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Table 3 Summary of challenges and recommendations for scoping studies

From: Scoping studies: advancing the methodology

Framework Stage Challenges Recommendations for clarification or additional steps
#1 Identifying the research question 1. Scoping study questions are broad.
2. Establishing scoping study purpose is not associated with a framework stage.
3. The four purposes of scoping studies lack clarity.
1. Clearly articulate the research question that will guide the scope of inquiry. Consider the concept, target population, and health outcomes of interest to clarify the focus of the scoping study and establish an effective search strategy.
2. Mutually consider the purpose of the scoping study with the research question. Envision the intended outcome (e.g., framework, list of recommendations) to help determine the purpose of the study.
3. Consider rationale for conducting the scoping study to help clarify the purpose.
#2 Identifying relevant studies 1. Balancing breadth and comprehensiveness of the scoping study with feasibility of resources can be challenging. 1a. Research question and purpose should guide decision-making around the scope of the study.
1b. Assemble a suitable team with content and methodological expertise that will ensure successful completion of the study.
1c. When limiting scope is unavoidable, justify decisions and acknowledge the potential limitations to the study.
#3 Study selection 1. The linearity of this stage is misleading.
2. The process of decision making for study selection is unclear.
1. This stage should be considered an iterative process involving searching the literature, refining the search strategy, and reviewing articles for study inclusion.
2a. At the beginning of the process, the team should meet to discuss decisions surrounding study inclusion and exclusion. At least two reviewers should independently review abstracts for inclusion.
2b. Reviewers should meet at the beginning, midpoint and final stages of the abstract review process to discuss challenges and uncertainties related to study selection and to go back and refine the search strategy if needed.
2c. Two researchers should independently review full articles for inclusion.
2d. When disagreements on study inclusion occur, a third reviewer can determine final inclusion.
#4 Charting the data 1. The nature and extent of data to extract from included studies is unclear.
2. The 'descriptive analytical method' of charting data is poorly defined.
1a. The research team should collectively develop the data-charting form and determine which variables to extract in order to answer the research question.
1b. Charting should be considered an iterative process in which researchers continually extract data and update the data-charting form.
1c. Two authors should independently extract data from the first five to ten included studies using the data-charting form and meet to determine whether their approach to data extraction is consistent with the research question and purpose.
2. Process-oriented data may require extra planning for analysis. A qualitative content analysis approach is suggested.
#5 Collating, summarizing, and reporting the results 1. Little detail provided and multiple steps are summarized as one framework stage. Researchers should break this stage into three distinct steps:
1a. Analysis (including descriptive numerical summary analysis and qualitative thematic analysis);
1b. Reporting the results and producing the outcome that refers to the overall purpose or research question;
1c. Consider the meaning of the findings as they relate to the overall study purpose; discuss implications for future research, practice and policy.
#6 Consultation 1. This stage is optional.
2. Lack of clarity exists about when, how and why to consult with stakeholders and how to integrate the information with study findings.
1. Consultation should be an essential component of scoping study methodology.
2a. Clearly establish a purpose for the consultation.
2b. Preliminary findings can be used as a foundation to inform the consultation.
2c. Clearly articulate the type of stakeholders to consult and how data will be collected, analyzed, reported and integrated within the overall study outcome.
2d. Incorporate opportunities for knowledge transfer and exchange with stakeholders in the field.