About Systematic Reviews

Can You Include a Systematic Review in a Scoping Review?

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A systematic review is a rigorous research-intensive study of other studies. To find out if undertaking one is appropriate and necessary, researchers may opt to perform a scoping review, which acts as a preliminary literature review to assess the nature and extent of available research.

While searching multiple databases for systematic reviews and other relevant sources, many researchers ask, “Can you include a systematic review in a scoping review?” Since systematic reviews are typically considered secondary studies, it’s not recommended to include them in a scoping review. However, you may include the studies previous systematic reviews considered.

It’s also helpful to note existing systematic reviews about a topic to ensure that the study isn’t being duplicated. It may even inform your decision-making process about the feasibility of a study you may plan to do on a similar topic in the future.

What Is a Scoping Review?

Scoping reviews are preliminary exploratory assessments of available evidence. They aim to identify the potential size and scope of research literature, without the need for making a quality appraisal.

Researchers can use scoping reviews in conjunction with different types of systematic reviews. In these cases, they’re used to develop, prioritize and refine research priorities, predict resource requirements for defining review protocols, and determine whether or not it would be useful to conduct a systematic review.

The Difference Between a Systematic Review and a Scoping Review

Systematic reviews and scoping reviews differ in scope and purpose. The latter will have a larger scope, characterized by a broader research question and more inclusive eligibility criteria. Additionally, while systematic reviews aim to answer a more focused research question, scoping reviews aim to simply identify the nature and extent of existing research. Check out our post covering the topic of how many studies should go into a systematic review to learn more.

Although both types of reviews require a rigorous and transparent methodology, a systematic review is more extensive as it includes more sensitive criteria, additional steps for quality assessment, and a synthesis of findings.

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The Purpose of Scoping Reviews

In addition to informing researchers about the feasibility of a systematic review, scoping reviews have other purposes should they be done on their own. Here are some reasons why a scoping review is useful.

To Disseminate Research Findings

Scoping reviews examine existing literature and present these findings in a tabular format with a narrative. They are a useful tool to spread information about a certain topic, giving people access to sources that they may not have identified during their own research.

To Identify Key Concepts and Research Gaps

Since scoping reviews have a broad scope, they’re able to give a general picture of the research landscape on a certain subject. In doing so, they can better define key concepts and expose any gaps that can be addressed by future studies and reviews.

To Make Recommendations for Future Research

With all the data it evaluates, scoping reviews can be used to make recommendations for future research. They can guide researchers to formulate better questions, explore topics that lack information, and steer their reviews in the right direction.

How To Do a Scoping Review

To do a scoping review, you must have a well-planned search strategy and access to several databases in order to come up with a comprehensive list of available research. You should clearly define your research topic and objectives and develop a protocol. Then per your protocol, you should conduct systematic searches (including grey literature), screen results based on your eligibility criteria, and extract relevant data from selected studies. This requires a lot of time and effort, but you can make the process simpler with the help of literature review software like DistillerSR. With this, you can automate the search process, allowing you to search more databases with speed and accuracy.

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