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Nutrition and Exercise Physiology (NEP)

Library guide to Nutrition and Exercise

Definitions and Direction (Selected Approaches to Systematic and Scoping Reviews)

What is a systematic review?

"A systematic review attempts to identify, appraise and synthesize all the empirical evidence that meets pre-specified eligibility criteria to answer a specific research question. Researchers conducting systematic reviews use explicit, systematic methods that are selected with a view aimed at minimizing bias, to produce more reliable findings to inform decision making."  (

"We propose that the most important consideration is whether or not the authors wish to use the results of their review to answer a clinically meaningful question or provide evidence to inform practice." (Munn et al. BMC Medical Research Methodology, 18:143, p. 3)

What is a scoping review?

"True to their name, scoping reviews are an ideal tool to determine the scope or coverage of a body of literature on a given topic and give clear indication of the volume of literature and studies available as well as an overview (broad or detailed) of its focus.  Scoping reviews are useful for examining emerging evidence when it is still unclear what other, more specific questions can be posed and valuably addressed by a more precise systematic review.  They can report on the types of evidence that address and inform practice in the field and the way the research has been conducted." (Munn et al. BMC Medical Research Methodology, 18:143, p. 2)

What is a systematic review protocol?

"All research should be carried out according to a pre-defined plan. Researchers use the protocol to describe the proposed approach for a systematic review. It outlines the question that the review authors are addressing, detailing the criteria against which studies will be assessed for inclusion in the review, and describing how the authors will manage the review process. Protocols contain information that defines the health problem and the intervention under investigation, how benefits and harms will be measured, and the type of appropriate study design. The protocol also outlines the process for identifying, assessing, and summarizing studies in the review. By making this information available the protocol is a public record of how the review authors intend to answer their research question."   (

What is a scoping review protocol?

"As with all well conducted systematic reviews, an a priori protocol must be developed before undertaking the scoping review. A scoping review protocol is important as it pre-defines the objectives, methods and reporting of the review and allows for transparency of process. The protocol should detail the criteria that the reviewers intend to use to include and exclude studies and to identify what data is relevant, and how the data will be extracted and presented. The protocol provides the plan for the scoping review and is important in limiting the occurrence of reporting bias. Any deviations of the scoping review report from the protocol should be clearly highlighted and explained in the scoping review report." (

Systematic review search strategy (Cochrane)

"Cochrane Reviews take a systematic and comprehensive approach to identifying studies that meet the eligibility criteria for the review. This chapter outlines some general issues in searching for studies; describes the main sources of potential studies; and discusses how to plan the search process, design and carry out search strategies, manage references found during the search process, correctly document the search process and select studies from the search results."  Read more about searching for and selecting studies.

Scoping review search strategy (JBI)

"The search strategy for a scoping review should ideally aim to be as comprehensive as possible within the constraints of time and resources in order to identify both published and unpublished (grey literature) primary studies as well as reviews. Any limitations in terms of the breadth and comprehensiveness of the search strategy should be detailed and justified. As recommended in all JBI types of reviews, a three-step search strategy is to be utilized. Each step must be clearly stated in this section of the protocol. The first step is an initial limited search of at least two appropriate online databases relevant to the topic. The databases MEDLINE (PubMed) and CINAHL would be appropriate for a scoping review on quality of life assessment tools. This initial search is then followed by an analysis of the text words contained in the title and abstract of retrieved papers, and of the index terms used to describe the articles. A second search using all identified keywords and index terms should then be undertaken across all included databases. Thirdly, the reference list of identified reports and articles should be searched for additional studies." Learn more about scoping review search strategy.

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