Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Scoping Reviews: Define topic & question

Library guide for the development of scoping reviews and their associated systematic searches, and required reporting.

Define topic and question

Setting the review objective and questions

Before you start your research, it's important you have a clear objective, and one or more questions aligned to this.

Watch the video below, narrated by Dr Micah Peters, to learn how to determine the review's objective, questions, and inclusion criteria. 

Video Length: 9:24

  • Scoping reviews should have clearly articulated objective/s and question/s.
  • The objective is the rationale behind why the review should be conducted. It should be clear, succinct, and convey to the reader what the study will add to the research field.
  • A scoping review generally has a broader purpose than a systematic review and focuses on descriptive characteristics of the included studies, rather than combining and analysing data to generate a synthesised result.
  • To define an objective, think about what you are trying to understand about the topic you are reviewing.
  • Once you have defined your objective, you can start putting together inclusion criteria for the review.
  • Inclusion criteria are the elements or factors that must be present in each source of evidence for it to be eligible for inclusion in the review.
  • To create inclusion criteria, simply break down objectives and questions into their component parts.
  • You may also need to consider primary and secondary questions.
    • Primary questions directly relate to the topic and must be addressed by all sources.
    • Secondary questions provide additional or contextual information that doesn’t need to be addressed by all sources.
  • You can focus your objectives by adding more elements to your inclusion criteria, e.g. adding contextual factors such as health care setting or geographic location, or a population group.

An example of the process

The process starts with determining your overall topic and defining the review's objective.  The table below shows the definitions and provides examples for each.

  Definition Example
Topic A broad statement outlining the focus of the review. Sometimes this is posed as broad question instead.

Nurse-led models of care in the field of chronic disease management


An objective is a clear, succinct statement that conveys:

  • Why the review should be conducted
  • What the review will add to the reader's knowledge in the field
  • What specifically is being investigated about the topic under investigation
Nurse-led models of care are an emerging approach across a number of areas of health care. The objective of this review is to report on nurse-led models of care in chronic disease. The review seeks to examine whether there are different types of nurse-led models, the kinds of chronic disease care for which nurse-led models have been used and what facilitators and/or barriers have been reported relating to the success and/or failures of the model.


Once the objective is defined, you need to articulate the specific sub-questions. Your sub-questions will likely include both 'primary' and 'secondary' questions. The table below shows the definition and provides examples for each type of question.

  Definition Example
Sub-questions Specific questions that the review must pose in order to meet your objective.

What nurse-led models of care are used to manage chronic disease?

What chronic diseases have been managed using nurse-led models?

What has been reported to be a facilitator/barrier for the success of these models?

Primary questions Core questions that relate directly to the topic, and determine the content that must be addressed by all sources of evidence to be considered relevant.

What nurse-led models of care are used to manage chronic disease?

What chronic diseases have been managed using nurse-led models?

Secondary questions Provide contextual or additional information about the topic. Not all of your included articles need to address these questions.

What has been reported to be a facilitator/barrier for the success of these models?

Based on the topic and review questions, your can now start establishing the review's inclusion and exclusion criteria - two key elements of the protocol.

Guidelines and standards

'Clarity of the review question assists in developing the protocol, facilitates effectiveness in the literature search, and provides a clear structure for the development of the scoping review'

- JBI Manual for Evidence Synthesis 11.2.2 - Developing the title and question

'Provide an explicit statement of the questions and objectives being addressed with reference to their key elements (e.g., population or participants, concepts, and context) or other relevant key elements used to conceptualize the review questions and/or objectives.'

- PRISMA-ScR Checklist and Explanation, p. 471

Navigate to report broken links and provide feedback page