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Mismatches in the production of a scoping review: Highlighting the interplay of (in)formalities

Journal article
Authors Morten Sager
Isabella Pistone
Published in J Eval Clin Pract
ISSN 1356-1294
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science
Language en
Keywords evidence-based medicine, epistemology, public health, systematic reviews, trust, Health Care Sciences & Services, Medical Informatics, General & Internal, Medicine
Subject categories Clinical Medicine


The move towards evidence-based medicine has generated rapid growth in reviews of research literature. The scoping review is one of the new literature reviews that has emerged from traditional systematic reviews. A scoping review aims to map the literature on a particular topic or research area. As scoping reviews become more popular, methods for conducting scoping reviews are rapidly increasing. In light of these recent developments, this paper investigates how complex scoping reviews are conducted. As an analytical framework, we draw on previous work about (in)formalities (ie, the interplay of formalities and informal judgments in scientific research). We show how the process of constructing a population, intervention, comparison, and outcome (PICO), searching and selecting relevant literature, requires informal deliberations, judgments, and choices that are not considered in the formal methodology used when conducting scoping reviews. This paper asks the following questions: What could be learned from this empirical case of conducting a scoping review by applying theoretical insights about (in)formalities? What are the possible implications for future development of scoping reviews? We provide three suggestions. First, PICO served as a starting point for the review process, supported decisions continuously during the process, and served as an image of the end product of the scoping review. We suggest that these three roles need to be considered to a larger extent in the future development of scoping review methods. Second, the contextual constraints of scoping reviews such as time, resources, and the jurisdiction of the commissioning agency need to be made explicit in the reporting of scoping reviews. Third, the findings in this paper indicate that the evolving emphasis on formalization in both the methods the reporting practices of scoping reviews could benefit if complemented with a more pronounced role for informalities. In addition, highlighting the informalities in scoping review methods may serve to create more realistic expectations of the methods, the validity, and the potentials of scoping reviews.

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