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Systematic reviews and other evidence synthesis projects

What is a Scoping Review?


A scoping review is a broad overview of a general topic that maps a large and diverse body of literature to provide forms of evidence. 

Objectives of a Scoping Review

  • 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


Note: The full scoping review methodology is outside the scope of almost all class assignments or dissertation/thesis. If you are considering assigning one, please meet with a librarian about a modified version that will fit your course's needs and limits.

Scoping Review Steps

The following are the steps for the scoping review process:

  1. Determine subject for review and develop some general questions
  2. Highly recommended to develop a protocol after the first step!
  3. Use the PCC framework
  4. Conduct systematic searches
  5. Determine eligibility of papers from results with a screening process
  6. Data extraction of relevant information
  7. Document the evidence


Scoping Reviews vs. Systematic Reviews

Scoping reviews share a lot of the same methodology as systematic reviews, but there are some differences.


Scoping reviews answer different types of questions than systematic reviews. Arksey and O'Malley identified 4 reasons to conduct a scoping review:

  1. To examine the extent, range and nature of research activity
  2. To determine the value of undertaking a full systematic review
  3. To summarize and disseminate research findings
  4. To identify research gaps in the existing literature
Adapted with permission from Brien, et al.
Scoping Review Systematic Review
Broad research question. Focused research question.
No critical appraisal of included studies. Quality and risk of bias assessment included.
Research protocol developed but it involves iterative approach with changes based on initial search results. Research protocol developed a priori.
More qualitative than quantitative synthesis. Often quantitative analysis.
Used in 'mapping the literature' to identify gaps in a body of literature, identify key terms and concepts. Used to formulate a conclusion about a focused research question; assesses the quality of existing evidence.


Writing your protocol

The JBI Scoping Review chapter has guidance on writing your protocol.
Also, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Library has developed a Scoping Review Protocol Guidance template and informational document containing goals and requirements for the protocol plus helpful tips and examples.

Registering your protocol

There is not as centralized a location for registering scoping review protocols as there is for systematic reviews, but there are a few ways to do it. You can put it into an open science repository such as:

These have the added features of being a place where you can make any supplemental materials available, such as the full text of your searches, and the advantage of being fast since they don’t require the approval process of the journals below. They have the disadvantage of the protocol only being findable by people searching that repository.

There are also several journals that publish protocols:

These have the advantage of being included in several databases, but the disadvantage of having to go through the submission and approval process.

The PCC Framework

The PCC framework stand for the following and include these elements:


Population/Participants -

This traditionally lists out important information or criteria about individuals, their demographics, and any other necessary characteristics that serve as qualifying criteria for the interventions

Example: Individuals with eosinophilic esophagitis, African American/Black children


Concept -

This outlines the the scope of the question being asked. Some elements included could be the discussion of intervention, point of interest, and results.

Example: Risks factors, pediatric care, rehabilitation strategies and diet assessments, outcomes



Provides more specificity on the population of interest within cultural, ethnic, and community identifying concepts, describes parameters dealing with time of publication or language, and includes a certain settings or circumstances.

Example: Scientific papers from the last ten years, in English and Spanish only

This framework can be used for mixed methods of qualitative and quantitative research.

By using this framework, it is also important to surface the varying including and excluding criteria to explicitly guide the scope of what is being investigated. This is helpful to document in your protocol to provide clarity about what information needs to be looked for in supporting your research question. 

Learning Resources



Reporting Guidelines

Guide Design Credit

Dev Wilder UW MLIS Candidate 2023