Advancing scoping study methodology: a web-based survey and consultation of perceptions on terminology, definition and methodological steps Academic Article uri icon

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  • BACKGROUND: Scoping studies (or reviews) are a method used to comprehensively map evidence across a range of study designs in an area, with the aim of informing future research practice, programs and policy. However, no universal agreement exists on terminology, definition or methodological steps. Our aim was to understand the experiences of, and considerations for conducting scoping studies from the perspective of academic and community partners. Primary objectives were to 1) describe experiences conducting scoping studies including strengths and challenges; and 2) describe perspectives on terminology, definition, and methodological steps. METHODS: We conducted a cross-sectional web-based survey with clinicians, educators, researchers, knowledge users, representatives from community-based organizations, graduate students, and policy stakeholders with experience and/or interest in conducting scoping studies to gain an understanding of experiences and perspectives on the conduct and reporting of scoping studies. We administered an electronic self-reported questionnaire comprised of 22 items related to experiences with scoping studies, strengths and challenges, opinions on terminology, and methodological steps. We analyzed questionnaire data using descriptive statistics and content analytical techniques. Survey results were discussed during a multi-stakeholder consultation to identify key considerations in the conduct and reporting of scoping studies. RESULTS: Of the 83 invitations, 54 individuals (65 %) completed the scoping questionnaire, and 48 (58 %) attended the scoping study meeting from Canada, the United Kingdom and United States. Many scoping study strengths were dually identified as challenges including breadth of scope, and iterative process. No consensus on terminology emerged, however key defining features that comprised a working definition of scoping studies included the exploratory mapping of literature in a field; iterative process, inclusion of grey literature; no quality assessment of included studies, and an optional consultation phase. We offer considerations for the conduct and reporting of scoping studies for researchers, clinicians and knowledge users engaging in this methodology. CONCLUSIONS: Lack of consensus on scoping terminology, definition and methodological steps persists. Reasons for this may be attributed to diversity of disciplines adopting this methodology for differing purposes. Further work is needed to establish guidelines on the reporting and methodological quality assessment of scoping studies.


  • O'Brien, Kelly
  • O’Brien, Kelly K
  • Colquhoun, Heather
  • Levac, Danielle
  • Baxter, Larry
  • Tricco, Andrea C
  • Straus, Sharon
  • Wickerson, Lisa
  • Nayar, Ayesha
  • Moher, David
  • O’Malley, Lisa

publication date

  • December 2016