February 16, 2022

How to get started with scoping reviews

My tips and tricks for getting started with a systematic and rigorous literature review process: the scoping review method.

How to get started with scoping reviews

This blog post was developed for my friend Sumbal Shahbaz but also intended for anyone interested in getting started with scoping reviews. Thank you Prof Natasha Howard, Ms Charnele Nunes and Ms Kim Kee for teaching me all that I know about scoping reviews. Welcome to Singapore, Sumbal!

What is a scoping review?

I understand the scoping review as a systematic, rigourous literature review often used to synthesize research evidence. According to the pioneers of the scoping review method Arksey and O'Malley, a scoping review aims to map the existing literature in a field of interest in terms of the volume, nature, and characteristics of the primary research, particularly when it has not been extensively reviewed yet.

What is the best way to get started?

I got started through reading some of my professor's published scoping reviews. I recommend you to do the same. This was my favourite.

The next best way to get started is through this PRISMA website containing an introductory video and the scoping review checklist, which contains the 20 essential and 2 optional items to report when completing a scoping review. You can even download the fillable checklist, as well as their special 'tip sheets' which will guide you through how to conduct and report your scoping review to produce a high-quality paper.

What is a difference  between a scoping review and a systematic review?

A scoping review aims to map the body of literature on a (broad) topic area by providing an overview of a (potentially) large and diverse body of literature. Because of that, they consolidate studies from a larger range of study designs and methods. The mapping of individual studies is descriptive in nature, and does not usually include a critical appraisal of individual studies or a synthesis of evidence across different studies

A systematic review aims to summarise the best available empirical evidence/ research from a smaller number of studies to answer a focused, specific question. Hence, they generally consolidate evidence that assess the effectiveness of interventions, which often translates to a focus on RCTs.

Here's required reading for scoping reviews, which you will also need to craft your scoping review methodology:

  • Arksey, Hilary, and Lisa O’Malley. ‘Scoping Studies: Towards a Methodological Framework’. International Journal of Social Research Methodology 8, no. 1 (February 2005): 19–32. https://doi.org/10.1080/1364557032000119616.
  • Levac, Danielle, Heather Colquhoun, and Kelly K O’Brien. ‘Scoping Studies: Advancing the Methodology’. Implementation Science 5, no. 1 (December 2010): 69. https://doi.org/10.1186/1748-5908-5-69.
  • Khalil, Hanan, Micah Peters, Christina M. Godfrey, Patricia McInerney, Cassia Baldini Soares, and Deborah Parker. ‘An Evidence-Based Approach to Scoping Reviews’. Worldviews on Evidence-Based Nursing 13, no. 2 (2016): 118–23. https://doi.org/10.1111/wvn.12144.
  • Pham, Mai T, Andrijana Rajić, Judy D Greig, Jan M Sargeant, Andrew Papadopoulos, and Scott A McEwen. ‘A Scoping Review of Scoping Reviews: Advancing the Approach and Enhancing the Consistency’. Research Synthesis Methods 5, no. 4 (December 2014): 371–85. https://doi.org/10.1002/jrsm.1123.

In case you are wondering about the difference between a scoping review and a systematic review, here is a resource outlining the differences between 14 different types of reviews:

Photo by Dan Dimmock on Unsplash

I've read up about scoping reviews. How can I start working on one?

How do I formulate my search strategy?

Many systematic and scoping review papers often develop their search terms in close consultation with a librarian. I encourage you to arrange an appointment with a librarian at your institution to develop the search terms together. I learned a lot from mine about how to craft my search terms around my research question's key concepts, my aim and objectives, and how to adapt searches to different databases.

You should document your search strategy during your preliminary searches and final searches. Feel free to download this document containing a rough template that my librarian Toh Kim Kee and I worked on for you to develop your search terms.

Getting to the final search terms you will use in your scoping review is an iterative process. There is often some trial and error involved, and can be tedious when trying to adapt search terms to different databases. To work around this, I  found that categorising versions of my searches by date and database searched on Excel helps a lot.

How can I combine my scoping review procedure with thematic analysis?

We want to thematically analyse our findings during and after the data extraction phase. You can use the following resources from Braun and Clarke:

  • Braun, Virginia, and Victoria Clarke. ‘Thematic Analysis.’ In APA Handbook of Research Methods in Psychology, Vol 2: Research Designs: Quantitative, Qualitative, Neuropsychological, and Biological., edited by Harris Cooper, Paul M. Camic, Debra L. Long, A. T. Panter, David Rindskopf, and Kenneth J. Sher, 57–71. Washington: American Psychological Association, 2012. https://doi.org/10.1037/13620-004.
  • Braun, Virginia, and Victoria Clarke. ‘Reflecting on Reflexive Thematic Analysis’. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health 11, no. 4 (8 August 2019): 589–97. https://doi.org/10.1080/2159676X.2019.1628806.

You're ready!

By the time you've scoured the resources above, you should be ready to conduct your own scoping review!

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