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Scoping Reviews

Steps in the Process

Based on the Joanna Briggs Institute's Reviews Manual, Arksey & O'Malley (2005), and Cochrane Institute guidelines, there are 5 steps for conducting scoping reviews. 

  1. Develop & register a protocol
    • State a clear research question
    • Define eligibility criteria
  2. Search the literature
    • Database searching (at least 3 databases, including one multi-disciplinary)
    • Supplementary searching
  3. Study Selection (2 or more reviewers)
    • Title and abstract screening
    • Full text screening
  4. Charting included sources (2 or more reviewers)
    • Chart characteristics of studies (form established a priori)
    • Code sheet
  5. Report results, implications, and recommendations

Tip: Be sure to be realistic about the amount of time it will take to conduct a thorough scoping review. While these types of reviews don't include the same level of assessment or data analysis and synthesis as a systematic review, the broad nature of a scoping review typically results in far more identified studies to be screened. A typical scoping review takes a 3-member team about a year to complete.


Which Guidelines to follow?

Which guidelines you choose and how rigorously you follow them will depend on your topic and where you intend to publish. Be sure to look at other reviews published in your target journals and see what guidelines and standards they use.

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Recommended Tools

Making the Process Smoother

The two things that will benefit you the most in conducting a Scoping Review are 1) document every step of the process as you go and 2) find existing reviews similar to your topic.

Document everything!

By far, the most common frustration I encounter among researchers conducting reviews looking back and being unable to find things like the date they conducted their final search strategy, or the exact terms they used for each database, or the number of articles they identified through supplementary searching. Don't let this be you! I recommend keeping a log of each decision you make and keep it all in one place. Parts of this documentation can go straight into the methods section of your paper. Keeping track of it will save you many hours of panicked searching when the time comes to sit down and write. The two recommended tools on the right can help greatly in this process.

Why find existing reviews?

Finding existing reviews

  1. tells you if your planned scoping review has already been done before, in which case you can either amend your research question or find a way to materially improve on or update the existing scoping review
  2. shows you where your review fits into the scholarly conversation and enables you to acknowledge the existence of related reviews in your introduction
  3. gives you a means to mine relevant sources from related reviews
  4. provides examples for how to conduct your own review (note what questions and criteria are included in these reviews, pay attention to search terms and databases used to search for studies)

Where to find existing reviews

Tips for finding existing reviews

1) Search for systematic reviews and meta-analyses as well as scoping reviews.

2) Use broader search terms than you will include in your own search protocol. This will help you find related reviews that may not explicitly match your research question but still be useful. 

3) The term "scoping review" will not always appear in the title or abstract on an article. In some databases, you cannot limit your searches to a systematic review methodology. So, using a search string like the one below helps you catch more potential reviews of interest.

"scoping review" OR "scoping study" OR “systematic review” OR "research synthesis" OR "synthesis of research" OR "meta analysis" OR meta-analysis