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Define objective & question/s

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, UniSA Clinical & Health Sciences, to learn how to determine the review's objective, questions, and inclusion criteria. 

Video Length: 9:18

  • 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

  Definition Example




A broad statement outlining the focus of the review.

Sometimes this is posed as a broad question instead. This primary question relates directly to the topic, and determines the content that must be addressed by all sources of evidence to be considered relevant. 

This is the question that the review must pose in order to meet your objective.

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

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


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.
Secondary questions/ sub-questions Not required for every review. 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?

The PCC framework/mnemonic is recommended as an aid in developing your review title, question and inclusion criteria. A clearly formulated question is also helpful when designing your search strategy. See the next page for a PCC example.

Preliminary searching

Before you finalise your question, you need to undertake exploratory searches in order to:

  • help define your key concepts
  • develop an initial list of search terms
  • gauge the potential numbers of results
  • check if the review has already been done or is registered to be done
  • confirm that there is enough evidence available to answer your question (and make it worthwhile undertaking the review)

Searching for existing and prospectively registered reviews - suggestions

Existing reviews Prospective reviews
Aggregators of higher-level evidence such as Epistemonikos Title registers such as JBI

The major databases for the relevant subject area e.g. CINAHL for nursing, ERIC for education. These will typically include reviews produced by relevant organisations such as Cochrane, the Campbell Collaboration, and JBI

Protocol registers such as PROSPERO and OSF Registries
Google Scholar (it is large and finds a lot of what is out there) Researchers and stakeholders may know if reviews are planned (but discuss with colleagues / supervisors before making contact)


  • try a variety of relevant keywords in combination with words likely to find reviews
  • look for database fields and limits to 'systematic review' (or other relevant review types)

Example: Google Scholar
Example Google Scholar search for aged care understaffing systematic


Go to example Google Scholar search aged care understaffing systematic

Example: Emcare (via Ovid)
Example search for reviews in Emcare using alternative search terms, and ORing out review terms in the title field with records tagged with the Systematic Reviews subject heading

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

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