Evaluating literature review: systematic vs. scoping reviews
Research Writing

Evaluating literature review: systematic vs. scoping reviews

Arpit Sinha
Sign here

A comprehensive literature review shows your efforts to analyze the gaps in the research. It should present unbiased and sufficient evidence of the work on the topic. A study shows that it is critical to identify research gaps and determine how the evidence falls short. Gathering the literature has many types, but as an author, you need to know various aspects and styles of evidence collection suited for your article. To choose the kind of literature review that is most appropriate to your needs, you must first understand it.

Systematic Review:

A systematic literature review (SLR) identifies and evaluates research to answer a formulated question. It is a thorough, transparent search performed over multiple works of literature that can be replicated and produced by other researchers. It involves planning a search strategy with a specific focus on answering a defined question. Before doing the systematic review, the criteria are outlined in a clearly defined protocol.

Scoping Review:

Scoping Reviews serve to identify the existing literature on a specific research question. They clarify concepts in the literature and define gaps in knowledge.

A scoping review is a first assessment of the size and scope of the research literature, according to Grant and Booth (2009). Research evidence consists of ongoing research, which is usually used to identify its nature and extent.

Nature of Reviews

While scoping differs from systematic reviews, it should not be mistaken for traditional literature reviews. By contrasting the characteristics of traditional literature reviews, we may discover what makes scoping and systematic reviews best for a purpose.

Systematic Reviews: You can opt for a systematic review to confirm whether or not the literature review is based on relevant evidence. Also, to address any uncertainty or variation in practice that may be occurring.


A systematic review can also reveal gaps, deficiencies, and trends in the current evidence, which can help to inform future research in the area. It is helpful to:

  1. Uncover the international evidence
  2. Confirm current literature review practice/ address any variation/ identify new practices
  3. Identify and inform areas for future research
  4. Identify and investigate conflicting results
  5. Produce statements to guide decision-making

Scoping Reviews: Scoping reviews are most helpful when a body of literature has not yet been fully reviewed or shows a large or complex nature, not suited for systematic review. The general purpose of conducting scoping reviews is to identify the available evidence.  


Here are a few purposes for conducting a scoping review:

  • To determine the types of available evidence in a given field
  • To clarify critical concepts/ definitions in the literature
  • To examine how research is done on a specific subject
  • Identification of key features or factors of a concept
  • As a precursor to a systematic review
  • To identify and analyze knowledge gaps

How to determine whether to conduct a systematic review or a scoping review?

Before choosing between a systematic and a scoping review, you should carefully consider what you are trying to accomplish through the literature review? An effective systematic review is likely the most suitable approach when you need to answer questions regarding feasibility, suitability, or effectiveness.

However, there are times when authors do not wish to ask single or precise questions. Instead, they are more interested in distinguishing between specific characteristics/concepts in papers or studies. In these cases, a scoping review would be more appropriate.

Understanding the difference between scoping and systematic reviews for the review question is crucial. As opposed to traditional systematic reviews, scoping reviews are broader in scope. It also provides a useful alternative to literature reviews when clarification around a concept or theory is required.

What makes scoping a good method for literature review?

# Clarify key concepts contained in the literature

In scoping reviews, definitions used in the literature are examined and clarified. For instance, Schaink and colleagues conducted a scoping review of the literature for descriptions of patient complexity.

The authors did a review of healthcare databases and presented an overview of complexity. The scoping review results helped the authors develop a complexity framework to assist in understanding patient complexity.

# A study of how research is carried out on a certain topic.

A scoping review is a useful tool for examining the design and conduct of research on a particular topic.

Example: A scoping review by Callary and colleagues examined the design of studies estimating a type of hip replacement wear. The review aimed to survey the literature and determine how data is relevant to measuring hip replacement wear.

The scoping review revealed that the methods to consider the wear varied immensely with different researchers' approaches. The results led to the authors suggesting standardization in sizes for future research in this field.

# Analyzing and identifying knowledge gaps

Typically, scoping reviews alone are not conducted to identify and analyze knowledge gaps in a particular area. You must thoroughly examine the available information to examine and present what has not been researched or reported.

In new fields or topics, scoping reviews are a useful method of reviewing the evidence rapidly. Conducting a scoping review is often motivated by identifying and analyzing knowledge gaps.


A scoping review is one of the myriad tools in the arsenal of literature reviews. Scoping reviews still require rigorous and transparent methods, just as it does for systematic reviews, to ensure that the results are reliable. With clear guidance regarding whether to conduct a scoping or a systematic review, we hope that you can master your literature review and improve your research.

But, before you go,