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.
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.
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.