Data visualisation in scoping reviews and evidence maps on health topics: a cross sectional analysis

Emily South*, Mark Rodgers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Scoping reviews and evidence maps are forms of evidence synthesis that aim to map the available literature on a topic and are well-suited to visual presentation of results. A range of data visualisation methods and interactive data visualisation tools exist that may make scoping reviews more useful to knowledge users. The aim of this study was to explore the use of data visualisation in a sample of recent scoping reviews and evidence maps on health topics, with a particular focus on interactive data visualisation.

Ovid MEDLINE ALL was searched for recent scoping reviews and evidence maps (June 2020 - May 2021) and a sample of 300 papers that met basic selection criteria was taken. Data were extracted on the aim of each review and the use of data visualisation, including types of data visualisation used, variables presented and the use of interactivity. Descriptive data analysis was undertaken of the 238 reviews that aimed to map evidence.

Of the 238 scoping reviews or evidence maps in our analysis, around one third (37.8%) included some form of data visualisation. Thirty-five different types of data visualisation were used across this sample, although most data visualisations identified were simple bar charts (standard, stacked or multi-set), pie charts or cross-tabulations (60.8%). Most data visualisations presented a single variable (64.4%) or two variables (26.1%). Almost a third of the reviews that used data visualisation did not use any colour (28.9%). Only two reviews presented interactive data visualisation and few reported the software used to create visualisations.

Data visualisation is currently underused by scoping review authors. In particular, there is potential for much greater use of more innovative forms of data visualisation and interactive data visualisation. Where more innovative data visualisation is used, scoping reviews have made use of a wide range of different methods. Increased use of these more engaging visualisations may make scoping reviews more useful for a range of stakeholders.
Original languageEnglish
Article number142
Number of pages11
JournalSystematic Reviews
Publication statusPublished - 17 Aug 2023

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  • scoping review, evidence map, data visualisation

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