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Systematic, Scoping, and Rapid Reviews

Overview

Systematic reviews and scoping reviews are two common types of evidence synthesis. They have many similarities in their methods, but their aims are fundamentally different. Systematic reviews aim to find a definitive answer to a specific research question, while scoping reviews aim to describe the literature that exists in answer to a question or questions. Rapid reviews typically follow the same overall methodology as systematic reviews but use expedited methods to conduct the review in a shorter timeline. These are usually done to support policy or decision-makers who require timely access to evidence.

  Systematic Review Scoping Review

Purpose

For more on this distinction, see Systematic review or scoping review? Guidance for authors when choosing between a systematic or scoping review approach (Munn et al., 2018).

To identify, appraise and synthesize all of the evidence that meets pre-specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a specific research question. To identify and describe all of the evidence that meets pre-specified eligibility criteria in order to determine what literature is available. Scoping reviews are less concerned with obtaining a single answer from the literature and more concerned with mapping evidence, exploring concepts, etc.
Research question Very specific Somewhat broader
A priori protocol Yes Yes
Predefined eligibility criteria Yes Yes
Search Systematic, aims to be comprehensive, reproducible Systematic, aims to be comprehensive, reproducible
Critical appraisal Yes Usually no
Basic process 1. Develop a specific research question
2. Write a protocol
3. Search for studies
4. Select (screen) studies
5. Critically appraise included studies
6. Extract data
7. Synthesize results
8. Write the manuscript
1. Develop a research question
2. Write a protocol
3. Search for studies
4. Select (screen) studies
5. Extract and/or map data
6. Synthesize results
7. Write the manuscript

Systematic Reviews

A systematic review:

"... attempts to identify, appraise and synthesize all the empirical evidence that meets pre-specified eligibility criteria to answer a specific research question. Researchers conducting systematic reviews use explicit, systematic methods that are selected with a view aimed at minimizing bias, to produce more reliable findings to inform decision making" (Cochrane Library).

Methods Guidance:

Scoping Reviews

A scoping review:

“... is a form of knowledge synthesis that addresses an exploratory research question aimed at mapping key concepts, types of evidence, and gaps in research related to a defined area or field by systematically searching, selecting, and synthesizing existing knowledge” (Colquhoun et al, 2014).

Methods Guidance:

Rapid Reviews

A rapid review:

"... [uses] methods to accelerate or streamline traditional systematic review processes" (Ganann et al, 2010).

Both rapid systematic reviews and rapid scoping reviews exist, but rapid systematic reviews are more common since rapid reviews are most often precipitated by a policy-driven mandate to answer a specific research question.

Methods Guidance: