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Systematic Reviews

What is a Protocol?

Research protocols explicitly describe the methods used in the systematic review: decisions about the review question, inclusion criteria, search strategy, study selection, data extraction, quality assessment, data synthesis and plans for dissemination.

Key elements to be included in a research protocol:

  • Protocol registration site (e.g. Prospero) and number
  • Rationale & objectives for the review
  • Inclusion & exclusion criteria: what studies are eligible for your review?    
    • Consider study designs, populations, years of publication, publication status, language, etc.
  • Information sources to be searched
  • Draft of literature searching strategy
  • Strategy for managing records and data
  • Screening & selection process
  • Data extraction methods
  • Data synthesis methods

Tools for Preparing a Research Protocol

- PRISMA for Systematic Review Protocols (PRISMA-P): use the checklist which contains the main elements to include in the protocol.

- Standards for the REPORTING of PROTOCOLS of new Cochrane Intervention Reviews (PR1-PR44): guideline for protocols of Cochrane Reviews.

Protocol Registries

- Campbell Collaboration:produces systematic reviews of the effects of social interventions.

- Prospero: an International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews. Registration is free and open to anyone undertaking systematic reviews relevant to health and public health, social care and welfare, education, crime and justice and international development.

- Cochrane: international network of 28,000 people in around 100 countries who prepare, update and promote the accessibility of Cochrane Reviews of human health care interventions and policy.