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What is a Scoping Review?

What is a Scoping Review?

A scoping review is a literature review which maps the extent, range, or nature of research on a topic or question. It uses explicit, reproducible methods to identify all studies meeting pre-specified eligibility criteria to determine whether a systematic review is necessary, summarize available evidence, identify gaps in research, and plan for future research.¹ ²


You should conduct a scoping review if you want:

  • To examine the extent, range and nature of research activity
  • To determine the value of undertaking a full systematic review
  • To summarise and disseminate research findings
  • To identify research gaps in the existing literature³

There are many types of literature reviews.

Before beginning a scoping review, consider whether it is the best type of review for your question, goals, and resources. The table below compares a few different types of reviews to help you decide which is best for you. 

Comparing Systematic, Scoping, and Systematized Reviews
Systematic Review Scoping Review Systematized Review
Conducted for Publication Conducted for Publication Conducted for Assignment, Thesis, or (Possibly) Publication
Protocol Required Protocol Required No Protocol Required
Focused Research Question Broad Research Question Either
Focused Inclusion & Exclusion Criteria Broad Inclusion & Exclusion Criteria Either
Requires Large Team Requires Small Team Usually 1-2 People

The following article provides information for authors about choosing between a systematic and scoping review: 

Munn, Z., Peters, M. D. J., Stern, C., Tufanaru, C., McArthur, A., & Aromataris, E. (2018). Systematic review or scoping review? Guidance for authors when choosing between a systematic or scoping review approach. BMC Medical Research Methodology, 18(1), 143. 

A Simplified Process Map

Scoping Reviews: A Simplified, Step-by-Step Process  Step 1: Pre-Review. Common tasks include formulating a team, developing research question(s), determining the eligibility criteria, and scoping literature for published scoping or systematic reviews on the topic. Librarians can provide substantial support for Step 1.  Step 2: Develop Protocol. Common tasks include writing the protocol and making the protocol accessible via a website or registry.  Step 3: Conduct Literature Searches. Common tasks include partnering with a librarian, searching multiple databases, performing other searching methods such as hand searching, and locating grey literature or other unpublished research. Librarians can provide substantial support for Step 3. Step 4: Manage Citations. Common tasks include exporting citations to a citation manager such as Endnote, preparing a PRISMA flow-chart with numbers of citations for steps, updating as necessary, and de-duplicating citations and uploading them to a screening tool such as Covidence. Librarians can provide substantial support for Step 4.  Step 5: Screen Citations. Common tasks include screening titles and abstracts of citations using inclusion criteria with at least two reviewers and locating full-text and screening citations that meet inclusion criteria with at least two reviewers.  UNC Health Sciences Librarians (HSL) Librarians can provide support with using AI or other automation approaches to reduce the volume of literature that must be screened manually. Reach out to HSL for more information.  Step 6: Conduct Quality Assessment (Optional for Scoping Reviews). Common tasks include performing quality assessments, like a critical appraisal, of the included studies.  Step 7: Complete Data Extraction. Common tasks include extracting data from included studies and creating tables of studies for the manuscript.  Step 8: Write Review. Common tasks include consulting the PRISMA-ScR checklist or other reporting standard, writing the manuscript, and organizing supplementary materials. Librarians can provide substantial support for Step 8.

How can the library help?

The average systematic review takes 1,168 hours to complete.¹ 
A librarian can help you speed up the process.

The methodology for scoping reviews is similar to systematic reviews. While there are some differences, they still require significant time and resources to complete. Scoping reviews follow established guidelines and best practices to produce high-quality research. Librarian involvement in scoping reviews is based on two levels. In Tier 1, the librarian will collaborate with researchers in a consultative manner. In Tier 2, the librarian will be an active member of your research team and co-author on your review. Roles and expectations of librarians vary based on the level of involvement desired. Examples of these differences are outlined in the table below.

Roles and expectations of librarians based on level of involvement desired.
Role Tasks Tier 1: Consultative Tier 2: Research Partner / Co-author
Topic Development Guidance on process and steps Yes Yes
  Background searching for past and upcoming reviews Yes Yes
Development of Eligibility Criteria Development and/or refinement of review topic Yes Yes
  Assistance with refinement of PICO (population, intervention(s), comparator(s), and key questions Yes Yes
  Guidance on study types to include Yes Yes
Protocol Creation and Registration Guidance on protocol registration Yes Yes
Searching Identification of databases for searches Yes Yes
  Instruction in search techniques and methods Yes Yes
  Training in citation management software use for managing and sharing results Yes Yes
  Development and execution of searches No Yes
  Downloading search results to citation management software and removing duplicates No Yes
  Documentation of search strategies No Yes
  Management of search results No Yes
Study Selection and Extraction (Charting) Guidance on methods Yes Yes
  Guidance on data extraction (charting), and management techniques and software Yes Yes
Writing and Publishing Suggestions of journals to target for publication Yes Yes
  Drafting of literature search description in "Methods" section No Yes
  Creation of PRISMA diagram No Yes
  Drafting of literature search appendix No Yes
  Review other manuscript sections and final draft No Yes
  Librarian contributions warrant co-authorship No Yes

Additional Resources

Looking for our previous Systematic Review guide?

Our legacy guide was used June 2020 to August 2022