Skip to Main Content

Finding Information: Conducting Scoping Searches

Introduction to Conducting Scoping Searches

Scoping searches are brief searches of existing literature, conducted to help you gain an overview of a subject area or research topic. ​Scoping searches are usually used in the early stages of research to:

  • Fill gaps in knowledge
  • Provide context and topic overviews
  • Generate ideas and make connections
  • Provide an overview of existing literature
  • Collect key terms

Scoping searches need not necessarily follow a strict or structured methodology. A wide range of activities, such as browsing Wikipedia pages, Googling definitions, perusing relevant government legislation or revisiting book chapters can all serve as scoping searches. While they may be carried out in a variety of settings, some useful starting points include:

  • Sources from your reading list
  • Discovery (the library catalogue)
  • Google or another search engines

Why scope?

Scoping searches can help you to develop a better understanding of your research topic, and the existing literature in the field. By conducting a preliminary search, you can gain insight into the key concepts and themes related to your research question, as well as the major debates and discussions which have taken place around your topic. This can help you to refine your research focus and develop a more structured search plan.

Don’t worry if additional questions emerge from your scoping searches. At this stage, you’re not looking for definitive answers but developing an in-depth and critical understanding of your topic.

Check out the example below. We used the mind map we made in the previous section, Understanding the Question, to guide our scoping searches. It really helped us get a clear picture of what the question is all about, the terminology used in this research area, and what aspects of the topic interest us the most. With this information, we can create a search plan confidently.