34 Methods for identifying and displaying research gaps

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The current body of research is growing, with over 1 million clinical research papers published from clinical trials alone. This volume of health research demonstrates the importance of conducting knowledge syntheses in providing the evidence base and identifying gaps, which can inform further research, policy-making, and practice. This study aims to describe methods for identifying and displaying research gaps.


A scoping review using the Arksey and O’Malley methodological framework was conducted. We searched Medline, Pub Med, EMBASE, Cochrane Library, Scopus, Web of Science, PROSPERO register, TRIP, Google Scholar and Google. The following combination of terms were used: ‘identifying gaps in research’, ‘research gaps’,’evidence gaps’, ‘research uncertainties’, ‘research gaps identification’,’research gaps prioritisation’ and ‘methods’. The searches were limited to English, conducted in humans and published in the last 10 years for databases searches and unrestricted for hand and expert suggestion articles.


The literature search retrieved 1938 references, of which 139 were included for data synthesis. Of the 139 studies, 91 (65%) aimed to identify gaps, 22 (16%) determine research priorities and 26 (19%) on both identifying gaps and determining research priorities. A total of 13 different definitions of research gaps were identified. The methods for identifying gaps included different study designs, examples included primary research methods (quantitative surveys, interview, and focus groups), secondary research methods (systematic reviews, overview of reviews, scoping reviews, evidence mapping and bibliometric analysis), primary and secondary research methods (James Lind Alliance Priority Setting Partnerships (JLA PSP) and Global Evidence Mapping (GEM). Some of the examples of methods to determine research priorities included delphi survey, needs assessment, consensus meeting and Interviews.The methods for displaying gaps and determine research priorities mainly varied according to the number of variables being presented.


This study provides an overview of different methods used to and/or reported on identifying gaps, determining research priorities and displaying both gaps and research priorities. These study findings can be adapted to inform the development of methodological guidance on ways to advance methods to identify, prioritise and display gaps to inform research and evidence-based decision-making.

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