What is a scoping literature review?

Scoping literature reviews (and Critically Appraised Topics) have become an important class of journal articles published in professional and discipline specific research journals. These review articles can provide a rationale for evidence based professional practice or policy on a specific topic. Scoping reviews need only involve one or more authors, can be conducted quickly, and review empirical research literature which is not necessarily the authors’ original research.

A scoping review, like a narrative review, will analyse and discuss the published literature of research activity around a particular topic. The review will always involve a methodical and thorough approach to searching and selecting the literature for the review. The terms Systematic Review or Systematic-Like Review are often used to describe a range of other types of literature reviews (Grant & Booth, 2009). It is always important to remember though, that a scoping review is a lot less arduous than a full systematic review. 


A typical scoping review will involve these steps: 

  • Define your research question
  • Use search frameworks such as PICO, SPIDER and others, to guide your search for literature specific to your review topic or question. The framework will help to identify the key concepts and search terms for your searching.
  • Include Grey literature from government agencies and Professional organisations
  • Select a number of relevant journal databases to search.
  • Keep a detailed record of search terms and Boolean search strategies. Reuse these in each journal database.  You will need to include these in your review article Method so that others can replicate your search activities and results.
  • Manage each database search results in an EndNote library, using the groups. You could even use Nvivo to identify themes in the literature.
  • Decide an inclusion criteria, and an exclusion criteria for articles you will include or will not include in the critical appraisal process.
  • Use the PRISMA flow chart to record your search results, the appraisal results and evidence.


Your Challenge

Work with a group or give it a go on your own:

  • Define a hypothetical question or topic to review for evidence based practice
  • Select a framework
  • Brainstorm and list possible key terms for searching, based in the concepts found in PICO
  • List potential databases to research
  • Will you include grey literature from industry or government?
  • List ideas of what to include or exclude
  • Use the PRISMA flowchart to record hypothetical search and appraisal processes


Examples of published scoping reviews:

Egan, A., Maguire, R., Christophers, L., & Rooney, B. (2017). Developing creativity in higher education for 21st century learners: A protocol for a scoping review. International Journal of Educational Research, 82, 21-27. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijer.2016.12.004

Horey, D., Fortune, T., Nicolacopoulos, T., Kashima, E., & Mathisen, B. (2018). Global Citizenship and Higher Education: A Scoping Review of the Empirical Evidence. Journal of Studies in International Education, 22(5), 472-492. https://doi.org/10.1177/1028315318786443

Example for "Scoping Literature Review: Next steps":

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