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A protocol is the roadmap for your systematic review. You will develop your protocol at the very beginning of the process, before you begin your searches. Your protocol may change as you go through your review but it is important to create a thorough protocol to help guide your research process. Yes, you can edit the protocol once it has been submitted. Just submit an amendment to the protocol.
What is in a Protocol?
According to the PRISMA Standards:
1. Introduction detailing:
Inclusion and Exclusion criteria
Information Sources (Inclusion or exclusion of grey literature, the search strategy, and justification for inclusion or exclusion)
Study selection process including how you will resolve disagreements
This document is based on the PRISMA Statement (evidence-based minimum set of items for reporting in systematic reviews and meta-analyses) extensions for systematic review protocols and scoping reviews, and materials developed by The Campbell Collaboration (as referenced below).
Writing a literature review for a research paper or as part of your thesis? Even if you’re not performing a full evidence synthesis, completing the items on this checklist and keeping them as record of your planned work (like a study protocol) ensures reproducibility, transparency, and reduction of bias.
Describe the search overall, which concepts were included
Describe additional search strategies
You should also include at least one copy and pasted search.
The exact search string will be included in the appendix.
Registering your protocol
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:
Definitions of your subject/topics
The potential contribution of the review to clinical decision making
Is there enough relevant literature to merit a systematic review/meta-analysis of studies
PICOS of interest (Population, Intervention, Comparison, Outcomes, Study types to be reviewed)
Sources you will use to search the literature (& search syntax if possible)
Data extraction methods
Methods to assess for bias
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:
"Our mission is to promote evidence-informed health decision-making by producing high-quality, relevant, accessible systematic reviews and other synthesized research evidence. Our work is internationally recognized as the benchmark for high-quality information about the effectiveness of health care."
"An open community of stakeholders working towards a sustainable global environment and the conservation of biodiversity. CEE seeks to promote and deliver evidence syntheses on issues of greatest concern to environmental policy and practice as a public service."
An open source web application that connects and supports the research workflow. Researchers use the OSF to collaborate, document, archive, share, and register research projects, materials, and data. OSF can be used to pre-register a systematic review protocol and to share documents such as a Zotero library, search strategies, and data extraction forms.
An international database of prospectively registered systematic reviews in health and social care. Key features from the review protocol are recorded and maintained as a permanent record. (Does not accept scoping reviews)
Disciplines: Health and Social Care, Welfare, Public Health, Education, Crime, Justice, and International Development