Scoping studies

Scoping studies aim to help tackle the danger of information overload from the ever increasing volume of research by producing a high level map of an area of research that can inform future research.


The focus is on describing the breadth and key characteristics of research on a topic rather than in-depth analysis of individual pieces of research.  Scoping studies may be iterative, as they identify previously unappreciated aspects of a topic and then explore them further; and typically do not exclude research from the study on the grounds of its quality.

At its most minimal, a scoping study may be a relatively rapid exercise to gauge the potential size of the research literature on a topic in order to inform the planning of a systematic review.  But many scoping studies are more complex than this and may require substantial amounts of time. 

Key aims

Scoping studies may seek to identify not only the research that has been conducted, but also what the gaps in that research are, in order to inform the commissioning of future research. 

There may be engagement with researchers, practitioners and policymakers through mechanisms such as workshops, in order to determine what the gaps are and which should be priorities for further research, and to generate new networks of researchers.

Researchers at Manchester who have conducted scoping studies

Examples of scoping studies

This study used a range of methods, including a literature review, researcher survey, case studies of major incidents, analysis of debriefs of smaller incidents, interviews and a prioritisation workshop to survey current research and best practice in emergency planning in healthcare and suggest priorities for future research.

Research that explicitly explores the interconnections between time and community is currently fragmented across multiple disciplines. This study maps out some of the key  contours of this research in order to support the development of this research area in a more integrated and systematic way.

Key references

  • Levac D, Colquhoun H, O’Brien K (2010) Scoping studies: enhancing the methodology.  Implementation Science, 5: 69
  • Anderson S, Allen P, Peckham S, Goodwin N (2008): Asking the right questions: scoping studies in the commissioning of research on the organisation and delivery of health services. Health Res Policy Sys 2008, 6:7.
  • Arksey H, O’Malley L (2005) Scoping studies: Towards a Methodological Framework. Int J Soc Res Methodol, 8:19-32
  • Mays, N., Roberts, E. and Popay, J. (2001) Synthesising research evidence. In N. Fulop, P. Allen, A. Clarke and N. Black (eds) Studying the Organisation and Delivery of Health Services: Research Methods (London: Routledge), pp. 188-220

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