Systematic review or scoping review?

Guidance for authors when choosing between a systematic or scoping review approach

Zachary Munn*, Micah D. J. Peters, Cindy Stern, Catalin Tufanaru, Alexa McArthur, Edoardo Aromataris

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

308 Citations (Scopus)
95 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Scoping reviews are a relatively new approach to evidence synthesis and currently there exists little guidance regarding the decision to choose between a systematic review or scoping review approach when synthesising evidence. The purpose of this article is to clearly describe the differences in indications between scoping reviews and systematic reviews and to provide guidance for when a scoping review is (and is not) appropriate.

Results: Researchers may conduct scoping reviews instead of systematic reviews where the purpose of the review is to identify knowledge gaps, scope a body of literature, clarify concepts or to investigate research conduct. While useful in their own right, scoping reviews may also be helpful precursors to systematic reviews and can be used to confirm the relevance of inclusion criteria and potential questions.

Conclusions: Scoping reviews are a useful tool in the ever increasing arsenal of evidence synthesis approaches. Although conducted for different purposes compared to systematic reviews, scoping reviews still require rigorous and transparent methods in their conduct to ensure that the results are trustworthy. Our hope is that with clear guidance available regarding whether to conduct a scoping review or a systematic review, there will be less scoping reviews being performed for inappropriate indications better served by a systematic review, and vice-versa.

Original languageEnglish
Article number143
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalBMC Medical Research Methodology
Publication statusPublished - 19 Nov 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2018. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Systematic review
  • Scoping review
  • Evidence-based healthcare

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