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Scoping reviews

Scoping reviews are typically characterized by being based on a slightly broader research question or topic than is seen in a traditional systematic review (Moher; 2015).

A scoping review can thus examine the scope or coverage of literature / evidence within a given topic. Munn et al. states the following reasons for preparing a scoping review (Munn, 2018):

  • To identify different types of available evidence within a given research area
  • To clarify definitions / concepts in the literature
  • To investigate how research is conducted within a given topic or research area
  • To identify main characteristics or factors related to a concept
  • As a precursor to a systematic review
  • To identify and analyze knowledge gaps

Scoping review and systematic reviews have certain common features, but also differ from each other on several specific points (Munn, 2018). These similarities and differences are described in the underlying headlines (research questions and protocol, literature search, literature review).

There is a Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) extension for scoping reviews (PRISMA-Scr), which is a checklist of 20 (22) items that should be included / reported in connection with the preparation of a scoping review (Tricco, 2018).


Research question

Research question

As initially described, scoping reviews are typically characterized by broader research questions than systematic reviews (Moher, 2015). The research question that underlies the scoping review contributes with direction and structure to the review. The research question should be clear, as it is the starting point for the preparation of inclusion and exclusion criteria, literature search, etc. The Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) Reviewer's Manual recommends the conceptualization model PCC (Population, Concept. Context) as a basis for formulating a structured research question for a Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) scoping review (Peters et al, 2020). However, there are many other conceptualizing models (PICO, PEO, etc.) that can contribute to the formulation of a structured research question (See Systematic reviews: research questions and protocol).



Unfortunately, protocols for scoping reviews cannot be registered in the international register PROSPERO, used for registration of protocols for systematic review with a health-related outcome. Instead, a protocol can be developed based on the aforementioned PRISMA (PRISMA for systematic review protocols (PRISMA-P)) or JBI Reviewer's Manual Chapter 11.2: Development of a Scoping Review Protocol (Peters et al, 2020). The protocol can uploaded to an accessible site, such as a web page or Open Science Framework (OSF) Registries ( You can also publish the protocol in a scientific journal such as BMJ Open or Systematic Reviews. Certain subject-specific journals also publish scoping review protocols.
Literature search

Just as it applies to a systematic review, the literature search is also an essential part of a scoping review, and this should be as exhaustive as possible (Peters, 2020).

An in-depth description of systematic literature search can be found here (under the topic "Literature search"). Further guides, course material and links can be found under the Health Sciences Libguide.

Quality assessment

Since scoping reviews are basically intended to examine the scope or coverage of literature / evidence within a given topic regardless of the quality of this, quality assessment of the included studies is typically not performed (this can be done in relevant cases) (Tricco et al., 2018 ).

Reference handling and sorting of literature

The University of Southern Denmark Library provides access to the subscription-based online-based software program Covidence. You can find more information on access, user instructions and courses in Covidence here.

Furthermore, reference management tools such as Endnote can be relevant to use when preparing reviews. Find more information about Endnote here.

Literature on scoping reviews

The following literature can be recommended in connection with the preparation of scoping reviews:

  • Peters MDJ, Godfrey C, McInerney P, Munn Z, Tricco AC, Khalil, H. Chapter 11: Scoping Reviews (2020 version). In: Aromataris E, Munn Z (Editors). JBI Manual for Evidence Synthesis, JBI, 2020.


  • Peters MDJ, Godfrey CM, Khalil H, McInerney P, Parker D, Soares CB. Guidance for conducting systematic scoping reviews. International Journal of Evidence Based Healthcare 2015 Sep;13(3):141-6.


  • Lockwood C., Tricco AC. Preparing scoping reviews for publication using methodological guides and reporting standards. Nursing & health sciences 2020 22(1):1-4.

Moher D., Stewart L., Shekelle P. All in the Family: systematic reviews, rapid reviews, scoping reviews, realist reviews, and more. Systematic Reviews (2015) 4:183.

Munn Z., Peters M.D.J., Stern C., Tufanaru T., McArthur A., Aromataris E. Systematic review or scoping review? Guidance for authors when choosing between a systematic or scoping review approach. BMC Medical Research Methodology (2018) 18: 143.

Peters MDJ, Godfrey C, McInerney P, Munn Z, Tricco AC, Khalil, H. Chapter 11: Scoping Reviews (2020 version). In: Aromataris E, Munn Z (Editors). JBI Manual for Evidence Synthesis, JBI, 2020. Website (last visited 6.8.20)

Tricco AC, Lillie E, Zarin W, O'Brien KK, Colquhoun H, Levac D, et al. PRISMA Extension for Scoping Reviews (PRISMAScR): Checklist and Explanation. Ann Intern Med. 2018; 169:467–473.