Defining Your Research Question
Cochrane Handbook, Section 1.5 - Protocol Development
Writing Your Protocol
Guidance notes for registering a systematic review protocol with PROSPERO
This guide outlines the registration process for PROSPERO protocols, including full descriptions of each field on the registration form.
Protocol Template (University of Warwick)
Your team can use this editable template to map out your research plan.
Your protocol is a conceptual description of every stage in your research process. It must explain your research in a way that makes it reproducible by future research teams.
A good way to familiarize yourself with research protocols is to take a look at those registered on PROSPERO. PROSPERO's registration form includes 22 mandatory fields and 18 optional fields which will help you to explain every aspect of your research plan.
Once you have written a draft of your protocol, have it peer reviewed by someone outside of your research team. If it is registered in PROSPERO, it will also be open for peer review by other researchers.
You can also register your protocol with the following organisations, all of which provide instruction on preparing your protocol for submission:
The Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI Reviews Register)
It is important to plan your research before beginning your systematic search. Your research plan, or review protocol, gives direction to your project. Once it is registered, it also serves as a notification of your plans to other researchers, so that no one will attempt the same project.
Planning is also a good way to avoid bias in your research. If you begin searching without defining a research question, you may be more easily influenced by the evidence presented in existing studies. Your research question will make your search process more focused and ultimately more successful.
An evidence synthesis protocol states your rationale, hypothesis, and planned methodology. Much like a blueprint for a house, a protocol outlines the planned framework for the evidence synthesis. Members of the team use the protocol as a guide to conduct the research. It is recommended that you register your protocol prior to conducting your review. This will improve transparency and reproducibility, reduce bias, and will also ensure that other research teams do not duplicate your efforts. A protocol template and checklist are included on this page, as well as a checklist for structured literature reviews that serves as a similar document to an evidence synthesis protocol.
Use this document as a template to prepare a protocol for a range of evidence synthesis methodologies (such as systematic reviews, scoping reviews, or systematic maps).
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.
Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) is an evidence-based minimum set of items for reporting in systematic reviews and meta-analyses. The 27 checklist items pertain to the content of a systematic review and meta-analysis, which include the title, abstract, methods, results, discussion and funding.
The PRISMA extension for scoping reviews, or PRISMA-ScR for short, contains 20 essential reporting items and 2 optional items to include when completing a scoping review.
The PRISMA extension for network meta-analysis, or PRISMA-NMA, provides guidance for reporting systematic reviews comparing multiple treatments using direct and indirect evidence in network meta-analyses. In addition to providing guidance It also highlights educational information related to key considerations in the practice of network meta-analysis.
Though not comprehensive, below is a list of registries to consider. You can send your requests for support, using the Library Trackti.
"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."
"The Campbell Collaboration promotes positive social and economic change through the production and use of systematic reviews and other evidence synthesis for evidence-based policy and practice."
Disciplines: Business and Management, Crime and Justice, Disability, Education, International Development, Knowledge Translation and Implementation, Methods, Nutrition, and Social Welfare
"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."
Disciplines: Environmental issues
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
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