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Scoping Reviews: Protocol

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

Protocol

Why have a protocol?

The protocol is the plan or methodology of your scoping review. You need to develop your protocol at the beginning of the process, before you start your searches. You may refine your protocol as you progress through your review. The iterative nature of a scoping review may necessitate some changes. 

Protocol content

According to the JBI Reviewer’s Manual (chapter 11.2), a scoping review protocol should include:

   Number 1 icon An introduction detailing:

  • definitions
  • overall review objective
  • details of any preliminary searches undertaken
  • explanation of need for review
  • eligibility criteria (with contextualisation and rationalisation)

   Number 2 icon Sample search strategy 

   Number 3 icon Explanation of search approach, including:

  • which black and grey literature will be searched 
  • justification for choices

   Number 4 icon Study selection process, including resolving disagreements between reviewers

   Number 5 icon A draft charting table/form for data extraction and accompanying explanation

   Number 6 icon How results and data will be presented (e.g. draft chart, figure or table)


Learn more:

Establishing inclusion/exclusion criteria

Watch the video below, narrated by Dr Micah Peters, to learn about how to establish key inclusion criteria for a scoping review.

Video Length: 8:22

  • The scoping review should utilise the inclusion criteria and the source of evidence the same way as a systematic review.
  • Scoping reviews tend to have broader inclusion criteria than traditional systematic reviews because scoping reviews pose a different question.
  • In scoping reviews, assessment of methodological quality or risk of bias (in the case of quantitative studies) is not typically conducted. This is because:
    • scoping reviews pose a broader question, which are generally focused on mapping descriptive characteristics or features - methodological quality does not impact on the results in the same way as systematic reviews.
    • unlike systematic reviews, scoping reviews seek to identify and map the breadth of evidence rather than examining only ‘high quality’ and low risk of bias evidence.
  • The basic framework for scoping review inclusion criteria is PCC (population, concept, context).
  • Additional inclusion criteria can also be used, such as temporal (time), thematic, or geographic.
  • All scoping review protocols and scoping reviews should clearly report what sources of evidence will be eligible and have been included in a review.
  • While the gold standard for evidence is randomised controlled trials, scoping review can also include other types of evidence which are not considered for systematic reviews.
  • The reviewer can narrow their focus to exactly where relevant evidence is expected to be sourced from, depending upon the particular objectives and questions of the scoping review.
  • Because different types of evidence will likely have been included, the reviewers will also need to use different approaches for assessing and reporting on the methodological quality by using existing tools or checklists or by developing new criteria for measuring quality.

Other inclusion criteria may be introduced based on both necessity and sound rationale, and may either broaden or narrow the review. For instance:

  • Small body of literature - broaden topic or consider all publication types.
  • Large body of literature/time constraints - narrow topic (eg specific location, or population), or consider specific publication types.
  • No funding for translating studies - limit to English language.
  • New development in the field - limit to date range.
Note: your inclusion criteria may necessitate changes to the review objective and questions!

 

For our example:

The field of nurse-led care in chronic disease is too broad for the allocated time, so the reviewer decides to limit the search to higher income countries only. She rationalises that health care in low to middle income countries can be affected by contextual factors, and these might act as confounders. This:

  • adds an additional inclusion criterion of high income countries, and consequently
  • changes the review topic and objective to: models of care in chronic disease in high-income countries.

Eligibility criteria are also known as inclusion and exclusion criteria.

  • Inclusion criteria: criteria that each paper to be included in your review must possess.
  • Exclusion criteria: anything that you need to articulate as being out of the review's scope.

To identify the inclusion and exclusion criteria: 

  • Consider the core components of the primary review questions.
  • Elements of the secondary questions relate to content that is 'nice to have' but not essential, so these do not typically form part of the inclusion criteria.

 

For our example:
Nurse-led models of care in the field of chronic disease management.

Primary review questions
Inclusion criteria
What nurse-led models of care are used to manage chronic disease? Nurse-led models of care
 What chronic diseases have been managed using nurse-led models? Chronic disease

Guidelines and standards

Consult the following resources to learn how to write a gold standard scoping review protocol:

Make your protocol visible

Registering your protocol

It is a good practice to register your protocol, as you do not want anyone else to do the exact same review you are doing.

Once registered, your protocol will have a unique registration number which can be cited in publications to link your planning documents to your completed review. This is recommended.

If you are working on a review with the Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI), you can register your review on their website:


If you are not working with JBI, you can still make your protocol visible by uploading it to an open research repository:

PRISMA-ScR recommends that "if the protocol is not [made] publicly available, details about how to access it (for example, on request from the corresponding author) should be provided" (Tricco et al. 2018).

Publishing your protocol

You can publish your protocol in a dedicated scoping review or protocol journal:

Protocols for Cochrane and JBI reviews are published on their websites:

Many other journals will allow you to publish your protocol. You should also look for relevant journals within your discipline area.

Exemplars

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