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Nursing and Allied Health: Systematic Reviews vs. Scoping Reviews

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Types of Knowledge Synthesis


A Systematic Review is one of eight (8) different types of reviews.  These reviews imply a synthesis of knowledge. 

  • Which reviews are you familiar with?
  • Can you define each type of knowledge synthesis?
  • How are they similar?
  • How they are different?



Systematic Review Search versus a Scoping Review


A Systematic Review search has many more restrictions than a Scoping Review search. While useful in their own right, scoping reviews may also be helpful precursors to systematic reviews and can be used to confirm the relevance of inclusion criteria and potential questions. Although conducted for different purposes compared to systematic reviews, scoping reviews still require rigorous and transparent methods in their conduct to ensure that the results are trustworthy. It is highly likely that you will begin the research process by performing a Scoping Review prior to a Systematic Review.

A Scoping Review or Scoping Study has a much broader retrieval. Some Scoping Reviews may retrieve as many as 2,000 results prior to trimming the search. 

A systematic review may be undertaken to confirm or refute whether or not current practice is based on relevant evidence, to establish the quality of that evidence, and to address any uncertainty or variation in practice that may be occurring. Such variations in practice may be due to conflicting evidence and undertaking a systematic review should (hopefully) resolve such conflicts. Conducting a systematic review may also identify gaps, deficiencies, and trends in the current evidence and can help underpin and inform future research in the area. Systematic reviews can be used to produce statements to guide clinical decision-making, the delivery of care, as well as policy development. Broadly, indications for systematic reviews are as follows:

  1. Uncover the international evidence
  2. Confirm current practice/ address any variation/ identify new practiceIdentify and inform areas for future research

  3. Identify and investigate conflicting results

  4. Produce statements to guide decision-making

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).

Free Full Text: Open Access

You will find below the most cited works on Scoping Reviews, Scoping Studies or Scoping Searches.


Scoping Review, Scoping Study, or Scoping Search


A Scoping Review or Scoping Study is a very broad search by nature.  While you may have applied limiters, this type of search is still necessarily broad.

Scoping studies (or reviews) may be defined as “exploratory projects that (1) systematically map the literature available on a topic, (2) identifying key concepts, theories, (3) sources of evidence and (4) gaps in the research. Specific recommendations to clarify and enhance this methodology are outlined for each stage of the Arksey and O'Malley framework. Continued debate and development about scoping study methodology will help to maximize the usefulness and rigor of scoping study findings within healthcare research and practice. Levac et. al. (2010)

Levac D, Colquhoun H, O'Brien KK. Scoping studies: advancing the methodology. Implement Sci. 2010 Sep 20;5:69. doi: 10.1186/1748-5908-5-69. PMID: 20854677; PMCID: PMC2954944.

PDF Link

Researchers can undertake a Scoping Review or Scoping Study to (1) examine the extent, range, and nature of research activity, (2) determine the value of undertaking a full systematic review, (3) summarize and disseminate research findings, or (4) identify gaps in the existing literature.  Arksey et. al. (2005)

This paper focuses on scoping studies, an approach to reviewing the literature which to date has received little attention in the research methods literature. We distinguish between different types of scoping studies and indicate where these stand in relation to full systematic reviews. We outline a framework for conducting a scoping study based on our recent experiences of reviewing the literature on services for carers for people with mental health problems. Where appropriate, our approach to scoping the field is contrasted with the procedures followed in systematic reviews. We emphasize how including a consultation exercise in this sort of study may enhance the results, making them more useful to policy makers, practitioners and service users. Finally, we consider the advantages and limitations of the approach and suggest that a wider debate is called for about the role of the scoping study in relation to other types of literature reviews. Arksey et. al. (2005)

Arksey, H., & O′Malley, L. (2005). Scoping studies: towards a methodological framework. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 8, 19 - 32.
Available through Nursing Interlibrary Loan (nternational Journal of Social Research Methodology: ISSN 1364-5579)
Indications for a Scoping Review


The general purpose for conducting scoping reviews is to identify and map the available evidence. Arskey and O’Malley, authors of the seminal paper describing a framework for scoping reviews, provided four specific reasons why a scoping review may be conducted. Soon after, Levac, Colquhoun and O’Brien further clarified and extended this original framework.  These authors acknowledged that at the time, there was no universally recognized definition of scoping reviews nor a commonly acknowledged purpose or indication for conducting them. In 2015, a methodological working group of the JBI produced formal guidance for conducting scoping reviews. However, we have not previously addressed and expanded upon the indications for scoping reviews. Below, we build upon previously described indications and suggest the following purposes for conducting a scoping review:

  1. To identify the types of available evidence in a given field

  2. To clarify key concepts/ definitions in the literature

  3. To examine how research is conducted on a certain topic or field

  4. To identify key characteristics or factors related to a concept

  5. As a precursor to a systematic review

  6. To identify and analyse knowledge gaps

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).

Free Full Text: Open Access



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