Identify your research question. Formulate a clear, well-defined research question of appropriate scope. Define your terminology. Find existing reviews on your topic to inform the development of your research question, identify gaps, and confirm that you are not duplicating the efforts of previous reviews. Consider using a framework like PICO (see below) to define you question scope.
Define inclusion and exclusion criteria. This is also known as creating a review protocol. Clearly, state the criteria you will use to determine whether or not a study will be included in your search. Consider study populations, study design, intervention types, comparison groups, measured outcomes.
There are a number of reporting standards for systematic reviews. These can serve as guidelines for protocol and manuscript preparation, and journals may require that these standards are followed for systematic reviews.
It is recommended that you register your systematic review protocol prior to conducting your review. This will improve transparency and reproducibility, but will also ensure that other research teams do not duplicate efforts.
A protocol documents the key points of your systematic review. A protocol should include a conceptual discussion of the problem and include the following:
If you are working with the Cochrane or Campbell Collaborations, you will publish your protocol with those organizations. If you are working independently, consider registration with: