Systematic vs scoping review: Which is right for your research question?


After many hours of thinking, reading up, jotting down, walking about, you have your research question formulated. You know that it's a review that you need to do to get your research question answered, in other words, a study where you gather existing research and summarise all of it into one study. Yet, you are uncertain whether it is a scoping review or a systematic review that needs to be done.

Zachary Munn, a systematic review expert, and his colleagues published a very useful article about this in 2018. The article is titled "Systematic review or scoping review? Guidance for authors when choosing between a systematic or scoping review approach". The video below will explain the difference between these two types of reviews based on the guidance provided in this article. I urge you to read the full article for more insight.

Knowing the difference between a systematic review and a scoping review is important to ensure that you don't apply the wrong one to your research question. Both scoping and systematic reviews follow a structured process to synthesise the evidence, but they are done for different reasons, and some of the methods followed are different from one another. A systematic review is done to identify research studies published on a certain topic across the globe, with the primary aim to recommend best practice on a certain topic and inform policy. This is very useful if there are discrepancies in the way in which a certain practice is performed, but also to recommend new approaches. I explain what a systematic review is in this video. 

Scoping reviews are done to determine the research available on a certain topic. The article by Munn et al (2018, p2) describes it well and I give more detail in the video above and look at a few examples of systematic reviews and scoping reviews.

Now that you've watched the video above, what's next? Download and read the article from Munn et al. Once you have decided which one, a systematic review or scoping review, is right to marry your research question, it's time to zoom in a bit more.

If it's a scoping review that you will do, read the seminal articles of Arksey, Peters and Levac, the PRISMA Extension for Scoping Reviews, the PRISMA website and the Scoping Reviews chapter in the JBI Manual for Evidence Synthesis. 

If it's a systematic review that needs to be done, watch this video under the Systematic Reviews playlist on the Research Masterminds Youtube channel, on the different types of systematic reviews and decide which type is best for you.

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