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Systematic Reviews

Learn about conducting systematic reviews

Why Use Protocols?

A systematic review protocol describes in detail, the rationale, hypothesis, and methodology of the review. Your protocol should be prepared before a review is started and used as a guide to carry out the review.

A protocol helps to ensure that published systematic reviews are clear, transparent, accurate, and fully replicable. Researcher institutions and organizations have developed sets of standards for systematic review publication; you may be required to use a specific set of standards however reviewing commonly used standards can assist in the development of your own protocol. 

Reporting standards, such as PRISMA, are standards for reporting your process and findings when writing your review.

Developing Your Protocol

Developing a protocol before you begin will help you plan how you'll conduct your systematic review. Many of the elements in the protocol will also be used in your final article. Your protocol should specify:

  • The rationale for your systematic review.
  • Project timeline.
  • Your research question in detail (PICO, study design, setting, time-frame).
  • Anticipated search terms, search strategies, and databases,
  • The information sources you'll search.
  • The inclusion/exclusion criteria you will use to select studies.
  • You plan for managing a tracking search  results
  • How you will extract data, assess risk of bias, synthesize data, and grade the evidence.

Registering your Protocol

Protocol registries were developed in response to an increasing number of systematic reviews being written, increasing the likelihood of duplication of reviews. Protocols are registered during the initial stages of the review. Registering your protocol will:

  • Increase transparency.
  • Reduce the risk of duplicate reviews.
  • Potentially increase visibility to researchers or editors.
  • Establish credibility and accountability.

You can also register your protocol with the following organizations, all of which provide instruction on preparing your protocol for submission:

Protocol Standards

Reporting Standards