literature on a topic area. The purpose of a systematic review is to synthesize the best available research on a specific intervention


  • Scoping reviews identify key characteristics or factors related to a concept. They do not produce statements to guide decision-making. 


  • A scoping review seeks to present an overview of a potentially large and diverse body of literature pertaining to a broad topic. A systematic review attempts to collate empirical evidence from a relatively smaller number of studies pertaining to a focused research question. 


  • Scoping reviews aim to provide a descriptive overview of the reviewed material without critically appraising individual studies or synthesizing evidence from different studies (no risk of bias or meta-analysis/statistical pooling is performed). In contrast, systematic reviews aim to provide a synthesis of evidence from studies assessed for risk of bias.


Adapted from: Pham MT, Rajić A, Greig JD, Sargeant JM, Papadopoulos A, McEwen SA. A scoping review of scoping reviews: advancing the approach and enhancing the consistency. Res Synth Methods. 2014 Dec;5(4):371–85.

The PCC Question Development Framework

Because the aim of a scoping review differs from that of a systematic review, question development may not fit into the PICO (Patient/Intervention/Comparison/Outcome) framework. Therefore, PCC (Population/Concept/Context) may be a more useful framework.


Per JBI's Scoping Review Manual: "The 'PCC' mnemonic is recommended as a guide to construct a clear and meaningful title for a scoping review. The PCC mnemonic stands for the Population, Concept, and Context. There is no need for explicit outcomes, interventions or phenomena of interest to be stated for a scoping review; however elements of each of these may be implicit in the concept under examination."


Element Definition Example
P - Population

"Important characteristics of participants should be detailed, including age and other qualifying criteria that make them appropriate for the objectives of the scoping review and for the review question.

In some circumstances, participants per se are not a relevant inclusion criterion. For example, for a scoping review that is focused upon mapping the types and details of research designs that have been used in a particular field, it may not be useful or within scope to detail the types of participants involved in that research." (11.2.4)

Breast cancer patients
C - Concept "The core concept examined by the scoping review should be clearly articulated to guide the scope and breadth of the inquiry. This may include details that pertain to elements that would be detailed in a standard systematic review, such as the 'interventions' and/or 'phenomena of interest' and/or 'outcomes.'" (11.2.4.) Barriers to care

C -


"May include... cultural factors such as geographic location and/or specific racial or gender-based interests. In some cases, context may also encompass details about the specific setting." (11.2.4)  Low income countries


When do I perform a Systematic Review? When do I perform a Scoping Review?

  • When you have a specific clinical question that fits into the PICO framework or a hypothesis you are looking to test, you'll want to perform a systematic review. 


  • If you are looking for a broad overview on a topic, with no hypothesis or specific clinical question, you'll want to perform a scoping review.
Indications for Systematic Reviews
Uncover the international evidence
Confirm current practice/ address any variation/ identify new practices
Identify and inform areas for future research
Identify and investigate conflicting results
Produce statements to guide decision-making
Indications for Scoping Reviews
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

Adapted from: Munn Z, Peters MDJ, Stern C, Tufanaru C, McArthur A, Aromataris E. Systematic review or scoping review? Guidance for authors when choosing between a systematic or scoping review approach. BMC Med Res Methodol. 2018 Nov 19;18(1):143.

How are both Systematic and Scoping Reviews different from Traditional Literature Reviews?

Systematic and scoping reviews aim to be comprehensive, transparent, reproducible, and unbiased – this is not typically the case with a traditional literature review. With clear and explicit methodology, the reader knows exactly how the authors of a study came to their conclusions, rather than relying on expert opinion or subjective selection that is usually found in a literature review. 


  Literature Review Systematic Review Scoping Review
Review question General discussion of topic Focused clinical question/hypothesis Broad overview of topic
A priori review protocol No Yes Yes
Registering protocol No Yes Yes, but not accepted in PROSPERO
Searching for relevant literature Not comprehensive, typically only include published literature Comprehensive search to locate all relevant published and unpublished studies Comprehensive search to locate all relevant published and unpublished studies
Deciding which studies include/exclude Undefined; typically only include studies that support claims Explicit description of what types of studies are to be included Explicit description of what types of studies are to be included
Standardized data extraction forms No Yes Yes
Risk of bias assessment (critical appraisal) No Yes Sometimes, but not required


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