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Systematic Reviews

Importance of a protocol

Before you begin your systematic review, you should write a review protocol.  Protocols are important for the following reasons: 

  • To promote transparency of methods by specifying the objectives, methods, and outcomes of primary interest of the systematic review before conducting the systematic review. This is to set expectation/roadmap to meet the review objective.
  • To avoid unplanned duplication as to inform others that a review on your topic is on-going so that it will not be duplicated. The main author should be contactable by another team who is interested to conduct a systematic review if the review has not been updated after sometime since the protocol was last registered. 
  • To minimise the risk of bias in systematic review due to ad-hoc decisions made during the synthesis process. Specifying inclusion and exclusion criteria for the study selection as well as data extraction criteria in the protocol. This will make the review process as rigorous, and transparent, as possible.

You can refer to PRISMA-P (PRISMA for Systematic Review Protocols) which is the standard for writing a protocol.

The Prisma-P is an extension of the PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses).  It consists of 17-item checklist published in January 2015 for developing review protocols.

Steps for writing a review protocol:

  1. Background 
  2. Review question and objective 
  3. Setting criteria for inclusion and exclusion 
  4. Inclusion criteria – puts the question into operation (population, intervention or comparison, outcome, study design, language, publication) 
  5. Exclusion criteria certain studies e.g. specific populations, language, setting 
  6. Specify the methods use in: 
  • Identify research evidence
  • Select studies for inclusion 
  • Data extraction 
  • Quality assessment 
  • Synthesise results 
  • Disseminate the review findings 

Registering your protocol

You can register your protocol with the following organisations, Follow their  instruction on preparing your protocol for submission where available.

This is also a place where you can find on-going systematic reviews.

  • PROSPERO - an international database of prospectively registered systematic reviews in health and social care, welfare, public health, education, crime, justice, and international development, where there is a health related outcome. PROSPERO accepts registrations for systematic reviews, rapid reviews and umbrella reviews but does not accept scoping reviews or literature scans.
  • The Cochrane Library – a database that contain different types of high-quality, independent evidence to inform healthcare decision-making. It is mandatory to register and publish your protocol when conducting a Cochrane review.  To register a review, please refer to proposing and registering a new Cochrane review.
  • Campbell Collaboration - an international social science research network that produces high quality, open and policy-relevant evidence syntheses, plain language summaries and policy briefs. They accept proposal for new reviews, evidence and gap maps (EGMs), and methods research papers for publication in Campbell Systematic Reviews. Please follow this link for more details on to submit proposals for a Campbell review.
  • BEME Best Evidence Medical & Health Professional Education – an international group of individuals, universities and professional organisations committed to the development of evidence informed education in the medical and health professions. Upon submission/registration of a review topic, a draft protocol including proposed timetable to complete the review is expected within four months.
  • Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) - an international research organisation based in the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Adelaide, South Australia. JBI works with universities and hospitals from across the globe through the JBI Collaboration (JBIC), which is the largest global collaboration to integrate evidence-based healthcare within a theory informed model that brings together academic entities with hospitals and health systems. To register for new JBI Systematic Review, at least one of the authors must be from JBI affiliated entities.
  • Collaboration for Environmental Evidence (CEE) - 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. In order to publish a protocol in CEE, it is mandatory for all submitting authors to complete the relevant ROSES (RepOrting standards for Systematic Evidence Syntheses) forms as part of their submission to demonstrate that they have included all relevant methodological details in their documents.
  • Open Science Framework (OSF) - a free and open source project management tool that supports researchers throughout their entire project life cycle. Using OSF Registries, researchers can create robust, timestamped registrations of research projects, or discover existing registrations on OSF and across connected registries like, Research Registry, and more.
  • Research Registry - is a one-stop shop for registering all types of research studies, from ‘first in man’ case reports to observational/interventional studies to systematic reviews and meta-analyses.  The process is easy, simple and take less than five minutes.
  • International Database of Education Systematic Reviews - is a free database to register and publish protocol of planned systematic review in eduation.  Search results will display the bibliographic references and abstracts of any relevant published reviews and protocols, and provide links to the online location of the full documents.