Western Libraries

Knowledge Synthesis: Systematic & Scoping Reviews

Reasons for conducting your review

Why are you planning to conduct Knowledge Synthesis?

Over the past few years, there has been an explosion in the number of systematic reviews conducted and published. Systematic reviews require more time and labour than traditional literature reviews. Before beginning a systematic review, researchers should address why they are embarking on a review. Is it : course work for your, Thesis/Dissertation? Are you planning to publish or not publish your review 


1. Course work

Systematic reviews, scoping reviews, and other knowledge syntheses have become a popular research approach, but many people misunderstand them. Sometimes well-meaning faculty will advise students or residents to complete a systematic review, or scoping review, as an “easy” research project without fully understanding the methods and resources required. These misunderstandings often lead to the development of poorly done “systematic reviews”, or "scoping reviews" that lack the required rigour defined in an appropriate protocol, lack well-developed and well-documented search strategies, and fail to follow other methodological and reporting standards that peer reviewers should look for when considering the manuscript for publication.

A systematic review or scoping review is not a suitable project for a single student/resident with no prior experience in this methodology. It also is generally not an appropriate project for a single student and a single faculty advisor who is not an expert on systematic review methodology. Most health science graduate students have not had the appropriate experience or training to independently develop robust protocols and search strategies for systematic reviews. A lack of familiarity with appropriate methods for SR projects is very likely to lead to wasted time and unpublishable work. A systematic review, or scoping review, is not an appropriate short-term project; systematic reviews and scoping review can take an average of a year or more to complete.

We recommend that students instructed to do a systematic review or scoping review without appropriate support share the above statement with their faculty. We are available for consultation on when and for whom a knowledge synthesis is an appropriate project. We can also recommend training courses for faculty who are interested in further participating in and engaging students in future systematic review research.

Source: This page has been based on, and adapted from our colleagues at the ETSU Medical Library guide: https://www.etsu.edu/medlib/services/systemic-review.php


2. Thesis/Dissertation

The final product of research for a Master's or PhD can often be a knowledge synthesis review.  It's intended to be a piece of scholarly work that exemplifies your skill of synthesis evidence in your are of focus to be put forward to the academic research world. Knowledge synthesis reviews are time-intensive, resource-intensive projects.

The resources collected in this guide are intended to aid you in your research cycle.


3. Publishing or Not Publishing

Authors seek to publish their work to have their ideas heard and for others to take up their study findings in consequential ways. Findings of published knowledge synthesis reviews reach a wider audience and remain available as an enduring reference.

Your audience and publication priorities are an important part of developing a publication strategy for your review. Please utilize our guide for your strategy and the links related to steps when choosing to publish your protocol and review.

Knowledge Synthesis Decision Tool 



Adapted from What Type of Review is Right for You? by Cornell University Library. Licensed under CC BY 4.0

Library Services, Unity Health Toronto 

Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0