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Systematic Reviews and other Knowledge Synthesis: Develop protocol

This guide covers the basics of conducting a systematic review and other types of knowledge synthesis

Develop protocol

The protocol sets the systematic review apart from other literature reviews, and is part of what makes it a valid research methodology. It is very important. It will include:

  • Your question
  • Where you plan to search and your search strategy
  • Inclusion criteria
    • Type of studies
    • Participants
    • Interventions/exposures
    • Outcome measures
    • Etc.
  • Data extraction plan
  • Assessment plan
  • Data synthesis plan
  • Anticipated begin and complete dates
    • Use a calendar to set a timeline
    • Include all aspects of your search in the timeline

What is a Protocol?

PRISMA definition: A systematic review protocol describes the rationale, hypothesis, and planned methods of the review. It should be prepared before a review is started and used as a guide to carry out the review.

This is especially important because a systematic review is a research method that can guide clinical decision-making. However, protocols can be useful for other review types as well.

Benefits to writing a protocol:

  • Ensure that your methodology is established a priori
  • Work out all aspects of the process with your review group before investing too much time
  • Aligns the group to the intent, methods, and flow of the review
  • Systematic reviews are a type of research; research requires a protocol

See the links below for examples of protocol templates.

Publishing Protocols

Rather than registering a protocol, you may opt to publish it in a journal. Protocols for systematic reviews are widely accepted for publication; a limited number of journals publish protocols for scoping reviews.

The advice for publishing systematic reviews also applies to publishing protocols. A journal that accepts systematic reviews may also accept protocols. Perhaps the journal's editors can suggest where to register/publish a protocol before submitting the review for publication.

PROSPERO is an international registery of systematic review protocols. The journal JBI Evidence Synthesis accepts systematic reviews and protocols.

See the links below for more ideas about where to submit. In addition, some subject-specific journals may publish protocols. You will need to check the scope and author information for relevant journals.